- Associated Press - Sunday, January 4, 2015

TUPELO, Miss. (AP) - Early on a recent Wednesday morning, a group of men gathered at Cafe 212 for their regular coffee klatch and raised their mugs in memory of one of their own: the late David Sparks.

The coffee they were drinking, a special blend called Southern Gentleman, was also created in honor of the attorney, who died Nov. 29 after a long battle with cancer.

He was part of the group that has been meeting every Wednesday at the cafe, owned by Jason and Amanda Hayden, for about eight years. Kevan Kirkpatrick and Fred Cannon started the tradition about a dozen years ago when they began meeting for coffee at the Two-Tone Cafe. After it closed, they moved to Uptown Coffee. When it shut its doors, they took their business to Cafe 212.

“I told Jason he’d better watch out,” Kirkpatrick said.

Eventually others joined, including Sparks.

“He became the nucleus of our friends there,” Kirkpatrick said.

The others in the group are Steve Fandel, John Nance, Chris Winders, Mike Lail, Jim Davis and Brad Miller.

Jason Hayden said he got to know Sparks well over the years.

“The thing I remember most about David is he woke up before the roosters every morning,” Hayden said. “Most Wednesday mornings, he’d be sitting on that bench outside the cafe waiting for me to open. He’d come in and sit and talk while I got the coffee started. He’d tell me stories, talk about the current books he was reading. He was such a wealth of knowledge. That’s what I miss most.”

In early November, the Haydens decided they wanted to find some way to honor Sparks. So they contacted their coffee roaster and told him what they had in mind.

“We wanted a coffee that was a dark roast and kind of smoky because that’s what David liked,” Hayden said. “I was trying to think of what to call it and what kept popping in my head when I thought of Mr. David - that’s what we called him - was ‘a Southern gentleman.’ That phrase just fit him. He rarely left the house without a bow tie on.”

Hayden had hoped the coffee, which has a bowtie on the label, would be ready in time for Sparks to taste it himself, but Sparks died about three weeks before it was perfected.

“I brewed a pot for myself as soon as we got it in,” Hayden said. “It is dark and smoky - just how I hoped it would be.”

Hayden said Sparks commanded respect from the other members from the first.

“When they were all talking in a big group, he’s the one they’d shut up to listen to,” he said. “You knew what he was going to say was going to be important.”

“Well, it wasn’t so much that it was important, but interesting,” Kirkpatrick said. “David had such insight and he knew so much about Tupelo. His stories were always so damn entertaining.”

Even after Sparks became sick, he still attended the weekly coffees, which can last one hour or even two, if the men have a lot to talk about.

“The last time he came in you could tell he wasn’t doing real well,” Hayden said. “Kevan texted me and said that the next week, we were going to meet at David’s so he wouldn’t have to get out of the house.”

Hayden took cinnamon rolls and coffee to the Sparkses’ home in Saltillo.

“I was honored that they invited me to come to the house for their final club together,” he said. “It showed me - I mean I knew this already - that I was more than just the guy that served them coffee. Little did we know that would be the last Wednesday before he passed. It was serendipitous that that was kind of our goodbye.”

The next Wednesday, the day after Sparks’ funeral, the group met at Cafe 212 as usual.

“We set up his coffee cup and his spit cup and the crossword puzzle as if he were there,” Kirkpatrick said. “We still consider David part of the group. We always will.”

___

Information from: Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, http://djournal.com

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