This morning, this weepy February morning, politely turned her back on the sun for a while; clouds are low and dark, painting everything a murky, shabby, color. But, of course, here in the gentle Carolinas, the weather is always unpredictable. In just a week or two, you might see seventies and impulsive forsythias that smile at the drop of a hat and toddle out like curious two-year olds; ending up as they usually do, victims of a deep freeze.
To add pleasure to the day I had a call from old “California Butch,” my cousin. He is the only one in the family that we accuse of looking like a real tough Southern Preacher.”
He is the size of a small mountain 6’5” or more. Way, (way) over 240 pounds. He has these soulful, dark, evangelical eyes; a voice that rumbles and growls, yet is at times deep and gentle, especially when he talks about his family. Like I said, the ideal voice for a Southern Preacher. Actually, he is Methodist. Our granddaddy once told him, “The Lord don’t won’t nobody exhibiting any bad history, so think on it boy, think on it! “
Grandmother, (his and mine) was a Baptist, and intended to stay a Baptist as long as “sinful ways were accumulating so fast.” “She assured him the Methodist were lucky, mighty lucky to have a real strong “Southern man” to help lead the flock.
Butch only rolled his soulful eyes, and went his merry way.
On the telephone he sounds like he is in the adjoining room of an asylum. “Guess what?” He booms. No, “How are ya: What’s happening? “ Straight to the point. “I have spent two days going through boxes Mom sent me from Florida, and I found pictures, (he howls with laughter) that you gotta see.”
I could just see him with his muscular, old football legs draped over the arm of his office chair, tapping his size 15 sneakers together, riving his motor for a good chuckle.
This was the same man who used to be the boy who thought he was destined to become a great-rock-and-roll singer. This was the same boy who had been grounded so many times growing up that he finally stuffed his bed with pillows and old jeans, took the ‘Sav-Ur-Life, fire escape ladder from under his bed and didn’t miss a beat of social life with his bass-playing, goofy friends, “Montego, and the Band.”
The only thing that ever wiped the smile from his good-natured, Scottish face, as I remember, was his daddy, who snatched him off his ladder and burned it; and his long stint in Vietnam, which he won’t talk about ever, even today. So, this booming voice didn’t belong to the angel Gabriel, but it was a good voice, nevertheless.
I remember when Old Butch finally took the matrimonial plunge. He was thirty-something, and still gun-shy. His bride had outdone herself. Nancy, with her luminous aquamarine eyes and Grecian-style white, silk gown, was a sight to behold, and she had him ‘chompin’ at the bit.’ Granny said she had apparently “lost her mind at the beauty counter.” And indeed, she was all blackberry, strawberry and berry-berry on a great vanilla face.
Otherwise, she was a perfectly ordinary, pretty girl, with a great figure and a nice smile. She had the old boy right where she figured it was time for him to be. And even when Butch bellowed out a few rock-and-roll tunes, (to the amazement of the 200 or more guests,) she was very tolerant and took it all in stride. She is still tolerant and gives him a pat and an indulgent smile when he sighs and mentions, “lost opportunities in show business.”
“How’s your singing going?” I ask him (just for the devil of it). He chuckles loudly, (it’s still his low-lights hobby), “About like your “Best Seller.” He quips. For maybe the 500th time in the last umpteen years we jabber about our failures, (the ones we don’t usually admit), with a little bragging thrown in for good measure. Ah, the sweepings of childhood. It’s nice to share these old values that we thought might change the world.
We talk a few politics, decide he travels so much he is socially doomed. He tells me Nancy has filled every available space in their California home with potted trees. “Mom came for a visit and we lost her twice.” He booms again, and I can hear the joke in his laid-back California voice. For a change bad jokes about growing older were nixed. One old Clinton joke, and that was about as bad as it got.
I knew the pictures he was talking about. My mother too, kept everything. And way in the back of one musty old album was a picture made in the sixties. There we were, arm in arm with some kind of fishing gear at our feet. It had been taken one hot summer in Lakeland Fla. Butch had a walrus mustache and seems to be holding me up. I wore tight, bell-bottomed jeans and a loud blouse with giant petunias trailing across the front. We both looked thrown away, lop-sided; stupidly happy. This was, judging by our foolish grins, the right place to be. The Lakeland big leagues.
The rascal taught me billiards, horseback riding, some pretty good songs, a few risqué words, and how to play a decent hand of poker.
He was (and is) wonderful, outrageous. And he still can’t sing!
Micki Cottle was a long-time columnist for The Sampson Independent who occassionally regales readers with her wit and charm. She is also a member of the Sampson County Historical Society.