Family resigned to fate of Waiters, but still searching

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Carla Wright-Jenkins lives a thousand miles away from the small community of Belmont. As a child, though, that didn’t stop her from traveling south to spend summers with her grandfather, Brister Waiters.

“Every summer, when we were about to leave, he’d give us a 50-cent piece,” recalled Jenkins, who lives in Flint, Mich. “Then, when I grew up and had children, he started giving them the 50-cent pieces, and I got kind of upset because I still wanted one.”

Today, that coin pales in comparison to the sadness Jenkins feels about her grandfather. Waiters, a 102-year-old man who has spent most of his life in the Belmont area, has not been seen since Wednesday, Jan. 14.

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Jenkins has not made the search for her grandfather an idealistic reality. She is resigned to the fact that the man who once chased cattle — by foot — when he was 97 years old is probably “not in the land of the living anymore.”

That hasn’t stopped her from wanting to find some closure to the life of a man who made her smile from his active ways and spiritual depth.

“It was a few years ago, but I remember one time we were all sitting in the house when we looked out the window and saw granddaddy climbing over a fence,” Jenkins said. “He was about 97 or 98, but there he was, climbing — slowly — over a fence trying to get some of my cousin’s cattle that had gotten out of the pin.”

In fact, as Jenkins tells it, Waiters was so active and healthy that he made it over the fence at his ripe old age and helped herd the cattle back into the pin.

“He was always pretty much an active person,” she said. “He was healthy, and mentally, he was in and out, but most times, he knew exactly what he was talking about.”

While Jenkins sits by the phone in Michigan awaiting word on her beloved grandfather, Velma Waiters-Wright — Jenkins’ mother and Brister Waiters daughter — spent most of Monday morning and afternoon helping search for her father.

“So far, we haven’t found anything,” Wright said Monday. “There’s been just a few of us walking around the area where the dogs picked up a scent, but we still can’t find anything.”

And apparently, Wright and her mother — Prudie Waiters — aren’t getting much help in the search for a man that hasn’t been seen in five days.

“No one from Sumter County has been here today to help,” Wright said. “We were told someone was going to be here Friday, and then we were told the rescue squad was going to come, but they didn’t show up.”

Calls to Sumter County Sheriff Johnny Hatter were unsuccessful Monday because of the federal holiday.

Even though law enforcement apparently has backed off its search for Waiters, family members still are doing everything they can to find a beloved husband, father and grandfather.

“We’re having a hard time of it right now,” Wright said. “Mother is not doing the best, either. I wish we could find him, but I’ve kind of given out hope that he’s alive.”

Cold temperatures and Waiters’ age have combined to make what could be an imminent end a bit more clear for Wright and her family.

“It may be that he fell in the water, or the conditions just got him, but we still want to find him,” she said.

Family members finally realized Waiters was missing late Wednesday night. The last time they saw him, he was wearing a tan hat, a gray plaid shirt, khaki pants and suspenders. He also walked with a cane.

Anyone who may have seen Waiters is asked to contact the Sumter County Sheriff’s Department at (205) 652-7984. A dispatcher at the sheriff’s office could give no information about the search or plans of when the search for Waiters might resume.