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James R. Stout

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Randy and Eddie

August 7, 2017
When you’re an eight-year old boy and it’s the summer of 1964, life can be pretty darned good. I was just such a boy. I had a raspy voice and my mother used to say she didn’t have to look outside to see if I was there because she could hear my voice above all the other kids. I’ve been told by a few people that it was one of those voices that you would find yourself waiting to hear it speak again just to hear it. I don’t say that with conceit. In fact, I have always wished my voice was higher than it is. Raspy may not be the correct word for it either. More like “a little gruff”. I was like any other boy my age during that summer. I spent most of the day outside, shirtless, shoeless, and tough as nails where hot cement, grass burrs, and gravel roads were concerned. The bottom of my feet would be black by the end of the day and I would groan when my mother made me wash them before coming in the house. But there were woods to explore, games to play, and a lot of life to be lived and doing most of that barefoot just seemed natural.

One day in early June I met another eight year-old boy named Eddie. Eddie was freckle-faced with reddish blond hair and we immediately became best friends. It seems as though I was meant to be a leader even though I didn’t like taking leadership roles and Eddie was meant to be the faithful friend willing to follow my lead. Of course, this meant that I generally was given credit for being the instigator for things that went awry. In many ways, we were the Tom and Huck of the neighborhood. We were inseparable. If you saw one, then you saw the other. We played make believe games based on current television shows such as “Combat” with me more often than not taking the role of Sgt. Saunders and Eddie would be Little John, Kirby, or the Lieutenant. Sometimes I was James West and Eddie was Artemus Gordon from “The Wild Wild West” or Napoleon Solo to Eddie’s Ilya Kuryakin from “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” We also spent a great deal of time singing, rather loudly I am told, all the hits from the radio. 

In July of 1964 Eddie stayed over for a night and my parents took us to the drive-in movie to see “Circus World” with John Wayne. We had a great time and life didn’t seem like it could get any better. The only thing that might have made it better would be if Eddie and his family were to move a little closer. Eddie’s aunt lived in my neighborhood and Eddie stayed with his aunt during the day that summer since his parents both worked. The first baseball cards that I ever got were some that Eddie gave me. It was like giving someone a drug and getting them hooked! I would collect baseball cards for years thereafter.
 
One day later in that summer we were playing at my house and when it came time for Eddie to go home I offered to take him back to his aunt’s house by way of my bike. It was an old Schwinn 3-speed, green and white, and too big for an eight year-old, but it was all that I had at the time. Eddie climbed up on the handlebars and I started to pedal away. The roads in our little neighborhood were all made of gravel and as we rounded a curve in one I lost control of the bike and we both came crashing down to the gravel. The bike was unscathed, but the same couldn’t be said for Eddie and I. Eddie was barefoot, like most kids in those days, and as he tumbled down from the handlebars the toenail on his big toe got caught in the spokes of the front wheel and the toenail was literally ripped off. Meanwhile, I took a pretty good scrape on my arm from my wrist to above my elbow. Both of us sat in the road rocking back in forth in pain, both fighting away the tears that we wanted to cry, and wondering how such a calamity had befallen us. 
 
Suddenly, Eddie said between gritted teeth, “Hey, we can be blood brothers now!” 
 
I immediately seized on the idea replied, “Yea! How cool is that?
 
So, Eddie lifted his bleeding toe while I leaned down with my bloody elbow and we mixed our blood together grimacing at the new pain caused by the motion. But it was a moment that I will never forget.

Eddie had three sisters, two older and one younger. There was Sharon, Karen, and Lynn. I kind of “liked” Lynn and it appeared she felt the same. But I was only 8 and she was only 7 and girls were still not of sufficient interest to cause me to consider breaking the cardinal rule of friendship - you simply do NOT get hung up on your best friend’s sister. Period! The End! Eddie’s family started to go to the same church my family attended late in 1964. It meant that we had someone to pass notes to during church and consequently we would both get thumped on the back of the head by our mothers!

Eddie went to a different elementary school than I did during 3rd grade. But, in the spring of 1965 Eddie’s family moved into the house across the street from my house. Good times were definitely on the way! We were set for a summer of adventures and then some. By that time the hit record “Mrs. Brown You’ve Got A Lovely Daughter” had topped the charts. Coincidentally, Eddie’s last name was Brown! One day I said to Mrs. Brown, “Mrs. Brown, you really do have a lovely daughter.” To which she replied, “If you’re this smooth now, then the girls won’t have a chance in a few years!” I just grinned.

Throughout June of that summer we had a great time. Snow cones from the college kid who road through the neighborhood on a modified “trike” motorcycle with the snow cone machine, ice, and bottles of flavor for all the kids to enjoy were a favorite. Going to the movies on Saturday afternoon at the Palace Theater in downtown Bryan, Texas to see movies like “That Darn Cat” and “The Moon Spinners” were a highlight too. Life was great. If anything, being nine was even better than being eight.

On July 4th that year our families got together to celebrate. My father grilled chicken outside, and Eddie’s Dad drove us to the fireworks stand and got us some sparklers and firecrackers for that night. A grand time was had by all. The best part was probably near the end of the night when we all sat outside in lawn chairs and watched the stars and the satellites go through the night sky. We talked of news and of life. Eddie and I, as well as the other kids, lay on our backs with our arms propped up behind our heads and dreamed of all the things that might be coming our way. All of life was in front of us. Would one of us one day fly into space like the Gemini astronauts? Would one become a famous actor or singer or would we just be regular old guys raising a family? It was all unwritten on that July 4th.
 
Over the next week life was the usual fair for us. We played, dreamed, planned, schemed, laughed, and did our best to irritate our sisters and generally with great success. 
Saturday, July 10th started out with a morning baseball game in the neighborhood sandlot across the road from Eddie’s house. About 11 am o’clock Eddie’s father called for him to come home. They were going on an overnight camping trip on the San Jacinto River in East Texas. I was wishing I could go, but it was a family outing for the Browns. I waved goodbye to Eddie who sat in the back of the 1960 Chevrolet Pick-up truck, ironically it was brown in color, and Eddie yelled, “See you on Monday!”
 
July 11, 1965 was like most Sundays - for a while at least. My family awoke, listened to Southern Gospel quartets on TV while getting ready for church, went to Sunday School and Church, and came home for lunch. These were standard operating procedures for the day in my young life. That afternoon I played outside and kept a keen eye out for the Brown’s truck in the hopes that Eddie would get home early enough to play before bedtime.
 
About 3 o’clock my sister Debbie came running up and said, “Randy, we just heard on the radio that a boy named Eddie Brown drowned. Mom and Dad don’t know if was Eddie or not because it’s a common name.” 
 
I simply didn’t know what to do with that information. I just didn’t.
So, I went home and I waited to see if it was true or not. About 4:30 the phone rang and my mother answered it. She said things like, “I see.” “Yes.” “Certainly”, then she hung up. She walked into the room and told us that Eddie had indeed drowned in the San Jacinto River that morning around 11 o’clock. 
 
Again, I didn’t know what to do with that information. I just didn’t. 
 
I sat down on the front porch step with my arms around my knees and waited for something to happen. Something to explain what this all meant. Eddie was dead. I had never had someone close to me die before. My great-uncle Leroy died in 1962, but he was very old and I didn’t know him that well. But this was another thing altogether. I understood what death meant the way most 9 year-olds do, which is to say that I didn’t really understand it all. I would be much older before I understood it completely.
 
About 6 o’clock I saw the Chevy Pick-up round the corner and drive down the street and pull into Eddie’s driveway. I turned and said through the open door, “Mom, they’re home.” When I turned back around Eddie’s mom was being helped out of the truck by Eddie’s father. She was weeping loud enough for me to hear her from across the street. I have had tenderness for a woman when she cries ever since that moment. She had the old pair of blue jeans that Eddie had been wearing when he disappeared under the water draped over her shoulder and was hugging them tightly. I wanted to cry. But for some reason I couldn’t.
 
My mother came out and said, “Randy, you need to stay here. I’ll be back in a few minutes” and then she walked across the street in time to take Mrs. Brown in her arms and comfort her the way that ladies seem so capable of doing. Seeing that did make me cry. But nobody saw the tears.
 
Later that night my parents explained as best they could what all of this meant. For the time being, I understood enough.  But there were questions that I wanted to ask. They were questions I did not ask because I did not know how to put them into words. The facts also came out as to what had happened. The Browns were packing up and getting ready to come home. Eddie and his little sister Lynn asked if they could wade in the water to which they were told yes, but not to get all the way wet as they were about to leave. A few minutes later Mrs. Brown looked over to call them to the truck and she looked just in time to see Eddie step into what was a drop-off in the river. Eddie never made a sound. He just lifted his arm and had a look on his face of shock. Eddie’s mother screamed and ran and jumped into the river to try to save her son’s life. A natural reaction for any mother, but the problem was she didn’t know how to swim either and immediately started to go under herself. By this time Doc Brown saw what was happening and jumped into the water at a dead run. He got to Mrs. Brown first and pulled her back to shallow water and then dove in after Eddie. Only he couldn’t find Eddie. Eddie had already been swept down river by a strong under-current. Doc swam back to the shore exhausted yet he started to yell for help from other campers and boaters. It would be too late though.
About 30 minutes later and a mile down the river Eddie’s body was found tangled up in some deadwood debris . . . His young life taken away.
 
The next day was Monday, July 12th. My father, at Mom’s urging, decided to take me and my sister Debbie to a drive-in movie to keep my mind off of things. That wasn’t going to happen though. On the way to the theater we stopped at the funeral home where they were having the “viewing” that evening for Eddie. My Dad left us in the car while he went in to sign the register and talk for a moment to Doc Brown. A few minutes later Dad came out and leaned down to talk to me through the open window where I was sitting and said, “Mr. Brown wants to know if you would like to come in and see Eddie. I think he would really appreciate it.” What could I say? I do remember saying something about I was barefoot and my clothes were not very clean after being outside most of the day, but my father said it would be OK.
I felt very self-conscience as I walked through the door of the funeral home. All eyes were on me. It was no secret that Eddie and I were best buddies. If you saw one, then you saw the other. I felt the cold plush carpet beneath my bare feet. To my recollection, it was the first time I had ever walked on carpet. Well, I certainly had never walked on it barefoot. In those days, hardwood floors in houses were the norm. Only rich people had carpet.
 
There I was barefooted, wearing a pair of old play shorts and a t-shirt, dirty from doing the things that boys, even when mourning the loss of their best friend, seem so able to do. As I walked down the deep red carpet I hung my head with embarrassment. I thought to myself, “I shouldn’t be in here dirty and sweaty.” 
My father walked up to the casket with me and then stepped away leaving me to stare down at the lifeless body of my best friend. My first thought was, “He looks like he’s just sleeping.” I felt guilty for having a morbid curiosity as to how Eddie’s skin might feel to the touch, but I didn’t dare try to find out. One of the questions I so wanted to ask was did it hurt when Eddie died? I hoped not. Later in life I understood that it must have been terrifying for Eddie and that it had indeed been painful. That in itself haunts me to this day. Nobody wants to see his friend hurt. 
 
Eddie’s strawberry blonde hair looked neat and clean and this just didn’t seem right to my 9 year-old mind. We combed our hair only when made to by our mothers. At least they didn’t do something with his freckles. After a couple of minutes, Doc Brown came over and put his hand on my shoulder and I looked up into the eyes of a man who was in deep pain. Sorrow doesn’t even cover what I saw in those eyes. 
 
Doc said, “Thank you, Randy, for coming in to see Eddie. It means a lot to his mother and me. 
 
“Yes sir, Mr. Brown. Eddie was my friend.”
 
“I know, Randy. I know.”
 
My Dad and I walked slowly out of the funeral home, got into the baby blue 1961 Ford Galaxie 500, and along with my sister went and watched two James Bond movies at the Skyway Drive-in in Bryan, Texas. It was a surreal night for me. There I was greatly enjoying the escapades of 007 in “Goldfinger” and “Thunderball” and simultaneously feeling guilty for being alive to enjoy those movies while Eddie was dead. I still can’t watch those movies without thinking of Eddie.
 
The next day was the funeral. My family sat together and I was disappointed that I couldn’t see Eddie from where I sat. However, I did see Mrs. Brown as she broke down at the casket and had to be carried away. I had never seen a person consumed by that much sorrow.  A woman sang, “In The Temple” and I wondered why they didn’t play Eddie’s favorite song, “Downtown” by Petula Clark. That would have made more sense to my young mind. From time to time I did get a glimpse of Eddie’s forehead, but that was all.
 
We were in the funeral procession and I remember my father telling us to remind him to turn off his lights when we got to the gravesite. But nobody remembered.
For those of us who remain, live life goes on. And so it was for me. I would later tell Eddie’s sisters about being a blood brother to Eddie and didn’t that mean Eddie was still alive a little in me? Out of the mouths of babes as it were because Eddie still lives within me today - within my heart as he always will.
 
Over the next few years I thought of Eddie on those momentous occasions that we all go through: Getting my driver’s license, kissing my first girlfriend, meeting my wife, getting married, having kids, and now that I am nearing 60 I think of Eddie often. Eddie has remained a little boy while I’ve grown to what my grandchildren consider to be an “old man.” The truth is I have thought of Eddie nearly every day of my life since that day in the summer of 1965. 
 
Just recently I made a trip to Bryan, Texas and found Eddie’s grave. Next to Eddie were the graves of Doc and Alice Brown. Eddie never got to do most of the things that people get to do in life. But he was loved, still is loved, and that’s a lot more than far too many people can say. One day when my life here on Earth is over I will again see my friend in Heaven. Maybe, just maybe, God will let us play together like children again. I don’t think God would have a problem with that at all.

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