THE BLOSSOMING OF BRUNO BROWN

Recently we hosted a good friend who had just lost his Father.  I asked if he had done anything to disappoint his dad?  He said “…my brother took care of that”, alluding to a sibling who hadn’t missed a chance to embarrass the whole family.  Often.  

Another guest suggested his Father took him to a Klan rally.  Works both ways. 

Later I turned the question inward and out popped a latent event.

At 17 years old little league and pony league baseball were past.  Small town summers were “boring” and we now had those car keys.

Between puberty, time, and Pabst Blue Ribbon, one oft time goes astray.

Being 80 years, 1958 was a long time ago…memory fades.  Some moments of the “outing” are vague, some totally blank, some quite vivid.

There was no tryout for our football at my high school.  Anybody willing gets a suit.  Mine was way too big as I weighed 104 lbs as a freshman QB aspirant.  No other underclass men,  pre-puberty and starry eyed, made the first practice. 

We barely had enough to scrimmage.  I had no way to get to practice.  Now the seniors were driving hand me down Studebakers, Hudson Hornets, Kaiser-Fraziers, pickups, etc.   They gave me rides to practice, then to their other more mature practices.

Being new in town, these older guys were my early teen friends and teammates.  One they called Bruno.

Robert Worth Brown had gone noticeably unnoticed till adolescence. Puberty hit him hard.  He was among the very smartest kids the town had ever turned loose, yet he began to unravel.  Substance abuse they call it now.  Then it was mostly beer and concoctions he dreamed up from the drug store where we both played Fonzie.   Oddly enough paregoric and ammonia were just a squirt away from the soda fountain.

During the summer of 1958 and already finding new ways to occupy ourselves, Bruno (“Bobby”) was older, fearless, and creative.  Often I chickened out when he proposed creative adventures, fueled by boredom.  All the older guys cut me some slack, because of my age, and I was a preacher’s kid.  I did all the cussing and smoking I could,  but still I often felt I let them down, mainly Bobby.

As stated my now memory varies from vivid to vague to blank.  I vaguely remember that the following was initially my way to gain favor with these older guys.  Why my parents were out of town  I am not sure.  I am relatively sure the idea of a summer lawn party at the Baptist parsonage was my idea.  Bruno was impressed and embellished my imagination with visions of party lights, champagne, a jazz band, etc.  Someone on the “planning committee” suggested tuxedos. Go to blank.

I don’t remember the party only we had one, less some amenities.  I do remember after the party,  riding with Bruno who had realized he needed more to drink.  He of course knew where to access moonshine.  We headed at midnight to a man’s home.  After awakening the guy, Bruno said “…he gave me a contact in Biscoe (13 miles west).   30 minutes later, plus some bootleg blended whiskey, we are back on Plank road when Bruno sees a man walking on the road.

The town mayor ran a railroad cross-tie business.  His nephew was with us and recognized the walker as a cross-tie loader for his Uncle, the aforementioned mayor. 

“That’s Tootie “ said nephew , Charlie. so, we picked Tootie Simmons up, 250 lbs of tie loader, all black and half drunk.  Tootie piled in.

Vaguely we wound up at the parsonage.  Charlie slept in my mom’s bed.  I must have slept in the front room by the door bell.  It rang long and loud till I answered it.

‘Is Charlie here?  He was supposed to meet his ride back to Appalachian (State) an hour ago”! I   

went and got Charlie, but not the employee of the Mayor, Tootie,  who snored on the floor next to Charlie in Mom’s bed.  The town soon enough  would dig out the details.

The next week was agony.  When the confrontation? Who knew what? How in the hell did I   think this would turn out okay?  These fears fit the vivid category.

Strange?  Nothing mentioned for several days, a week, two weeks.  

In the third week a member of the church choir called me over for a private conversation.  She told me she was in the “beauty shop” when a customer asked My mom about the lawn party.  And she relayed some of the rumors.

Later I realized during this time period my dad was quite ill.  

I like to think my mom would do anything to protect my Dad.  He would have been so “disappointed” in me.

I think, too, my mom got a chuckle.

A. YEARBOOK SUPERLATIVES ( )

Much like “annuals” of that time it showcased the activities each senior participated in. The goal for 12 years seemed to be how many things you could put on the list. Who did what, if you will: HOMECOMING QUEEN TO SHOP (1,2,3,4), All from band to Spanish and year by year.
Same at my high school. I went back and looked. Willis Williams had an impressive senior resume and justifiably so. Dr.Williams went on the be one of the world’s top surgeon for congenitally damaged infant hearts. A true adult star: Same as a youngster, from eagle scout to Morehead Scholar (the first from our county). Willis’ long list included “annual editor”. Not half the story. Hell, he took every picture in the book. Even then the book budget was tight.
No problem for Dr. Williams. He turned to family. There were loads of Williams in our area. Willis said “…the best chance of getting a date
is at a Williams family reunion.” He then created a method for space, i.e. pages in the book, chronologically. Justifiably Willis Williams, named
“Mr. Elise High School” got a whole page. Senior Superlatives {remember “Cutest” etc.?) named Williams got their half page. Senior Williams got their picture and their list. Williams from the Junior class through the ninth grade their first and last name or “John Williams”. From the eighth to third grade only an initial: Or– B. Williams. First and second graders were only Williams, listed side by side in the last rows. Tops was the third grade. Out of 78 kids there were eleven Williams.
Earl said he didn’t remember his list. “Just sports and probably FFA ( FUTURE FARMERS OF AMERICA). I WAS the Quarterback and called all the plays. Simple though in 6-man. I’d say something like “Bobby to the right side on 2. Rudolph, gitcherman.” Had to tell Rudolph Proctor to “get your man” every play. Rudolph said “…he moves around a lot” Later we just called him GITCHERMAN.”

B. SET UP?(189)

Just saw a facebook tv clip on Ron and Don Marley.   At 70 years people of Robbins, NC still can’t tell them apart.
My family moved two houses up from them in 1952. I bet a friend a quarter I could tell them apart. Just to be sure
I snuck “Ronnie” a piece of chewing gum. After I named “Donnie, “Ronnie–Donnie gave Ronnie his gum back. And I gave my
quarter to the friend. I was new in Robbins.

C. FACEMASKS (412)

Many small teams in North Carolina played six- man football. There is a great Sports Illustrated article on Texas 6-man football, played even now. The rules are different (shorter field, 15 yards for a first down, gotta lateral it once before, running it, etc.) but essentially its “hike it, and rednecks go long!”
Really, it was like a back yard game, but folks were serious. As Willie Nelson stated: “When Jesus said love thy neighbor, there was no such thing as high school football.”
And they were playing with live bullets. At 5’3” 105 lbs, I was faced with tackling a junior on our team named Jimmy Freeman. Jimmy ran it at 6’1”, 175 lbs, and the only little guys, Aubrey Moody and I, tried to summon the courage to tackle him. My first realization was, hey – Jimmy ain’t Tuddy.
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Tom Parham
Only the toughest ventured out on the field. Frank Brown, the oldest of the Browns, was asked to help our coach. Frank said two remarkable things (1) we ain’t wearing those face masks, they’re for chicken shits, (2) if a man serves two years in the army and doesn’t spend six months in the brig, he ain’t much of a man.”
Two years later as a senior my right heel hit Charles Montjoy in the teeth in practice and we helped him pick up seven teeth from the field. I then begged for and received a single bar guard. Whew. Chicken shit or not, Frank.

D. SIX MAN FOOTBALL (206)

I played six man football in the late 50’s in North Carolina.   Recently  I googled you tube six man football.  Texas has about 200 small high school six man teams.  The clips posted vary in length.  Some are game film.  Some feature the small Texas towns and youngsters who play today.  One team has only six players on the squad.  Yet state playoffs feature the same rabid atmosphere as all high school teams.While the kids are mostly small, there is some “de-cleating” out there.  The field is 80 yards long rather than 100yds.   Think about it, six players  (or 12 on both teams) on 80 yds vs eleven (22) on 100.   Lots of space and speed and fun.   Check ’em out–the youngsters are great.

And no, they don’t play 3 man basketball.

E. BACK ROW BAPTISTS (412)

There was another church character that demanded attention. Fremont Yow was a retarded man who looked like “Crazy Guggenhiem” from the Red Skelton Show. He was harmless but quite dirty and tough to understand. Fremont rarely missed church and sat on the front row, which pushed the Baptists even further back in the pews. Often unsuspecting newcomers would locate near him. He would soon get their attention by groaning, making unrelated audible comments, or rolling and flipping a booger across several aisles. Again I lived for these moments.
My dad would drive him home after church. In 1957 my dad, for some unknown reason bought a ’57 Chevy, the classic aquamarine and white one. Gorgeous. And it had two four barrel carburetors. Why he selected this creature for our family who knows, but I was the envy of the neighborhood NASCAR wannabees. Stock car racing was growing and we were twenty miles from Randleman, Level Cross, and the Petty family. Once I could drive that beast Dad was fairly free with it. He began to ask me to drive Fremont home. Here’s the scene; after church mom sat shotgun by me, I’d drop them at the parsonage, and drive Fremont – seated in the back – to his home.
Once out of sight, and on and the “straight” to the crossroads, Fremont and I would roll the windows down and I’d floor it. I can see him now; hand on his cruddy man’s hat, laughing toothlessly as we roared upwards of 100 MPH.
When I’d Blues Brothers the newfound jet into his dirt yard, he’d giggle and waddle up to the front porch, where from behind a screen door his mom in flour sack dress peered suspiciously at me.
I never went in.

F. HELLO JOSEPHINE (388)

ON FINDING ROCK AND ROLL   (From Play is Where Life Is by tp-page 40-41)

(with a nod to Jack Hussey)

Jack had migrated to Robbins having attended “rural” Westmoore until his junior year. Jack was a whole new story. His grandfather, with whom he lived, was a chicken farmer and did well. Plus Jack would work hard. He was always working wide open and making money. We called him “nickels and dimes” later in college, as he played every jukebox he passed (six songs for a quarter).

Jack also liked girl children, sports, and cars, anything that went fast. We played all sports together in high school, plus college basketball.

Jack always had a handful of money. One trip he and I made featured me getting off work at 9:30 pm, riding 157 miles to the Myrtle Beach Pavilion. Jack told me “I’m going down there and play every pinball game they have until I beat each one.” My allowance went fast but I watched the sun rise at the same time I watched Jack complete the whole Pavilion circuit. We rode back to Robbins.

The beach was magic. We’d sneak into El’s Pad at Ocean Drive and watch the big kids. I remember hearing “Don’t Be Cruel” continuously for three hours at the outdoor jukebox and dance floor across from El’s, next to the ocean. We had a white guy who could rock. Actually, Jack was more like Jerry Lee Lewis and all those songs remind me of Jack today. I sent him the Jerry Lee CD last year (2006). “Great Balls of Fire”.

I owe Jack. He hauled me everywhere, caught my passes, lent me money, and took me to the Rock and Roll Shows.

Sure enough, if you watched the Raleigh News and Observer in the mid to late fifties soon you’d see an ad for a show at Memorial Auditorium in our capitol.

This wouldn’t be one act. Sure there were “head liners.” Mostly “Fats” Dom ino, Little Richard, Ray Charles, Chuck Berry, Marvin Gaye, The Sherelles, Ruth Brown, and on and on. All the great ones and they’d come in bus loads. Sometimes as many as a dozen different performances or groups. We’d go early and watch them pile out of the buses. Occasionally Jackie found a glass jar full of quarters and half-dollars, his grandfather had buried on the farm. The old man didn’t trust banks because of “The Depression”. Upon finding one of their treasures we were apt to follow the shows from Raleigh to Greensboro or Winston-Salem, over to Charlotte on consecutive nights.

This was pre-integration. The blacks sat in the balcony and fought with the cops who wouldn’t let them dance in the aisles. One night the ruckus got so bad they dropped the stage curtain on “Fats” as he sung “Blueberry Hill”. Another highlight featured a golden suited Marvin Gaye, who while singing a medley, began to discard garments of gold. First, a coat, then shoes, a golden tie and shirt. Finally, as he revealed golden boxer shorts, Marvin and the band switched to “I’ll be doggone.” Classic!

Jack had a “56 black and white befender- skirted Mercury and it would fly. And he’d let it. Minimum 80 mph. The route to Raleigh featured a long sharp curve that Jackie had set the record on while rounding it, and he’d try to top his “personal best” every trip.

https://www.google.com/search?ei=tpjuXe20FbLL_QaZ_6fYAg&q=fats+domino+hello+josephine&oq=fats+domino+hell&gs_l=psy-ab.1.0.0l2j0i22i30l6j0i22i10i30j0i22i30.6354.8265..11378…0.0..0.136.706.

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G. ROCK AND ROLL (414)

Jack always had a handful of money. One trip he and I made featured me get- ting off work at 9:30 pm, riding 157 miles to the Myrtle Beach Pavilion. Jack told me “I’m going down there and play every pinball game they have until I beat each one.” My allowance went fast but I watched the sun rise at the same time I watched Jack complete the whole Pavilion circuit. We rode back to Robbins.
The beach was magic. We’d sneak into El’s Pad at Ocean Drive and watch the big kids. I remember hearing “Don’t Be Cruel” continuously for three hours at the outdoor jukebox and dance floor across from El’s, next to the ocean. We had a white guy who could rock. Actually, Jack was more like Jerry Lee Lewis and all
those songs remind me of Jack today. I sent him the Jerry Lee CD last year (2006). “Great Balls of Fire”.
I owe Jack. He hauled me everywhere, caught my passes, lent me money, and took me to the Rock and Roll Shows.
Sure enough, if you watched the Raleigh News and Observer in the mid to late fifties soon you’d see an ad for a show at Memorial Auditorium in our capitol.
This wouldn’t be one act. Sure there were “head liners.” Mostly “Fats” Domino, Little Richard, Ray Charles, Chuck Berry, Marvin Gaye, The Sherelles, Ruth Brown, and on and on. All the great ones and they’d come in bus loads. Sometimes as many as a dozen different performances or groups. We’d go early and watch them pile out of the buses. Occasionally Jackie found a glass jar full of quarters and half-dollars, his grandfather had buried on the farm. The old man didn’t trust banks because of “The Depression”. Upon finding one of their treasures we were apt to follow the shows from Raleigh to Greensboro or Winston-Salem, over to Charlotte on consecutive nights.
This was pre-integration. The blacks sat in the balcony and fought with the cops who wouldn’t let them dance in the aisles. One night the ruckus got so bad they dropped the stage curtain on “Fats” as he sung “Blueberry Hill”. Another highlight featured a golden suited Marvin Gaye, who while singing a medley, be- gan to discard garments of gold. First, a coat, then shoes, a golden tie and shirt. Finally, as he revealed golden boxer shorts, Marvin and the band switched to “I’ll be doggone.” Classic!
Jack had a “56 black and white befender skirted Mercury and it would fly. And he’d let it. Minimum 80 mph. The route to Raleigh featured a long sharp curve that Jackie had set the record on while rounding it, and he’d try to top his “personal best” every trip.

H. OLD DODGEY (411)

There were periods of sobriety. But there were times when one simply needed a drink. Once, Walt, the needy, arranged a deal with Uncle Harvey who was “on the wagon”.
Harvey needed a difficult bull loaded on to “Old Dodgey” his pick up truck. The deal was Walt would use an electric prod on the bull’s rear end as Harvey backed “Old Dodgey” to the bull. For his part Walt would be driven to the booze store and given a pint of WRL (Walk, Run and Lay Down) liquor. Otherwise, known as cheap stuff. Walt, already considerably tight, miscalculated and prodded the bull’s testicles. The bull leaped over the bed of the truck on to the top of the cab, crushing it down. Old Dodgey on Harvey.
The bull fell back into the bed, winning the argument for Walt over Harvey, contending the bull was in the truck, and that was the deal.
The boys recall seeing the bull tied in the back of Old Dodgey, both 300 pound Harvey and Walt squatted low in the crushed cab, on the way to deliver the bull with a brief stop at the ABC store.

I. SHOOTOUT (408)

The Browns were famous in Robbins. Frank, Cotton, Bobby, Charlie, and of course, the youngest Leon, were pretty damned formidable in 1952. There was another uncle and cousin I never met. They had then been gunned down earlier on the main street of Robbins. My future brother-in-law, Harold Ritter, gave me a firsthand eyewitness account of the event, having been in the general store where it occurred at the time.
Harold recounted the fact that the town policeman, a man named Moxley, tried to arrest the father-son combination within the store. They gunned Moxley down, and he fell behind the counter. As they drew a breath and relaxed, Moxley rose with two bullets in him, and put one each of his own in each Brown. The Browns never moved, one hit between the eyes. Moxley died in the street on the way to the doctor. The building later became the town’s water plant office. The front windowpane, shattered by one of their stray bullets, was bound and boarded and bolted back together. You were thus reminded of town lore as you walked past the water plant and Frye’s Store, one of the town hubs. Frye’s Store, at that time, was a simple shot-gun general store and shoe store. It endeared itself to me first for its outside sign: “Frye’s Shoes. Boys, we got’em.”