Five Lost Boys In a Lost Family Doing Lost Things

RMlogo Five Lost Boys In a Lost Family Doing Lost Things

Perspective brings its unique interpretation. And our views about life and others change in time. Of course, everyone has their own opinion about what they remember, so when I talk about my brothers, you have to understand that these thoughts are mine, not theirs. I’m sure my bros would see things differently.

I did not have a good relationship with any of them. The years after I started school is where my memories begin. Whatever happened before that is either vague or lost to me.

Robby – I was scared of him. He was mean. He did as he pleased and used fear as a manipulative technique to keep us in line. He could do whatever he wanted to do to whomever he wanted to do it. To tell on him meant abuse. He was four years older than me, and every day that he was around was terrifying.

Joey – He was a bruiser in his own right. He was an angry child who modeled his older brother since he had no other role models. I remember him as a frustrated kid. He was stuck in the middle with no identity, following Robby, but never able to lead. And like the rest of us, he did not stay out of trouble. There was only one path out of childhood, which was a tragic one.

Gary – He was the angriest, terribly arrogant, and personally cruel to me. His attitude was no surprise, considering where he came from: our dysfunctional family. I was not necessarily afraid of him, but I did not like him. Being around him was painful. He left town as soon as he could (joined the Army) and proceeded to change his personality and voice. Once his accent changed and after he got a bit of travel under his belt, he would deride us for our backward, “hickish” ways.

Dwayne – He was two years younger than me. He had a relationship with Gary and Joey, but not me. I’m not sure how or why that was. I think part of it was because I took an “isolation approach” to childhood. I turned inward (TV addiction) to protect myself from the abuse. Quiet, reflective, and distant was my SOP. I didn’t know much about Dwayne, but there was one story I’ll never forget.

I was daring him one day that he would not throw a butcher knife at me. He did. It cut my shoulder blade as it bounced off my back. He was standing on the other side of the kitchen table; I ducked as I saw the knife coming toward me.

One of the more significant results of my childhood is how I view relationships. Loyalty, transparency, and honesty are critical to me. I disdain and respond poorly to gameplaying, manipulation, inauthenticity, and mean-spiritedness.

These qualities (loyalty and truth-telling) that became important to me are not bad, but how I came to embrace there was horrid.

The Beginning of the End of a Criminal’s Career

RMlogo The Beginning and the End of a Criminal's Career

The technical legal term for what I did is “B&E,” which does not mean the beginning of the end, though it could be. In a spiritual sense, it was the beginning of the end, for which I will always praise God. But in the legal world, it means breaking and entering. It’s when a criminal wants something so much that he breaks into a place to steal it.

Only Dopes Do Dope

I had a drug business during my high school days. Robby, the oldest brother, supplied me with marijuana, and I would sell it for him. I never made a profit, or you could say that all my profit went up in smoke. I had a specially made jacket where I sewed several pockets on the inside. Each hidden pocket had different “brands” and sizes of marijuana so our customers could choose what they wanted, e.g., Columbian, Acapulco Gold. They would line up in the restroom between classes to shop.

As my little business grew, I needed some scales to weigh the marijuana. Someone suggested that the “Thomas boys” could break into our local high school. The science department had quite a few scales. I am not sure who concocted this brain-dumb idea, but Gary and Dwayne were on board, so we made a plan.

Part of our motivation was a business decision. But, honestly, it’s what we did; it’s who we were. I started stealing when I was 12 years old. I was 15 when we decided to break into the high school. Like Bonnie and Clyde, the shelf-life of a thief is usually short. During this disturbing season in my life, we broke into two church buildings and stole things from various local stores and malls.

Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need (Ephesians 4:28).

Sodas and Cigars

The first store I remember ripping off was a “mom and pop,” called J. L. Austins. It was a local hardware, food store on Main Street in Wingate, NC. We would enter through the back door, which had an unlocked screen during the day. We crawled in on our hands and knees like cats, maneuvered to the soda box, and took what we wanted. Then crawled back out to enjoy our haul.

The last time we broke into Austins was the day we were training my friend, Joe Woodson. Joe was a bit green but eager. We had crawled in, ducking from the sight-lines of the front counter. Joe was following us, but rather than crawling, he walked in standing up. He then let the door slam behind him. It made a loud noise; we were startled at his blunder, as all the “cats” rotated their heads and stared at him wide-eyed. Someone from the front realized what was going on and hollered in our direction. That was the end of our hardware store escapades.

Another short season, I stole cherry blend cigars from a local one-person gas station on Highway 74. Joe and I would go into the woods to smoke. We did this the entire summer. That fall, we went out for the midget league football team. The coach had us running laps around the Wingate Elementary School baseball field as part of our drills. Joe and I finished dead last. We could not breathe.

Those practices ended my cigar smoking days.

The End of My Crime Days

We continued our life of crime up to that fateful high school break-in. We would have gotten away with what we did, but the law was suspicious of some things they thought our older brothers were doing. They were on their trail, looking for their secret hideout.

Their trail led to one of our grandmother’s out-buildings where they found our stash from the high school. How ironic: they were looking for their stuff and found ours. I do not know if they ever found what they were looking for from my brothers, but what the police weren’t looking for, they found, and it was a significant turning point in my life.

The Lord works in mysterious ways, and what I felt was unfair back then was God’s kindness to me.

Streaking, Throwing Eggs, and Destroying an Airplane

RMlogo Streaking, Throwing Eggs, Destorying an Airplane

I wrote the purpose of these blogs in my “Apology” for this website. I need to say this to you because of the next batch of family stories. I write these posts for my children. I want them to know what it was like for the “Thomas boys.” One of the biggest problems we have in our country today is that there are several generations who have no clue what it is like to suffer. They have only known a flourishing America. To forget where you came from is to slip into things you’ll regret.

Our three children have lived a blessed life, and they will tell you that if you ask. They do not have my categories, experiences, or darkness. I’m not writing to glorify an evil past (or brag or “one-up” you, or any other misguided interpretation). I want our children to know that God’s grace works and the gospel transforms. I don’t want them to assume they can deviate from God’s path, and it will go well for them.

I began my life by walking down an evil path, and then I found the gospel (Christ). Our children have never known anything but a gospel environment. I want them to see how things could be if they choose to walk from the blessedness of all that they have known.

They Call Him the Streak

We five brothers were notorious for doing pranks. Some of them were fun and funny, while others were mean and regretful. In the mid-seventies, streaking was a big rage. Remember Ray Stevens? To streak, you have to get bum-naked and run through a crowd of people.

One day, I was perusing the Monroe Enquirer and saw a picture of my brother (Gary) on the front page. Yes, the big picture that they put at the top. He was sitting on the back of a rag-top, naked, riding down the main drag of Wingate College (now Wingate University). The front page! Literally. I was so impressed at his boldness and thankful it was not me.

The Egg Caper

My grandfather had chicken eggs. Lots of them. Papa Grant had an entrepreneurial spirit, though he was more like Fred G. Sanford than anyone else. He had scores of washing machines, dryers, and refrigerators in his yard.

Mama Grant accepted it.

One evening Robby and Joey stole some eggs from our grandfather and took them to Wingate College and began throwing them into the windows of the dorms. In those days, there was no air conditioning; they used window fans. When those eggs “hit the fan,” gooey slime splattered all over the dorm rooms. I have always imagined a college student finishing up his term paper on a manual typewriter, and he could not make any mistakes. Remember “whiteout.” This prank made a colossal mess and incited several students.

The chase was on.

Robby, being the athlete, jumped a nearby ravine and kept going. Joey, who was following close behind, tried to leap the large ditch but came up a yard short. He landed on the dark side of the bank. The first thing to make contact was his knee, which caught the corner of a concrete block. It knocked his knee to the backside of his leg. Joey was in screaming pain. The ambulance and police showed up at the same time.

I believe he went to the hospital first.

Is That Your Plane?

Dwayne, the youngest, demolished an airplane that belonged to the neighbors of one of his friends. Dwayne’s friend said the plane was his, as I understand the story, and Dwayne did not believe him and told him so.

The young boy “proved it” was his plane by attacking it with a club. I’m not sure what that proved, other than they were dumb. Dwayne joined in with his buddy. They threw rocks through the windows and beat the body up with sticks. They totaled the airplane.

Dwayne and his friend were about 12 years old. They were too young to prosecute.

Eight Illustrations From an Evil Brother’s Diary

RMlogo Eight Illustrations From an Evil Brother's Diary

Robby was a mean brother. There is no pleasant way of saying it. He was incorrigible. I have no idea why he was so angry or why he had a perverse pleasure in hurting people. If I had to guess, I would say he was reacting to dad while imitating his evilness. I do not recall one good thing that he ever did for anyone. I have illustrations.

One time he took a bedsheet from our beds and tied strings to each corner. He was rigging a makeshift parachute. He forced two of us (me) to climb a tree and jump into a pile of sticks that he had pointing in our direction. The protruding limbs were a nice touch; that’s my brother.

If you’re wondering, the chute did not open during the 12-foot drop. Fortunately, we were not hurt, as I remember it—other than our feelings. Perhaps you’re thinking, why did you do it? A good question. Robby always gave us two options: do what he said or he would beat us, and it was not a friendly beating. Typically, wisdom said it was better to follow along with his plans.

Another time he urinated in the lawnmower because he did not want to cut the grass. I can still see my dad yanking the cord, trying to start the mower while cursing a blue streak. It was humorous to us twisted, angry kids. Of course, Robby miscalculated. By the time dad got the mower repaired, the grass was more than a foot high. It was a beast to cut.

On another occasion, he took a rope and made a “squared circle” (wrestling term) around a few trees and bushes to form a wrestling ring. He got hyped-up from watching the Saturday wrestling show, so he and the next older brother, Joey, put on ski masks and pretended to be the “Masked Bolos,” a wrestling team back in the day.

They beat up two of the three young siblings (me). We oscillated between continual fear of getting beat up by Robby and enduring the wrath a drunk dad who verbally taunted and hit us. It was a sad childhood.

One time Robby strung up a cat inside an open soda machine. (I’m not sure why the soda machine was open, though I have an idea.) Then he beat the animal to death. Robby topped this event by hanging a boy from the second story of our old school building by his ankles just for kicks.

Childhood Karma

The funniest time was when he strung a thick string between two trees at the end of a path that led to our grandmother’s home. We lived about 50 yards from her. He was hoping that one of us would run down the lane to grandma’s house and get clipped at the neck. The funny part happened shortly after he strung up the string. Mother called him back to the house to do something. He forgot about his trap. Later, mom asked him to get something at grandma’s house.

Mother said she was washing the dishes, looking out the kitchen window that faced grandma’s house when she saw her oldest son run down the path. And all of a sudden, Robby was nearly decapitated as his legs shot out from under him. This “kid karma” was one of the more excellent moments from my weird childhood–from my perspective.

One evening Robby and Joey got into one of their “normal fights.” It escalated to the point where they broke a window in the living room. The glass cut a primary vein, and Robby began to spurt blood on the floor. They stopped fighting, as Robby was weakening and collapsing on the floor. It was a surreal moment. They called the ambulance, who arrived at the nick of time. He almost died. It was the oddest thing to sit there, not able to do anything other than watching your brother die.

And then there was the time when mother was so angry at him that she threw an ashtray and hit him on the side of his head. It was a heavy ashtray.

I was glad in the way of enjoying wrestling where you vicariously take pleasure in good beating up evil.

Mom had a mean fastball.

The Boy Who Could, But Chose Not To

The Boy That Could, But Chose Not To

Robby was one of those boys who had destiny written all over him. Specifically, in the area of athletics. I do not remember when he first took the field in the big three: baseball, football, and basketball—the main sports for kids in our day. He was best at baseball, probably because he enjoyed it more and had greater access through Little LeagueBabe Ruth, and high school.

A Star In Sports

To illustrate his destiny, I recall when he was playing on a Little League team, and they were behind. It was the last inning. Robby hit the ball, and it had just enough force to roll to the back fence and stop. Barely. The ball went under the glove of the third baseman and rolled unimpeded to the left-field fence. It was like the ball had eyes and the defense was playing in slow motion. Robby knocked in the winning run.

He was the hero. Again.

Another time on the high school football team, someone knocked him down on the 20-yard line of the opposing team. He got up and ran diagonally across the field to make the tackle on the player near the 10-yard line—70 yards away. It was a magic moment. Nobody could catch the opposing player. It was even more spectacular because when the guy knocked Robby down, his helmet came off. He got up, ran the guy down, and tackled him with no helmet.

A Star In Prison

When Robby was in Central Prison in Raleigh, NC, Clyde King of the New York Yankees came to interview him. He was that good. Unfortunately, only Robby could mess up his destiny. He was incarcerated and would never be able to fulfill his dreams on the field.

Robby was typically the first person to break a record, or he was the youngest to do “this or that.” I recall reading the papers many times where it said, “Robby Thomas was the first to (fill in the blank).” He was gifted. Even when he went to prison, he played on the prison teams, was a star, and got the MVP trophies.

An Angry Child

I do not know what went wrong with him. I’m not sure why he was angry all the time. Perhaps it was the same reason that I was an angry kid. All five boys were unhappy. We were pagans. Dad yelled and beat us every day, virtually. Dad was mostly verbal, which was typically the result of his drinking. I don’t recall him ever being sober, though I’m sure he was.

Robby was caught in the wake of awful parenting and continued to spin out of control. There was no spiritual intervention. His path was set. The boy who was destined to succeed rewrote his destiny and died a tragic death.

I never assumed Robby would be an old person, sitting in a rocking chair on a back porch somewhere with a wife and grandkids. He never gave that vibe. He was born to die young.

And he did.

The Brother With the Most Talent Was Murdered Young

The Brother With the Most Talent Was Murdered Young

My oldest brother, Robby, was born in July 1956. It feels weird to sound out his name in my mind. I only knew him during my pre-salvation years, and that was more than forty years ago. To think that he was my brother is surreal, as he seems to have belonged to another mother. But he was my oldest sibling, and then he wasn’t because a man murdered him.

And nobody cared.

Robby was a rare individual. He was more gifted than the rest of us, speaking of sports specifically. If someone would have voted “the most likely to succeed” from the bunch of us, Robby was the hands-down favorite. I was jealous because we all knew that he would make it out of our hell-hole with success.

I’m not sure where it went wrong, but it did in the worst kind of way.

The Dreaded Phone Call

In June 1987, I received the phone call that nobody wants. It was from mother. It was early. She told me that Robby had broken into a mobile home, and a man was sitting across the room with a double-barrel shotgun in hand. He unloaded both barrels toward Robby’s head. Robby put his hands in front of his face in an attempt to protect himself. It shredded his hands. He fell face down on the floor. It reminded me of Goliath when David sunk a rock into his forehead. The Bible says that Goliath fell forward, face down (1 Samuel 17:49).

The man took the shotgun, spun it around to where he was holding the barrels. He used it as a sledgehammer on the back of Robby’s skull. He broke the stock of the gun by crushing my brother’s head. It was the blows that killed him, though he could have died from the gunshot wounds if he had time to bleed out.

And then it was over. Robby was gone, a dash between two dates: 1957-1987.

What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes (James 4:14).

The authorities did not prosecute the killer. The police looked at it as one less criminal off the streets, and Robby broke into the mobile home anyhow—as the killer described what happened with no witnesses. Robby had just gotten out of prison in February (1987). He lived most of his adult life incarcerated.

He was an “institutionalized convict,” a person so acclimated to the inside that he could not live well on the outside. The rehabilitation programs didn’t work for him. Doing crime was his passion, which became the portal to prison, where he thrived. The three times they released him, he did things that led back to his “comfort zone.” His last release led to his murder.

A Girl With a Significant Other

Robby had a girlfriend on the outside while he was on the inside. They were pen-pals. The plot twist is that his girlfriend had a husband (or significant other). Robby decided he wanted the letters, which is why he showed up at the mobile home one dark evening. The one brother with the most potential was the first one to die. One more would follow a similar fate ten years later.

The brother, who never missed a day of school until his 10th-grade year, died 31 days before his 32 birthday. The person who was always one of the best at whatever sport’s league he participated threw his life away.

And there was no mercy.

I Loved My 1966 Volkswagen

RMlogo I Loved My 1966 Volkswagen

I’m not sure if the first child is always the favored child, but in our family that was the case. Robby had his way with my parents and got virtually anything he wanted. That is my perspective, though I admit a bit of historical reconstruction.

The Little Brother

The truth is that Robby was four years older than me and that was old enough in “kid years” to put us in two different worlds, especially when you throw in a pinch of dysfunction. When I went to first grade, he was in the fourth and was moving on with his life.

It took me to the third grade to adjust to school life, which put him in the seventh. And by the time he was in high school, he might as well have been part of another family. I did not know him at all. And he had Joey, who was a year younger.

The Big Rip Off

The most significant time that I remember being angry about his “most favored status” was when he wanted a car. My dad took $1000 from my bank account to buy him a Volkswagen. It was nearly all the money that I had. I was fourteen at the time.

Being a minor, my dad was in charge of my bank account. The “parental consent” clause gave him the ability to control the money. I remember having a savings book, which was the coolest thing to watch the money grow week by week in that account.

Dad took the money to buy Robby a purple, metal-flaked 1966 Volkswagen. I was ticked. I had worked for two years at Jud’s Restaurant bussing tables to save that money, and then, poof. What Robby wanted, he got. That incident was the beginning of the end for me with my dad. By the time I was fifteen, I left home, to live with my grandmother.

The End of the Road

The car was passed down to Joey after Robby went to prison. Then Joey went to prison, and I got “my car.” I was sixteen. By that time, the car had seen its best years. I re-carpeted it, added some cool speakers, and enjoyed it for a few months.

I skipped school with Chip Simpson to go to Greensboro, NC (100 miles away) to pick up some wrestling tickets for a big show they were having. On the way back, the car blew a rod, just outside of Greensboro, and we had to hitchhike home. We made it home “from school” at 11 PM. It was not a good day.

I had just started working for Hardee’s food chain that week and had to call in to let my boss–Steve Johnson–know that I would not make it that day. I did not tell him that we skipped school, blew a rod, and was hitch-hiking 100 miles home with a case a beer. Mercifully, he let me keep my job.

My dad had a wrecker service drop the car off at a mechanic friend. The guy said it would cost more to repair than it was worth, so I gave the car to the mechanic to cover the towing cost and his time.

That was the second time I got ripped off for that car.

Pink-O; Blue-O; Red-O

Secret Agent Man was the name of a song back in our day and it was tailored made for the kinds of things we liked to do. We were quite playful and 007 and other such movies were the thing to watch and act out. We had code names. Every secret agent had a code names and so did we. I don’t remember who was what. I’d like to think that I was Blue-o instead of Pink-o. That’s my story anyway. Blue was my favorite color. I think Gary was Red-o and Dwayne was Pink-o. We didn’t go much further than that with the names except we used them when we talked to one another. That is how we communicated.

It went well with all the romping we did around our house, our grandparent’s and the surrounding land.

We played in the woods over on “Chaney Road”. We called it Chaney Road because Bill Chaney lived on it and that is how we got to his house. We would go to his house to play football on Sunday afternoon. We would really tackle, not play touch. We also would play army in the woods across Chaney Road. There was this crater type area over there where we pulled a bunch of limbs, sticks, trees around the perimeter of it and it made the perfect cut-out, large fox hole. It probably was not as deep as I remember it and probably not as big, but it seemed deep and wide and was a ton of fun. It was headquarters for us. We also had a jail.

One day we went and attack the enemy and captured Billy Hamilton, another community boy. We took him to the jail and then went out after more conquests. And as kids do, we later went on to other things. Our attention only stayed focused for a short period of time before we were off to other things. I remember late that night when Billy’s mother called over to the house and asked if we had seen her son. We actually thought that one of us had let him out. (Gary says taht he and Joey were aware he was still there.) Apparently no one let him out and he was in jail all day and part of the night. It was my understanding that he was really ticked off when we went to let him out. I assume my older brothers let him out of jail. The jail was constructed with limbs, ropes and other things that made it secure.

We also liked to play in my grandmother’s shed. This is where she parked her car. It was an out building more than a carport or garage. It had sand in it. The smokehouse was attached and there was another room attached to that plus a loft over the smokehouse. It was the perfect place. As you would imagine the loft became our clubhouse for a certain time.

We would cut roads in the sand with our little cars, dump trucks and back hoes and the like. We made our own city. It was a place of endless adventure and creativity. The carport was cool from the summer heat and was the perfect spot in that it was closed in on three sides.

Cowboys and Indians

Before XBOX 360 and Playstation 3 and laptops and IM there were Cowboys and Indians. No one stayed in their house or their bedroom all day playing with some device, shut out from the world. Night was an inconvenience that got in the way of fun, activity, romping through the woods and discovering new places to play. We were born for activity. We had three channels on our TV sets and they signed-off around 1 PM or before and didn’t sign back on until sometime in the morning.

Night time became of interest to us as we grew older and could drive or knew somebody who could drive. Then we could prolong our days and explore more things to get into. Only then we were teens so the things we explored grew more complex and mischievous.

One of our early games we played was Cowboys and Indians. Robby and Joey would invariably be the cowboys because the cowboys always won and they were the older brothers. Gary and Dwayne and myself would make up the indians. They had cowboy hats, holsters and so forth and we had head bands with feathers and bows with arrows. The pursuit was on. Many times we played in our grandparent’s pasture next door. It was a huge open field fenced-in with many possibilities for hiding, playing, shooting, etc.

The only time I really remember a specific incident was after we had finished playing one day. My brothers climbed out of the pasture, up a bank that was beside a creek and onto the road. They went to the other side of Olive Branch Road to look at the creek from that angle. I was attempting to make my way up the embankment. I slipped and fell into the creek. I fell head first and my head landed on a sharp rock that was pointing upward. It knocked a pretty good size dent in my forehead. I climbed out of the creek, up the embankment and walked up the drive. The entire front of my body was covered in blood. Mother saw me coming up the hill. I remember riding in the car to the hospital, sitting in the front seat with a towel about my head. We had no child seats and didn’t use seat belts in those days. Mother said she looked into the emergency room and all she saw was a sheet over a little boy with a hole in it at the head. Apparently it was a frightening scene. We came home and I don’t really remember the aftermath of that event. It healed. The doctor said that if the hole had gone about 1/16” deeper that it would have killed me. I have a scar on my forehead today from that incident. It is amazing that we didn’t get killed at an early age. We played hard and we played w/o safety in mind.