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
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…