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.
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.
Perspective brings it own interpretation. And I have mine. Also our perspective changes over the years and the way I looked at things as a kid and the way in which I interpreted them is different than the way I would interpret things as an adult. Knowledge, life experience, relationships, hardships, education, societal changes and a host of other things can alter our view on reality. In short, what was real as a kid has changed some over the years.
I don’t know all the specifics but I think it would be accurate to say I had no relationship with my brothers that was good. I do not remember what life was like when I was 6 or less. The years after school began is where most of my memory begins.
Robby: I was scared of him. He was mean. He did as he pleased and used fear as a manipulative technique to keep us from telling on him. That meant he could do whatever he wanted to whomever he wanted and we would be abused in some manner if we said anything to anyone. He was four or so years older than me, which is a lot for kids. He had the power and I was afraid. Fear was a foundation to all I did as a kid and adult.
Joey: He was a bruiser in his own right. He was an angry bruiser who modeled his older brother, but seemed to be a frustrated youth. He was sort of stuck in the middle with no identity, following Robby, but never able to lead. He probably tried not to get into trouble, but he was like the rest of us in that there was only one path out of childhood. He went to prison as well.
Gary: He was the most angry, arrogant and personally mean to me of the four brothers. His attitude was no surprise considering where he came from: he was born into the same family. I was not necessarily afraid of him, but I definitely did not like him. He left town as soon as he could (joined the Army) and proceeded to change his personality. Once his accent changed and got a bit of travel under his belt he would deride us for our backward, “hickish” ways. I found that humorous.
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 a “cave” approach to childhood. I turned inward to protect myself and became very quiet, reflective and distant. I didn’t know much about Dwayne. I do remember daring him one day that he would not throw a butcher knife at me. He did and it cut my shoulder blade as it bounced off my back.
We brothers were notorious for doing pranks. Some of them were fun, funny and others were mean in nature. Back in the mid-seventies streaking was the big rage around the country. This is where teens and college students would strip naked and run through a crowded area. One day I was looking at the Monroe Enquirer and saw a picture of my brother on the front page. He was sitting on the back of a ragtop, naked, riding down the main drag of Wingate College, which is now Wingate University. This was not unusual in that if something was going on with potential for controversy one of the Thomas boys was going to be in the middle of it.
My grandfather had eggs for some reason or other. I don’t really remember why he had eggs. I assume he had chickens. He did own a farm or two in his day and he was always into something from an entrepreneurial perspective. He had scores and scores of washing machines, dryers and refrigerators in his yard. He was a white man’s version of Fred Sanford. One evening Robby and Joey, the two oldest, stole some eggs from my 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 in all of the dorms. They used window fans. As you can imagine, when the eggs hit the window fans the eggs were slung throughout the dorm room. This made quiet the mess. It also incited several students and they began to chase Robby and Joey.
Robby, being the athlete, jumped a ravine and kept on going. Joey, who was following close behind, tried to jump but came up a yard or so short. He landed on the side of the ditch. Unfortunately, he landed square on the corner of a concrete block with his knee. It knocked his knee to the back side of his leg. He was in screaming pain. The ambulance and police converged on him. I’m not sure how it all worked out.
Dwayne, the youngest, demolished an airplane that belonged to some neighbors of some friends of his. 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. Dwayne did the same. They threw rocks through the windows and beat the body up with sticks and things. It was destroyed. Dwayne and his friend were about 13 years old. They were too young to prosecute. I think they were put on probation for that one.
I’m not sure if the first child is always the favored child, but in our family that was the case. It seemed Robby had his way with most anything he wanted. That is at least my perspective, which is a child’s perspective, which can be reconstructed a bit. I know enough now to know that how I currently perceive my childhood can be different from reality, but it’s my story and my blog.
I’m not sure how my parents saw it, but their favor on Robby did seem a bit skewed to me. I was not particularly bothered by this perceived favored status he had, though at times it was frustrating.
The truth is that Robby was four years older than me and that was just long enough to put us in two different worlds. When I went to first grade he was in the fourth and was moving on with life. I was not really adjusted to the school thing until about the third grade and he was in the 7th by that time. He was cutting edge and I was simply following his wake, making my own life, trying to figure things out. I really didn’t have much of a clue about things until he hit high school and by that time he was gone, at least in my mind, in my experience. He also had Joey, a year younger, to contend with so I suspect I was not in his thoughts. He didn’t know me and I didn’t know him. I was way down the sibling chain and there was no reason for us to interact, at least not the way our family was set-up.
I think the only time I was truly mad about the favored status thing was when Robby wanted a car and somehow he worked it out with my dad to take my money from my bank account to buy him a car. My dad took about 1K from my account, which was about all I had at the time if I remember correctly. Being a minor my dad had to help me open the account. This “parental consent” clause gave him the ability to take money if he wished. I was 12 when I opened my account. I remember having a savings book and it was the coolest thing to watch the money grow week by week in that account. I was 14 when it hit 1K and that is about the time he took the money for Robby to buy him a purple, metal-flaked 1966 Volkswagon bug. I was ticked off (Read: understatement). I worked for two years to save that money and it was gone at a whim. Robby had a desire and it was fulfilled at my expense.
The car was passed down to Joey and maybe Gary, but I’m not exactly sure about that, then when I turned 16 or 17 I got it. By that time the car had seen it best years. It was a very frustrating time for me. I re-carpeted the car and got it ready for “coolness” and enjoyed it for a few months. I skipped school with Chip Simpson one day to go to Greensboro to pick up some wrestling tickets for a big show they were having. The car blew a rod on the way back, just outside of Greensboro and we had to hitchhike home, which took us from around 1 PM to 11 PM that night. It was a bad day. The mechanic said it would cost more to repair than it was worth so I gave the car to him to cover the towing and assessment bill. I think I got ripped-off on that deal.
Robby was a mean brother. One time he took the bed sheet off one of our beds and tied some type of strings to it to form a makeshift parachute. He made a couple of us brothers climb a tree and jump into some sticks he had constructed in an upright position. I did not understand why he had the sticks protruding upward. I didn’t understand much of what Robby did. The chute did not open up btw, but fortunately we were not hurt.
Another time he urinated in the lawn mower because he did not want to cut the grass. Another time he took a rope and made a “squared circle” around four trees and bushes to form a wrestling ring. He got hyped-up from watching the wrestling show that Saturday and he and the next older brother, Joey, put on ski masks and pretended to be the “Masked Bolos”, a wrestling team back then. He and Joey then beat us up. All of these incidents were prefaced with the warning that if we told on him he would beat us up. He said it differently that than. Between the continual fear of getting beat up and a drunk dad who verbally taunted us most of the time, it was a sad childhood.
One time Robby tied up a cat inside an open Coke machine and beat it to death. Another time he hung a boy out of the second story of our old school building by his ankles just for kicks. Another time he tied a wire between two trees at the end of the path that led to our grandmother’s house. He was hoping that one of us would run down the path to grandma’s house and get clipped at the neck. The real funny part about this episode is that shortly after Robby strung the wire up mother called him back up to the house to do something. In time he forgot about the wire and some time later mother asked him to run to grandma’s house to pick up something. Mother said she was washing the dishes in the kitchen looking out the window that faced grandma’s house and while washing dishes she was watching her oldest son run down the path and all of a sudden he was nearly decapitated as his legs shot out from under him. This was an excellent moment in my childhood, from my perspective.
One evening Robby and Joey got in one of their normal fights and it escalated to the point where they broke a window in the living room. The glass cut a major vein and Robby began to spurt blood out on the floor. This stopped the fight. He was weakening before my eyes. It was a surreal moment. They called the ambulance and he was saved from death this time. It was the oddest thing to sit there, not able to do anything watching your brother die. I remember another time when mother got angry at him and threw an ashtray at him and hit him on the side of his head. It was a heavy ashtray, which had to hurt.
Robby was one of those guys that had destiny written all over him, specifically in the area of athletics. He was a born athlete. There was no question about his giftedness. I do not remember when he took the field in the big three: baseball, football and basketball. In our day these were the main sports that kids played. He was best at baseball probably because he enjoyed it more and had more access to the sport through Little League, Babe Ruth and High School competitions.
To illustrate destiny I remember one time when he was playing on a Little League team and his team was behind. It was the last inning and their team was down. Robby hit the ball and it had just enough force to roll to the back fence and stop. The ball rolled through the glove of the shortstop or third baseman and rolled unimpeded to the fence in left field. It was like the ball and the defense were playing in slow motion. Robby knocked in the winning run, his team won and he was the hero, again.
One time on the high school football team he was knocked down around the 20 yard line of the opposing teams end and he got up and ran diagonally across the field to make the tackle on the player near the 10 yard line as the player was trying to run for a score. He never saw Robby coming. It was a magic moment. No on could catch the opposing player and Robby not only was knocked down, but he got up and took off after the guy and tackled him. It was even more spectacular because when Robby was knocked down his helmet came off. He made the run and tackle w/o his helmet. He didn’t have time to put it on.
When Robby was in Central Prison in Raleigh, NC Clyde King of the New York Yankees came down 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 field of dreams. Robby seemed to always be the first to break this record or the youngest to do this or that on whatever team he was on. He was rewarded time and time again. He was gifted. Even when he went to prison he played on the prison teams and was a star.
I really do not know what went wrong with him. He was a very angry kid. I do not know how he got so angry. All of us boys were angry kids. We had a pagan worldview. Dad used to beat us. He was mostly verbal, which was typically the result of his drinking. He stayed drunk or was drinking most of the time. I really don’t remember a time when he was not drinking. I think Robby got caught in the wake of awful parenting and continued to spin out of control. There was no spiritual intervention and his path was set. The boy who was destined to succeed in sports rewrote his destiny and died a tragic death.
I had always thought that it seemed illogical to see Robby as an old person sitting in a rocking chair on some back porch somewhere with a wife and grand kids. It didn’t sound right for him. It seemed to me that he was born to die early. And that he did.