Momma said… “Brother”.

What is a brother 2 u or rather who is your “brother”? U may not have a biological brother but you are somebody’s brother. Who’s brother r u?, “Brother”.

My Dad is called Brother Barker and the congregation, brothers in Christ, and am I my brother’s keeper?,  brothers and sisters, alike, I say and ask.

Well, my definition of brother was given to me by Momma. A brother is imperfect, maybe married to the wrong woman or not, sharp dressed, marred in the debt of others, yet always there for family, friends, and always willing to hold a hand, following, not always leading, into the scary, cold, dark nite and be of comfort and strength and joy. A constant, always there… comfort, strength and joy….”Brother”.

Momma’s brother was John Phillips. I call him Uncle John. Momma never called him by name; she always affectionately referred to him as “Brother”, always. Momma told me many stories thru out my life and many of them were about Uncle John.

“Brother’s coming on Saturday” or “We are going to Brother’s house the day after Christmas”, or “Brother called me today”. It was ALWAYS what she called Uncle John.

Uncle John owns a funeral home in Hernando, MS now and still works every day, some 80 years old. He is a war hero, a tail gunner in the Air Force in WWII, was shot down, captured behind enemy lines, was a POW and Momma’s best friend…for all her life. When Momma needed him, he was there for her…young and old.

Momma came up in hard times and had a family life that was tragic and was filled with an abusive alcoholic father’s outburst and violence. Her father, “Vester”, was also an opium addict. Mammie was a protective Mom and she did her best to protect Momma and Uncle John.

One of the stories Momma told me was, when Mamie left John Sylvester Phillips, her husband. One cold night Mamie, Momma and Brother walked from a home in rural Mississippi to downtown Corinth to “Aunt Mary’s” to escape the abuse. In the dark of the nite she walked, scared and cold….but she had brother. There Mamie found work, ironing and doing laundry for boarders and eventually went on to run the boarding house in which they lived. Momma said life got better for them after they moved away from “Vester”. She wouldn’t talk bad about her Dad but she sure bragged about her Mom and her Step-dad Grady Johnston and “Brother” and “Tootsie”, her cousin and constant companion.

She would tell of one Christmas she remembered when Vester was still around the house,  how Mamie bought him a new suit for Christmas and donning the suit, Vester left for a night with the boys, only 2 return in rags, drunk, having lost his suit off his back gamblin’ and drinkin’, on Christmas Day. Vester got hooked on opium when it was legal in many ointments, including paregoric.

Mamie married Grady Johnston and her and Momma and Brother lived at the Pickwick Village where Pickwick Landing State Park Golf Course now covers her old homesite with greens and fairways. Momma met my Dad while she lived in Pickwick and Momma said Mamie thought Jack Barker was 2 wild for her daughter and kept Dad on a short leash, but it didn’t help keep Dad away. And he was 2 wild for Momma and she said…”Jack, if you don’t stop this drinking I’m leaving” and he did cause Momma said 2.

Mamie died from injuries caused by a freak truck accident. When she got “run over” by the old brake-less truck they had. Mamie’s liver was cracked when she ran her old truck off old Pickwick highway. The truck ran up an embankment and she jumped out, only 2 have the truck roll back down the bank over her fallen body, causing internal injuries that ended her life. Momma said it broke her heart and Grady’s heart. She always said Grady died of a broken heart, but the doctors said it was liver failure.

Mamie, the daughter of a Nash and a Stricklin, grew up in Stricklin, MS. Her Mom was a half breed Cherokee Indian. The only time I saw Mamie was in a picture at Mom’s house and they both, Momma and Mamie, looked like Patsy Cline: dark black hair, dark complexion and a beautiful smile. I did visit Vester and Grady when Daddy would take Momma to see them. I was young, but I remember.

And that smile would always cross Momma’s face when she told of her favorite childhood Christmas. We, as a family, more than once at Christmas, would go around story after story of each of our favorite childhood Christmases. Momma’s was usually the same, but we loved to hear it.

She would tell of being poor and how hard her Mom worked and tried to provide for her and brother after Vester and Mamie were divorced. The Christmas story she told was while in town with her mother one day, Momma saw a rocking chair in a furniture store window in Corinth. She wanted it bad and Mamie knew she couldn’t afford the chair and told Momma not to expect it for Christmas. Mamie took on extra ironing and laundry to create the money needed to purchase that little rocker, unknown to Momma.

And like all good Christmas stories, this one ended with Momma, then a little girl, rocking in that rocking chair on Christmas morning with a baby doll in her happy arms. My sister Lu Anne is now the keeper of that exact rocker, which I found out when I called her to make sure I had the facts right in this story. Lu said, “That’s right “brother”, I have that rocker.

Well, being a brother is special and my Momma made sure I was a good brother and what it should feel like when a brother and sister love each other and care for each other. I have failed miserably as a brother at times but I always am forgiven because my sisters are so good, just like Momma.

“Brother” is a big word with big shoes 2 fill. I will cherish my sisters more each day and from the example Momma and Uncle John left for me to follow I will be all the “Brother” I can be to my sisters and then my fellowman….

And to honor Momma this Christmas I will lovingly and with great joy, go hug “Brothers” neck in Hernando, MS this Christmas time and thank him again for being there for my Momma and being “Brother”.

Uncle John I’m comin 2 see you…my Brother…of my Mother.

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