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OPINION | JOHN BRUMMETT: He showed up

by John Brummett | June 19, 2022 at 1:46 a.m.

Editor's note: This is a Father's Day blending and retooling of two odes written over the years to a good departed dad and others of his time, place and caliber.

For years, J.T. would not go to church.

He'd dutifully drive my mom and sister and me to Sunday school at 9:45 a.m. and he'd reliably be waiting for us in the car at noon after the main service. Usually he'd have mowed the grass or done some other chore at home in between.

He'd be sitting in his treasured '55 Pontiac in the shade a block down Scott Street from the church and the historic Villa Marre across the street, which was just another fancy house to us. He didn't want the hypocrites coming out of church and ambling over, trying to save his salty soul.

His everyday language was of a colorful Marine-seasoned variety. I sense they did a lot of cussing back in April 1945, sitting around waiting for the cave-ensconced Japanese to show themselves on Okinawa.

From the wartime letters he sent his sister, who lent them to me, I gleaned that J.T. spent his Marine down time drinking, fighting, playing that "hillbilly music" on the harmonica, playing dominoes and, in the "China Marine" occupation of Peking after the war, wondering where all the people went at night.

One afternoon J.T. and Mom proudly announced to my sister and me as they picked us up at Baseline Elementary School that they had gone downtown to that same East Side Church of Christ and that J.T. had let the preacher baptize him.

My mother told me later that J.T. had first asked the preacher whether he could be forgiven for killing Japanese soldiers. The preacher said sure.

Mom marveled that he, newly washed in the blood, had gone straightway with her to Spartan--a department store at Asher and University--and not cussed when relegated to the back of a long checkout line that was not moving.

She just knew that the Lord's name was about to be taken in vain. But this man was born-again.

The thing about J.T., gone 32 years now, is not that he did everything right, which he didn't. It was that he showed up every single time:

• At whatever house where he was doing handyman work to eke out a living post-disability retirement from the cookie-loading night shift at the Nabisco warehouse on Shall Street on the east side of town. He'd fallen off a ladder while changing light bulbs in the warehouse ceiling and crushed his ankle.

A man told me several years ago that you could set your clock by J.T. Brummett. It would be 6:58 a.m. when that old blue Ford F-150 pulled up across the street for the 7 a.m. onset of the day's labor at that vacant rent house. Then that old man in overalls and ball cap would limp his way inside.

• At the curb at my home address 34 years ago, at age 62, a little more than two years before lung cancer took him, after the real estate salesman insisted we get the foundation checked on this old house we wanted to put an offer on, and where we live still. Our response was to have J.T. crawl his wiry self under there and see what he could see. He yelled back, "Why, yeah, you wanted me to check it out, didn't you?" when I shouted several minutes into his disappearance through the foundation door to ask if he was all right.

• With a panicked look as he fast-walked pre-injury into now-demolished McClellan High School in the spring of 1970 just as I was walking out. He'd left just after arriving for the night shift downtown at the Nabisco warehouse.

There was an emergency. The school had called Mom and insisted I was absent. I actually was in last- period biology, which I hated, listening to the intercom in the adjoining classroom as someone from the office repeatedly called to ask if the teacher was certain that John Burnett was not there. His mom didn't believe it. I remember thinking, "Give it up. He ain't there." Then J.T. was beside me in the principal's office as I demanded to know why he'd been told I was absent. Oops, they said. It was John Burnett who was absent. They'd called the wrong momma. Or the right one, with the right husband.

• On the phone at 8:30 p.m. every work night, at his dinner break midway through the night shift, to talk to Mom.

• In the kitchen clanging that spoon against that glass as he slurped cornbread and buttermilk every 1:30 a.m. upon arriving home from work.

My high school girlfriend, beholding me in a jam and, as usual, calling J.T for help, asked me what I'd do without him. I said I didn't know.

Owing to Camels, Lucky Strikes and Prince Albert in a can, I'd have to start finding out much too soon.


John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at jbrummett@arkansasonline.com. Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.



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