Those crazy brothers of mine, I love them

Published 3:41 pm Monday, May 6, 2024

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By Lloyd Albritton


I have four brothers and they are all “characters.” If they were rich I would call them “eccentric,” but we all grew up in a little farm and timber community called Nokomis, located across the Florida line just a few miles southwest of Atmore, where people were proud of being “po’ folks” and would never admit to being rich even if they were. And so, when you are “po’ folks,” you don’t get to be eccentric.  You have to settle for being just plain crazy.

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Avis, the littlest boy of Bud and Ossie Lee’s five boys, who is actually the biggest, but is also the youngest, who actually looks the oldest, mostly because he has lost more hair and is grouchier than the rest of us, mainly, I think, because he has lost more hair.  I think Avis became frustrated with his battle against baldness a few years ago and, in a fit of anger, shaved his head entirely.  Now he has a totally bald head and a thick, drooping walrus mustache which makes him look real mean, sort of like a Hell’s Angel.  Only his four brothers and his one baby sister know that Avis, now a Wilford Brimley lookalike, is really a tender-hearted pussycat.  Avis was skinny and hyperactive when he was a little boy and he ran so much that Daddy started calling him a “race lizard.”  Avis shaved his head even then so he could run faster.  The only way to stop Avis from running to and fro was to scratch his ear.  He would stand or lay perfectly still for hours as long as someone was scratching his ear, but as soon as the scratching stopped, Avis would spring to life and take off like a….well…like a race lizard!

My older brother, Ronnie, who is the senior sibling, retired some years ago from the Florida Highway Patrol.  Ronnie’s personality is a cross between Ozzie Nelson and Ozzie Osborne.  Formerly an impatient, cantankerous, bull-in-a-china-shop personality type, Ronnie seems nowadays, in his old age, to be the epitome of loving patience.  He spends most of his time tending to grandchildren, reading the newspaper and working out crossword puzzles.  Like me, Ronnie loves words, but he uses his wordsmith skills in a different way.  He likes to twist your words to mean something entirely different than what you meant to say, then he pretends to misunderstand you and offers a response that does not make any sense at all.  This unique talent that Ronnie has is quite charming and entertaining when you watch him work his maddening magic on others, but can be quite frustrating, even enraging, when you are trying to carry on a normal conversation with him.  Of course, all that business of playing dumb and messing people up gives my brother, Ronnie, no small amount of perverse delight and entertainment.

My brother, Phillip, is an artist and he is quite talented. Phillip comes across as being a quiet, accommodating, humble-pie sort of fellow.  As he has aged, he begins to look a lot like Burl Ives or Wilford Brimley.  I keep expecting him to break out in his own rendition of “Flies in the Buttermilk,” but singing is not one of those things that Phillip does too pretty good.  In reality, Phillip is not only an intellectual, but is also an intellectual elitist, which means he is very intelligent and knows it.  One of our former school teachers, Ms. Patty Stone, once observed that, of all us Albritton boys, Phillip was the only one who was actually smart.  The rest of us, she insisted, were only faking it, especially Gregory.  Phillip pretends to have patience and understanding toward ignorant people, but I know it’s driving him crazy inside.  He is an intellectual elitist, you see. Understanding the real Phillip is a lifelong challenge.

The real Phillip used to take a lot of trips on his motorcycle with all his biker buddies around the globe.  That’s right, this artist rides a motorcycle.  Phillip’s BMW motorcycle was always packed to the hilt when he lit out on a trip.  He liked to camp along the way in a small tent and thrived on saltine crackers and sardines. Phillip is a fellow who likes to “rough it.”   He is low maintenance.

My brother, Gregory, is a lawyer and a politician, an Alabama State Senator, if you must know, with a thick head of hair and a personality every bit as likeable as Andy Griffith. Gregory has turned out to be quite a successful entrepreneur too, who has more business enterprises going on at any given time than Donald Trump.  I am proud of Gregory and his business and political acumen, but mostly, I am proudest of him when he is just plain old Gegy-Boy, the down-to-earth, obnoxious country bumpkin I grew up with who never could catch a football because he had bad eyesight.  When Gregory got new eyeglasses at the age of thirteen, he discovered that nothing looked quite like he thought it did.  My only complaint about Gregory is that I can’t beat him at checkers.  No one ever has as far as I know.  He is The Champion.  I am quite sure that he cheats, but I can’t catch him at it.  When Gregory was a little boy, he was so obnoxious that we used to take him out into the woods and tied him to a tree.  Once we forgot about him and left him tied to a creosote light pole for several days until Mama called the roll and discovered him missing from the dinner table.  He’s a character!

I have a sister named Susan.  Susan was the last of six children to arrive in the Bud and Ossie Lee Albritton family.  My mother wanted a girl from the very start, but she kept getting boys.  She had every one of us boys named Sandra Louise, her favorite girl’s name.  She had to come up with a new name at the last minute for each new baby boy.  When my sister finally arrived, she was a complete surprise.  Mama had grown tired of the Sandra Louise name and had already reconciled herself to having another boy.  Naturally, when Susan arrived, she didn’t want to name her precious little baby girl Leroy, or Eugene, or Otis, so she turned to us boys for some suggestions.  At the time, my brother Phillip was in love with two little girls in his First Grade Class and he asked Mama if he could name our baby sister after one or the other of those little girls he liked so much, but he could not decide which one he liked best.  Mama suggested that perhaps both names would be nice.  And so, in that manner our sister was named Susan Wynelle, after Phillip’s two First Grade sweethearts, Susan Wilson and Wynelle Miller.  The saga of how Susan Wynelle Albritton got her name was told and retold through the years by the teaching staff at little Davis School in Davisville, Fla.

Many years later, Phillip’s classmates had a reunion.  As they reminisced about the old school days, they recalled this old story.  Most of the old school teachers of that era had passed, but one, Ms. Addie Belle Copeland, sat in her rocker at the local nursing home suffering from dementia.  “Let’s go visit Ms. Copeland!” one of the girls suggested.  As they later visited with Ms. Copeland at the nursing home, she was unable to remember any of her former students.  Suddenly, Ms. Copeland’s eyes lit up and she smiled and said, “But, I do remember a story about a little boy who was in love with two little girl classmates and when his baby sister was born, he named her after those two little girls.”

I have told many stories in my writings about my growing up in Nokomis and have often shared some “inside” scoop on my brothers.  I have inadvertently excluded my sister from many of these narratives simply because she was much younger and was seldom a part of our boyish escapades.  Some years ago, I received an e-mail from Susan’s daughter, Janie, who asked why I never said anything about her mother in my stories.  I had no good excuse, so I just did what Ronnie would have done.  I said, “Susan?  Whatever happened to Leroy?”