Emmons moves up to ultimate stadium
BONNIE BARTEL LATINO
Red Emmons possessed a positive attitude, tremendous joy of life and a flat-out bodacious sense of humor. Because of those traits you totally forgot that the former tackle for both the Escambia County Blue Devils and Alabama's Crimson Tide had also been physically ravaged by diabetes and heart disease.
The same qualities that rendered Red's disabilities invisible also made him one of those rare individuals who will always be thought of as young. Though the smoke from the number of candles on their birthday cakes might look like Rome burning, the individuals are eternally 17. So it was with Red.
One of his life-long friends, Walter Welch, said that Red never complained about his physical problems or felt sorry for himself.
Emmons was, and Welch is, among a loving, informal fraternity of former ECHS football players, cheerleaders and classmates who graduated in the mid-to-late 1940s. Several years ago when the old friends gathered for yet another funeral they decided that from now on, come hell or high water, they would all come home to Atmore once a year to celebrate their lifelong friendships and to honor their old coach, Herbert Barnes. They were no longer going to wait for the bugler's sad call to draw them back to town for another funeral. For the past six years, they have made good on their vow, gathering each Spring for a reunion.
In addition to those cherished weekends, each time the bugler's horn sounds Taps for yet another funeral, the Barnes Boy generation comes home from all over the south. Inevitably, they rekindle the memory of their old coach and mentor, Herbert Barnes, who taught them as much about life as about the sports arena.
Just as every generation faces its own challenges, so did Coach Barnes' players and their friends. Children during the depression, a time of brutal self-sacrifice when shoes, clothes and food were rationed, they became teenagers during World War II. With fathers off to war, Coach Barnes became a surrogate father to many of "his" boys. At least two of Barnes' players, Carroll "Dix" Darby and James Forte, quit school, enlisted in the Navy and saw action in the Pacific before returning home to school and the Blue Devils.
In early 1999 when I first became interested in chronicling the history of this unique group who epitomizes what TV anchorman and journalist, Tom Brokaw has aptly called, "America's Greatest Generation," I sat down with Red at Betty Raley's kitchen table to gather information for my initial article, which turned into a series of articles for The Atmore Advance and a front page sports story for a Sunday edition of The Mobile Register.
Red told some tall tales, some whoppers actually, about former classmates that would have made, to say the least, a highly entertaining column. Invariably, mid-way through each story, he'd lock his eyes onto mine and say in a voice that left no room for misinterpretation, " …but, Shug,' you can't tell that in the paper."
I'd put my pen down and simply listen and laugh while Red finished his story then began another. I'd pick up my pen, until he told me I couldn't tell that story either. After three hours spent researching my initial column on the Barnes Boys, I didn't have a single story that Red would tell me "on the record."
His stories were innocent and cute, not to mention 50 years old, but gentle Red, bear of a man that he was, feared something he'd said might embarrass or hurt someone's feelings.
I promised not to report any of his stories, but now let's turn the tables and allow his friends to share some tall ones on Red. The best were told to me "off the record," and there has to be sweet, if frustrating, justice in that.
Robert Faircloth offered one I CAN share. He and Red sometimes secretly borrowed their daddies' tractors on Sunday mornings and raced them in the woods, but were never caught. Bobby Griffin added that it wasn't unusual for Red to help himself to diesel for a certain 1929 Model A Ford from his daddy's backyard tank in which he kept fuel for the tractor. This would only be done in extreme emergencies – like when his friends were hungry for watermelon or sugar cane and he knew of a patch ripe for picking.
Wilton "Moose" Hataway called Red, "Unforgettable," and he should know since it was Red who nicknamed Mr. Hataway, Moose.
Curtis Parker said, "From childhood hero, to drinking buddy, Red was always a friend. His genuine humility and true affection will always warm our hearts. . .I loved him."
Parker also called Red the "Number One Auburn Put Down Man." Indeed, one of the best quotes about Red came from Mal Burns, an Alabama fan in Birmingham after the University of Southern Mississippi shut out Bama. When he heard of the former U. of A. player's death, he muttered that he wished Red could play "just one more season for the Tide." Can't you just hear Red's belly laugh at that one?
About Red's high school football-playing days, Hattie Hawke Livingston remembered, "He was unflappable and unmovable. When Red Emmons was in the line, he was THERE!"
Bill and Barbara Arnold found Red to be, "Constant … in his virtues and vices over the years … Because of his size he always had to portray a toughness, but underneath he was thoughtful and kind. Especially if you were on his side, otherwise – watch out! He was always persistent and seemed to persevere. He was steadfastness. . . a constant in people's lives."
That Red died during early Fall and football season on a Friday afternoon is ironic, but fitting. When Red's former Blue Devil teammates carried him off the playing field of life, his pall bearers composed the ultimate squad.
Of this we can be certain. Red would not want anyone to be saddened by his death. Let's visualize him, rolling off in his wheel chair toward the sunset, gradually appearing smaller and smaller, until he disappears and we can no longer see him. Ahh, but on the golden side of sunset, Red Emmons casts off his chair and stands to embrace the radiant souls of all who have gone before him. Together his relatives, coach and friends welcome him to that glorious stadium in the sky and celebrate the best Friday homecoming of all!