Several fans lined Silver Bridge Road in Palo Cedro on Saturday to say one last goodbye to Merle Haggard, who died at home Wednesday from pneumonia at age 79.
The private funeral was by invitation only, and a few fans stopped at Haggard’s front gate to lay flowers, take pictures and pause a moment to remember the country singer who touched their lives.
Tim Coffman, 47, and his wife Kristin, 45, packed their three sons in their Ford pickup and left their Browns Valley home in Yuba County at 5:30 a.m. to get to Shasta County on time to pay tribute to Haggard. The family dropped off four bouquets of flowers and took pictures for their memories.
“Merle Haggard has been a part of my life since the day I was born,” Tim Coffman said.
His wife Kristin is also a Haggard fan. “That’s why we’re married,” he laughed.
Tim Coffman said he owns an acoustic guitar signed by Haggard that cost him $1,350 and each of his sons is a proud owner of trucker hats signed by Haggard.
“You can see this hat’s been worn a lot,” Calvin Coffman, 14, said about his 13-year-old brother Weston’s hat.
Their former dog who died was named Merle, and their current dog is named Haggard, Kristin Coffman said.
Tim Coffman said he bonded with his sons through Haggard’s music, and played it whenever he went fishing and camping with them. He was happy that all his sons had the chance to see Haggard play live in Las Vegas.
While his sons don’t play any musical instruments, they’ve become fans of Guitar Hero, an interactive video game that allows players to use a console guitar to play along with the beats. But most of the music on that game is of the rock genre, Kristin Coffman said.
“I wish they had Merle on it,” Weston Coffman said.
Kristin said years ago she and Tim would sit in front of Haggard’s house and have a beer in his honor. And on Saturday, Tim drank a can of Coors to commemorate Haggard.
Sam Duginski, 40, of Redding also joined the Coffmans to honor Haggard. He drank a bottle of Sierra Nevada Nooner pilsner, and thought of Haggard’s song, It’s Been a Great Afternoon, that was from his 1978 album I’m Always on a Mountain When I Fall.
“Merle had a huge influence on me. You feel like you lost your ambassador,” Duginski said.
Duginiski and the Coffmans waved at cars passing by. Some people stopped by, often asking for directions. Duginski said he spotted country singer Marty Stuart, who was set to officiate and sing at the funeral with his wife Connie Smith.
They all stood still listening to the ceremony, as music echoed through the rural neighborhood, and speculated whether they heard the voices of Kris Kristofferson or Willie Nelson, who also were reported to have received invitations to the service. A person across the street even shut off their riding lawnmower to listen in.
“We’re about a hundred yards away from Merle right now, and there are a lot of people wishing they were here right now,” Tim Coffman said.
At Holiday Quality Foods in Palo Cedro, Marge Howatt, 62, said he has fond memories of Haggard. “This was his shopping space,” she said. “And he and my daddy had the same birthday.”
Haggard died on his 79th birthday.
Howatt does beer and wine tastings at Holiday and said she remembers how gracious Haggard was to her and others around him. She said in the 11 years she had known him, she had only seen him wear his cowboy hat once, but she did often see him wearing a fishing hat.
“He was a local icon and a legend to us,” she said. “He’ll be missed.”
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