Monday, June 13, 2011

A Tribute to The Jesse Brown

Golden Valley Community Club has lost a member and friend. A lovely memorial service was held at South Mountain Christian Camp on June 11, 2011 in honor of the late Jesse W. Brown. (12/30/1933 - 06/01/2011) Nearly 200 people gathered to celebrate Jesse's life. Everyone brought covered dishes for a delicious, sit-down dinner that Jesse would have thoroughly enjoyed. After the meal the service was held and several people rose from the crowd to speak. A familiar picture of Jesse in the role of husband, father, and friend emerged, but there were special speakers.

Several men from the prison ministry Jesse worked with came to the service. One man, a former prisoner, stepped to the podium to share his story. He told about how Jesse’s personal involvement helped him to change his life. The current owner of Jesse Brown's Outdoor Outfitters stepped up and spoke of Jesse as a visionary. He told how much they appreciated carrying on the mission at Jesse Brown’s, supplying hikers, campers, mountaineers, and other outdoor enthusiasts, through the store Jesse founded in the 70's. He said Jesse and Catherine ordered supplies for the doctors and nurses at the hospital where Jesse was treated, and continued to support the store even in those last days.

The Minister of the church that is now in the building that once housed the store and his wife came. He told the story of the how their church began and said Jesse received a higher offer for the building, and was under no obligation to sell it to them, but sold it to them anyway, to further the ministry. Seth, Jesse's longtime “adopted” son and former co-pilot with Piedmont Airlines shared some memories about Jesse. He and his wife Connie had driven up from Florida. Seth and Connie are the couple Catherine stayed with when Jesse had surgery and was bedridden the subsequent 108 days. They were with him and Catherine throughout the ordeal.

Charlotte and OA Fish, of the South Mountain Christian Camp met Jesse and Catherine as volunteers and says they were the best of the best. One of Jesse's Appalachian Trail buddies from the days at the store, who completed his walk in the woods, returned to the store to get a new backpack. He said Jesse told him if he could wear it out the store would exchange it. After the Trail he didn’t expect to hold the store to it, but sure enough his old backpack went on display in the shop. Someone from The Sowers came and talked about how Jesse and Catherine volunteered with them for several years, traveling to various locations across the US to work on construction projects. Sheriff Chris Francis spoke and told the story about when he first met Jesse, about how Jesse had gotten so involved in the campaign that he wore Chris Francis tee shirts and covered his car with campaign stickers. He said Jesse wasn't a man who did things by half measures - if he got behind you - he was committed. Jesse’s dear friend Joe from the Sabbath Keepers blew the shofar. And there was more.

We heard loving stories about Jesse as Husband, Father, Minister, Airline Pilot, Outdoorsman and Friend, but we didn't hear about Jesse as Neighbor. That’s because I could not bring myself to speak. I kept seeing pictures of Barney, Jesse's dear friend, his old yellow dog, and couldn't help but think: if dogs go to Heaven surely Barney greeted Jesse, surely they were reunited. I envisioned Jesse in a wingback chair with Barney at his side watching the service. So, you didn't get to hear about how Jesse used to Skype me from various locations as he and Catherine traveled. You didn't know he kept a bottle of Tabasco in my refrigerator, you didn't hear how he went to the hospital and sat with neighbors who had been admitted, and you didn't hear anything about The Garden, a project that deserves at least 8 pages. You didn't know he was not only a neighbor, but a dear friend. Jesse was a living example of a thru hiker on a Christian walk, not without foibles, not without comedy, not perfect, but rather a hard-headed, lion-hearted man of the fifties, chin outthrust and striving forward. The very fact that he was not perfect and still accomplished so much in Christian service was a blessing to me.

He walked life's path, sometimes staggering, sometimes falling, sometimes in the wrong direction, but always with faith. Looking in the mirror kept him from holding himself above a single soul. And despite the fact that he loved recognition, he lived, not by natural inclination, but by choice with the heart of a servant.

It's pretty amazing what one might accomplish when one says, here I am Lord use me. Most of us want to clean up our acts before offering ourselves in service. But Jesse did as he thought he ought to do; he packed his super-duper-pooper-scooper and hit the trail. He made some mistakes, some big ones, and he shared them in a way that made you feel better about yours. I suppose it kept him humble.

It's hard to be humble when you love the limelight, and he would have loved a gathering of people whose common ground was in loving him. Jesse and Barney would have loved his Memorial Service. I wish he could have been there.

Maybe he was.

  Simple Truths, the movie.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Mickey Brackett's Grandpa Rides Again

The Great Golden Valley Truck Wreck
By Mickey Brackett

Rush Rollins, my grandfather, drove a 1949 model Dodge pickup truck for years. The cab was dirty yellow and the bed was dirty black. This truck may have gotten wash jobs but I never witnessed one except when it rained. Like most if not all trucks made in the late 40s and 50s, it had a manual transmission with a long floor mounted gear stick. I made a few trips with my grandfather to nearby Forest City in this truck. He drove like a person with no stress, no appointments, and no certain time to return. Driving slowly was a necessity for him. He always smoked self-rolled Prince Albert cigarettes while driving. These smokes were always dropping hot embers onto his shirt causing a moment of chest slapping and hard language until the burning stopped. If this distraction ever caused an accident, I never knew of it. Every new shirt he wore soon had Prince Albert holes in them. Gasoline was less than 30 cents per gallon in the 1960s. Even at this bargain price money must have been extremely tight. Grandfather practiced the lost art of coasting down long hills to save fuel. At the hilltop he would grab the gear stick and push it to neutral and turn the switch off. Down the hill we would go free wheeling by the power of gravity. As we reached the bottom and started uphill, the truck would start losing speed at which time grandfather would push in the clutch, turn on the switch, push the gear stick into third or fourth gear, then let out the clutch. The engine would start back up, pulling the truck to the top of the next hill where he would do this procedure over again and again on the road to town and back. My grandfather had no other vehicles except the farm tractor. The old truck served my grandfather well.

Uses for the Dodge truck included hauling small loads of pulp wood to the closest pulp wood yard to be sold. I doubt the pickup would haul ½ cord of wood, but anyway, grandfather would use the yellow truck for this purpose. He never owned a power chain saw, but he still seemed to cut plenty of pulp wood. He used a buck saw, which is a one-man bow saw. This created no loud sound, no smoke, used no gasoline, and never needed to be taken to town for repairs. While cutting trees with this saw he always kept handy a short Coke bottle filled with kerosene. The bottle had dried pine needles stuffed halfway into the bottle neck. When the buck saw was not sawing well due to pine rosin, he would swab the pine needle end of the bottle across the blade. This may be done several times prior to falling a tree. After several trees were cut up, he would load the wood by hand onto the yellow truck. When he arrived at the pulp wood yard, he had to hand unload the wood onto a rail car. The whole process was slow, hard work but did give him some fishing money.

My grandfather loved to fish. I think that is why he never had a full-time public job, which would have interfered with his fishing schedule. His favorite fish to go after was the crappie. This fish was noted for large schools. If you found the right spot, a fisherman could fill a cooler with these good-tasting fish. Grandfather usually caught the fish using live minnows as bait that he seined from the creeks near his house. Fishing for crappie was typically done from a boat.

Even though grandfather fished regularly, he never owned a boat. He did however own a 10 horsepower Johnson outboard boat motor. Lake James, located between Marion and Morganton, was a favorite fishing spot for my grandfather. The lake was an estimated 25 miles from Golden Valley. I have seen cooler full after cooler full of crappie caught in Lake James by my grandfather and other lesser known fisherman like Bill Hauser, Coy Toney, Smoky Martin, and Leit Witherow. Any trip to the lake required loading the outboard motor, a two-cycle gas tank, cooler of ice, fish net, paddle, flashlight, drinking water jug, minnow bucket, rod & reels, tackle boxes, anchor (usually a concrete block), rope, lanterns, food, and soft drinks. This was loaded into the bed of the yellow Dodge truck. Two or three people would ride in the cab of the truck and off they would go. Once at Lake James they would rent a flat bottom John-boat from Benfields or Lance’s Boat Landing. All the fishing gear including the outboard motor would be unloaded from the truck and placed into the boat. They fished nights or days until the minnows were all gone or dead or the sun got too hot.

The great Golden Valley truck wreck occurred while returning from one of these fishing trips. The year may have been 1963. We still had no telephone in our house. Someone drove to tell us grandpa had been in a wreck on Highway 226 near Highway 64. Everyone jumped into the car and off we went. Wrecks were newsworthy. Mother was concerned about her dad. Was he hurt? I had not seen many wrecks so this was exciting to a 12-year-old boy. Highway 226 was a good secondary state road running between Shelby and Marion and beyond. This was grandfather’s normal route to and from Lake James. He must have fished all morning and was returning home mid-afternoon. Golden Valley is in Rutherford County and the Lake is in McDowell and Burke Counties. A ridge of the South Mountains is the boundary separating McDowell County from Rutherford County. Highway 226 goes over the western end of this South Mountain ridge and this is where the great Golden Valley truck wreck occurred. Grandfather was slowly climbing the McDowell County side of the ridge when he encountered another slower moving vehicle driven by Banner Huskins. If grandfather was going 35 mph, Banner must have been going 25 mph. Banner also drove a pickup truck which was older than my grandfather’s truck. These old trucks were well built of thick sheet metal, heavy axles, big tires, and strong steel frames. Grandpa did not like following such a slow poke and decided it was time to change positions. Going up the mountain grade, he moved over to the passing lane and started around the other vehicle, forgetting he was in an old truck heavily loaded with fishing gear.

There he was, heavily loaded, traveling uphill beside Banner Huskins, on a two-lane road, when a third vehicle coming down the hill straight at him was spotted. Grandpa pushed the gas pedal to the floor trying to make the old Dodge accelerate faster but without success. He had to do something and now! Turning to the right he hoped to clear Banner’s front bumper and pull in front of him. Instead, grandpa’s rear bumper caught Banner’s front bumper. The two bumpers joined at 25 mph and would not disconnect. The physics of this wreck I don’t fully understand. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. The reaction turned the Dodge truck over on its side dumping the fishing gear out in multiple directions. Banner’s truck held upright and luckily no one was badly injured.

As is normal in such automobile accidents, the North Carolina Highway Patrol soon arrived. Someone had to be at fault. Someone should receive a violation, ticket, or fine. What was the cause of this wreck? This patrolman was not from Golden Valley. He did not know Rush Rollins or Banner Huskins; however, he would question each to fully understand what happened. He asked, “Who was driving the yellow truck?” “I was,” answered my grandfather. “Was speed the cause of this accident?” the patrolman asked. At times like this, one must dig deeply to find humor in such an unhappy situation and grandpa did. He answered with the Prince Albert cigarette in his mouth, “Yes, sir, it was. The lack of speed was the cause of the accident.” The patrolman gave grandpa a ticket for reckless driving in an old fishing truck.

Thinking the truck had seen its better days, grandpa sold the truck to Rob Freeman. Mr. Freeman drove the truck for 10 more years. Grandpa replaced the Dodge with a blue Ford pickup with a stick shift on the column. He continued to go fishing and coasted down many more hills while puffing on a Prince Albert cigarette.