When I was back in North Carolina last week, I ran into Mr. C and got to thinking about some other people I knew and began this memoir about a friend of mine from my late elementary and early junior high years. This is a long post, I should have made it two posts, but decided not to do that. Brian use to always give me a hard time for spelling his name Brain… I noticed I had to correct myself a few times as I typed this… He should have considered it a compliment as I don’t think his grades were any better than mine.
I knew we was being set up but didn’t know how to stop it. Mr. C. wasn’t known as an outdoors man. I was pretty sure that in my 13 years, I’d spent more nights sleeping outside that he had in his lifetime. Yet, here he was challenging me, along with my brother and Brian, three Boy Scouts, with a quiz. “What do you do if you find yourself having to go to the bathroom in the woods with just one piece of toilet paper?” We suggested finding leaves and holding it in, but those weren’t the right answers. Mr. C. had one of us go to the bathroom and bring back a single piece of toilet paper. In a very serious and methodical way, he folded the square in half and half again, so that it was quarter size. Again, he taunted us, asking what kind of Boy Scouts we were for not knowing something so essential. Then he ripped a corner out of the toilet paper, insisting that this corner was very important and that great care should be taken not to lose it. He then opened up the single sheet of toilet paper, which now had a hole in the center. Into this hole he slipped his index finger and proceeded to tell us to wipe out butt with the finger. “And then,” he continued as he pulled out that most important ripped piece of toilet paper, “you use this to clean your nail.” We had been had. Such is my only memory of my 8th grade church youth group Christmas party. We were at someone’s home, can’t remember who’s. Mr. C sat in a chair while the three of us gathered around him like disciples.
Our church youth group was never very large, but we were always close. There were about a dozen of us who stuck together through high school, with only a few changes. Brain’s family would move away later that year, to South Carolina I think, but in time he would be replaced by the Matthews, some new kids who’d moved in.
I lost track of Brian even though we had been close friends since the fourth grade when my family moved to the Wilmington area and started to go to the church where his family attended. In addition to the church, we were in the same scout troop. But we attended different schools. I would later learn that he moved back to the area, but lived north of town and went to a different high school, and that he was engaged to Sharon, a girl that I liked for a short while as an eighth grader at Roland Grice Junior High. On another note, while in college, I’d later marry Mr. C’s daughter, a girl Brian liked. They both attended Sunset Park Elementary and Jr. High. When Mr. C and his family moved to Savannah for year, our Sunday School teacher had us all write her a card and we were all mushy about her and her lonely lover boy. Shortly after Brian moved, she and I first got together. It wouldn’t last, but we started dating late in our senior year in high school and a couple years later we married. It didn’t work out. I hope Brain and Sharon had better luck.
Although I attended Vacation Bible School every summer, I only have memories from one of those summers. It was 1967, the summer of love, but also the summer of the Six Day War. While making our crafts, I remember Brian and I talking about the war that was going on at the time half-a-world away. It seemed real, as we were studying about Abraham and the war was being fought over the area through which he’d wandered. My other memory was us gathering up stalks of sandspurs that grew to the side of the church which had not yet had a lawn put in. In our final assembly, as we were all standing and singing praises to God, we flicked these sand spurs on the kids who sat in the pew in front of us and they caught onto their shirts and blouses. When they sat back in the pews after the songs, the spurs bit into their backs and they howled. The teachers were all mad at us, especially me because I looked guilty and was laughing. Brian was always able to keep a straight face and I was generally the first to be indicted. That evening, however, we were all chastised. Thinking back on this prank, we should have been given credit for getting the men serious about putting the rest of the lawn in around the church.
Brian and I was also a pair in Boy Scouts. At one time or another we were both the assistant patrol leader when the other was the patrol leader. Being patrol leader generally meant you made out the menu and your mother did the shopping. It also meant led your patrol in competitions at camporees and we both earned blue ribbons that went on the Cobra Patrol’s staff. One camporee I remember, which was held on the large Pembroke Jones Estate, rained so hard that all the competitions were cancelled. We stayed in the tent all day; napping and listening on a nine volt transistor radio to Georgia Tech beat North Carolina in football. The weather matched our mood. When our leaders told us to pack things up, we’re going home, we were happy. Being patrol leaders also meant we got to dry out the tents later in the week after the rain had stopped.
In our Junior High Youth Group, it seemed we always ate. We would go to an ice cream parlor and order “the kitchen sink,” a huge banana split bowl that probably had a gallon of ice cream along with a half dozen bananas, a dozen or more cherries and dripping with chocolate syrup. It was enough for our whole group. On another occasion, we had a cookout under the huge longleaf pines at Hugh McRae Park. We all roasted hot dogs over a fire and afterwards, climbed in the back of someone’s truck bed covered with pine straw, for a “hay ride” out to Maco, a siding along the Atlantic Coastline track west of town. Today, kids riding in the back of a truck would be considered criminal and the thought of sitting on tick infested pine straw doesn’t seem nearly as exciting as it did when I was a seventh grader. But we snuggled close and let Brian and Mr. C’s daughter sit next to the cab where they couldn’t be seen as well from her father who rode shotgun on the inside and kept looking back to make sure we weren’t doing anything bad. I don’t think they did anything more than hold hands, but it seemed pretty risqué at the time.
At the beginning of our eighth grade, we elected officers for our Junior High Youth Group. Brian wanted to be president so bad that he spent the entire Sunday School hour campaigning. When we met that evening for youth group, he volunteered right away to offer the opening prayer. No one in the history of youth groups, ours or others, had ever volunteered as quickly as Brian did that evening. The protocol was to wait and make our leaders beg, plead and bargain to get us to pray. This evening Brian volunteered right away. He prayed for God to make him the youth group president. Such vainglory was just too much for us budding Calvinists. Brian wasn’t elected president. I don’t remember who was, but I remember that he wasn’t! Later that year, Brian moved away and I never saw him again, but a few years after high school, my mother had run into his mother and told me about his pending marriage.
Editor’s note: After writing the above, I did a google search and came across the obituary for Brian’s mother who died a few months ago. I knew right away from the photo that it was her, even though it’s been forty years since I’ve seen her. Brian was married, but not to Sharon…