I was born in the south. I live in the south and will die in the south. This is only a small part of the memories I share.
Billy Joe and Lomax
were (and are) their real, boa-fide names. Trust me. I was born in rural Alabama, and if God lets me pass, I shall die in rural Alabama. So it stands to reason why I made quick friends with these two good-hearted, selfless and caring guys whom I met on my first day of school in Aug. 1961, at New Home School, that stood a good half-hour from our house as the school bus rolls.
Billy Joe and Lomax were the real deal. And as far as I know, they are still living. Thank God! You do NOT find people as good as these two rural boys no matter how you may search. It’s not possible. Only “those” times of surprise when you meet the two people that I still know, your heart will feel very peaceful.
Honestly speaking, these two guys did not have a nickel to rub together. Neither did I. My mom had to buy my jeans on a credit until her payday from Detroit Slacks, Detroit, Ala., just one of the textile plants that used to work as many as 500 employees before Bill Clinton and some unnamed senator helped a bill named N.A.F.T.A. to pass in legislation. The bill, or so it was said, was to help America to prosper in jobs being brought to America—so look now and try to see where these jobs ended up.
I’ve Had Enough of High-End Politics
so I am returning back to 1961 when the summers were great for swimming in any given creek as well as fishing in the same creek until our hearts were content. The air was even cleaner. So what does this near-soap box banter have to do with my two great friends, Billy Joe and Lomax? You will see very soon.
First let me tell you a little bit about her family background. And remember, NOT one word or sentence in this piece is made-up or exaggerated. This family had a leader: Leburn. (no names, please). And this family had a good mother: Hazel. (again, no names please.) The mother worked everywhere there was a job. So did Leburn, but not as frequent as Hazel—because you can understand that Leburn only had a second-grade education, and although I liked him, Leburn had one vice: whiskey. Oh, not a lot, but a pint ever so often and not enough to hurt Hazel or their boys, but he did love the whiskey.
One story that I am sharing had everything to with Leburn and his sons, James, the oldest; Donald, the middle son; and Billy Joe and Lomax who were born a few minutes of each other.
One night at our only drive-in theater: Ford Drive-In, in Hamilton, Ala., Leburn and the boys went to see a good movie. That was the initial plan. But like I told you about Leburn and his whiskey, he brought a pint along and sipped whiskey while he and the boys watched some 60s spy movie and when it was time to go home, Leburn had forgotten ONE thing: to take off the speaker from the window and when he took off, so did the passenger side glass taking the speaker and wooden pole behind them.
Talk about nerves! Leburn kept trucking. The boys, I was told, yelled at him to stop because the local authorities were going to put him in jail, but that never happened. The thinking (of the local cops) was any man with four boys who drank a pint of whiskey and ripped a drive-in theater pole, speaker and all with him . . .he might be one of those guys who did not know his own strength. And that was the truth. Leburn did not look for a fight, but he sure knew how to stop them.
I Should be Telling
you about Billy Joe, Lomax, and Donald. On my very first day of school, ever, at New Home School, I was excited along with the rest of the students. I felt right at home because the cut of the students’ clothing and mine were pretty much the same—nothing fancy and that is why I loved the students so much.
When morning recess rolled around, I saw the boys head to the playground, so not wanting to be a wet blanket, I tagged alone with them. They were choosing sides for a make-shift baseball game. Yes, the New Home All-Stars had come to play. I remember an older student, Bobby Stovall, the leader of the boys (because he could talk so loudly), and he asked me if I had ever played “hind catcher?”
I quickly replied no, and the game was on. But not Billy Joe and Lomax. And not Donald because he had girls on his mind and who could blame him with his near-six-foot frame with a head full of naturally-blond hair and a killer smile that could (and did) melt just about any girl who ventured in his way. More about Donald, Billy Joe and Lomax in a few minutes.
I was the “hind catcher,” and I was excited. Charles Deline was the batter and I forgot who threw the ball, well, the first ball that I had ever witnessed in real life because up to now, I had only watched Pro Baseball on our black and white TV sponsored by Falstaff Beer, and heard the legend, Dizzy Dean do the announcing.
Then the next few moments were like death, if those moments feel like death because I was in slow-motion, even the baseball. Then Charles “got all of the ball,” (a baseball term that means a batter had really hit the ball.) And no, I had no chance to catch the ball. But my forehead did catch the big end of Deline’s authentic baseball bat. I hope that none of you ever experienced such pain and humiliation.
I lay flat on my back for God knows how long because I was watching one of the most-extravagant light shows ever to see. The stars were blue, yellow, and red. I did not hear anyone calling for me to wake-up. I guess that I had died.
As I woke, Mrs. Gertrude Ballard, the teacher for the first through third grades, was talking to me and reassuring me about not worrying about being hit and thrown to the ground. I managed to walk into her classroom and there sat Billy Joe and Lomax. And to this day, I have never known why these two brothers and great friends of mine chose to stay inside at morning recess.
You Will Love
this next part. Mrs. Ballard quickly found a bottle of Red Cross white rubbing alcohol and poured it on my swelled forehead. There were two knots already forming. I guess that in our day, Red Cross alcohol was a cure-all for any sickness or accident. I liked how it smelled.
Then, out of the goodness of Billy Joe and Lomax’s hearts, they began to give me a clean sheet of paper and when I say give, they kept handing me the paper like it was a healing remedy. I was feeling better even with the knots that had swelled bigger and bigger. Sure, the generosity of these two friends felt great. Both said that they were sorry that I was the one that the bat hit when the ball was thrown.
Mrs. Gertrude Ballard, the caring woman and teacher that she was, carried me home in her 1959 Plymouth that roared as she drove down the road. When I got home, my mom was first scared, then angry and did not know how someone like me could have made such a mistake as playing baseball when I had never played the game. Then she was very sorry about getting angry at me and she brought out another bottle of Red Cross white rubbing alcohol, and between the Red Cross white rubbing alcohol from Mrs Ballard and my sainted-mother, I felt good. Great when Mrs. Ballard told my mom to keep me at home for at least a week while I was healing.
Now for telling you about Donald, whom I have already told you about him. I loved him as I did Billy Joe and Lomax as well as their parents, but let me tell you what a generous guy that Donald was.
It was Christmas at New Home and prior to the one-week Christmas Vacation, Donald, out of the goodness of his heart, brought a few home-made kites that he had designed from a few empty plastic fertilizer bags—because New Home Community was a farming community and New Home School stood almost in the middle of this area.
The children loved Donald and his kites. When my family moved, I lost touch with Billy Joe, Lomax and Donald and I told you that when I was able to drive, I would see them at our local Walmart and catch-up on our old memories. But the day came one day when I was at my job at the Journal Record newspaper in Hamilton, Ala., I heard someone say that Donald, who was employed by a factory near our town, and he was quite the prankster. From setting fire to aprons that the guys who worked in the Carpenter Dept. of this factory, to calling someone’s name on the factory P.A. system. Donald and his natural charm, could talk any girl into letting him use the phone in her office for personal reasons and still, he was one of the best employees that this factory had.
And if you were among the many people who were friends with Donald, then when he met you, he would always say, “What’s up, slick?” That was his signal that you and he were friends. Donald did not have any enemies to speak of, so he didn’t have a moniker for them.
Then I heard the tragic news from his mother, Hazel, that Donald had been diagnosed with Level 4 Cancer and was too far gone for Chemotherapy. When my wife told me this news, I remember it was like my life being sucked from my soul and heart. I grew angry. Not as much as God, but for the reason that good people like Donald are always the first to go, or as the saying goes.
Later that week, I had this fantasy about Donald, when he returned to the Throne of God to see all the priceless rewards that he had been given.
There stood Donald, in front of God, the Almighty, the Infinite.
Then God spoke:
March 29, 2019_________________________________________________
© 2019 Kenneth Avery