"Well, I'll Be John Brown"

Real stories about folks who have blessed my life with the joy and fulfillment of laughter. Long may they live.

Location: Atlanta, Georgia, United States

A Southern Boy - Born In Alabama, Reared In Georgia, and Matriculated, Married & Initiated Into Manhood In Tennessee.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

"Feel Like A Million Dollars, And Ain't Got a Dime"

"Brother Tommy" was a crusty, old, retired mess sergeant. He served just after World War II, and was stationed in Japan for the last part of his hitch.

While in the Army, brother Tommy cooked for enlisted personnel and officers alike. He would often brag about a particular General or other high ranking officer that had requested brother Tommy to personally prepare a special meal or dinner of some kind for them. He always made you feel like a four star General when you ate at his table.

In civilian life, brother Tommy's cooking was horrid. Evidently just as bad as it had been during his Army days. The pie crust was always greasy and heavy with the taste of shortening. The coffee was deep black, and strong as any rot-gut moonshine ever brewed. But, both were always freshly-made and hot when company came by.

After his one true love, Ruth, passed away brother Tommy desperately sought companionship. The good Lord filled his need with church members who loved him more than his own real family did. For the remainder of his days his modest home was host to many. Invitations to visit him were spread every Sunday throughout the congregation - from preacher to parishoner. Sometimes he would cook a multi-course meal, and then call every family in the church directory imploring them to come over and help him, "eat all this food."

Like most older people brother Tommy repeated himself alot. As the brain slowly dies in an old person's skull, their memory grows as faint as the print on the pages of an old book or magazine. Brother Tommy's demeanor made the redundancy of his talk not only bearable but precious.

If a stranger asked brother Tommy how he was feeling, the answer, given with a hearty smile and chuckle, was always the same:

"About half dead, thank you."

One morning the phone rang in a local church's office and the preacher answered. Brother Tommy was calling. He said, "Hello, this James Thompson, (his formal name) and I'm mad as hell!!!" Taken aback, the preacher asked why brother Tommy was angry. He explained that his current preacher was doing some things he didn't think were right and he was, "hunting a church where they don't carry on any foolishness." The preacher assured him that the church brother Tommy was calling was just such a group, and that he and his family would be welcomed there with open arms. Brother Tommy's response: "Preacher, what you have just said is like pie in my mouth! We'll see you Sunday!" He and Ruth placed their membership the very next Sunday with that little congregation and remained faithful members there until their passing.

As a widower, brother Tommy delighted to go out to breakfast on Friday mornings with anyone who would agree to accompany him - but always as his treat. If you insisted on paying, either you didn't get invited back or else there was a stern lecture following the last cup of "joe."

Having grown up during the Great Depression, together with having lived a serviceman's life, brother Tommy had learned to be a good money manager. He could at times be, "tight as the bark on a tree," as my daddy would say. However, though he keenly knew the value of every nickel, to almost everyone he knew brother Tommy was as generous as a sow whose milk had come in. All he really had was money and time. It was his joy to spend both on breakfast for two.

There were countless restaurants in the growing bedroom community where brother Tommy lived. However, to this grizzled old Army cook there was one and only one place that served HIS kind of breakfast - "The Blue Goose."

The Blue Goose was a little hole in the wall restaurant with pine paneling that reeked with the smell of cigarette smoke, uncomfortable slat-bottomed wooden chairs, and large roach bugs that frequently showed up to watch you eat from their perch on the wall next to your table. Everything was tolerable in the BG with the exception of those roaches. Some of them were bigger than the popcorn shrimp served at the Goose every Friday night. You couldn't help but wonder sometimes how many of those critters had actually made it into that platter of shrimp sitting in front of you.

If you complained about the roaches in front of brother Tommy or ever attempted to reach up with your paper napkin and crush one he would scoldingly say, "leave that little fella alone - he's got to eat too!" A holdover practice from his Army days, we all assumed.

The waitresses all loved brother Tommy. When he walked in they showered him with hugs and kisses. He would tell them the same thing every week: "the one with the best kiss gets the biggest tip." Brother Tommy made the rank of, "dirty old man," a very sweet thing indeed.

On "Blue Goose Friday" brother Tommy and his guest for the morning would come in and take a seat, always at the same booth. No one else was ever allowed to be seated in brother Tommy's booth on Friday mornings. Once brother Tommy and his guest were in their seats the waitresses would all scurry around in a desperate race to see who could get coffee to the table first.

Regardless of which waitress was the victor, the greeting was always the same:

"How you doin' this mornin', sweetie?"

Brother Tommy's answer was always the same...

"Feel like a million dollars, and ain't got a dime..."

Those good ladies had become brother Tommy's close friends. They would smile, sometimes repeating the last part of the sentence in unison with him, and then fill his cup to the running over. Whatever brother Tommy ordered, no matter how off the wall it was, the girls at the Goose would just wink, kiss him on the forehead, and hurry off to do his bidding.

If the Blue Goose had a "red carpet" it always got rolled out to brother Tommy and his breakfast companions.

While waiting for the food to come, brother Tommy told and re-told every family and personal story that had ever come to his mind. Some of the one-liners he threw in with these yarns were priceless.

There were stories of his two sons, Bill and David. David was an entertainer in the Tony Orlando theater in Branson, Missouri, and Bill had served in the Marine Corps. There was also his adopted daughter, Carol, who had been a successful nurse and real estate tycoon somewhere in Arkansas.

The gleam in his eye each time he spoke of these things was like that of a little boy telling about his first roller coaster ride.

It might have been because we heard them over and over again, or maybe it was because we all loved this kind old gentleman so much. Either way, brother Tommy's, "Tommy-isms" are still repeated in conversations to this very day whenever his memory wells in our hearts.

Some days may seem like I do not have a dime, but it always feels like a million dollars every time I think of brother Tommy.

May God rest his soul.

LIB John Brown


Post a Comment

<< Home