My Brother WAS My Keeper…Part 1

Fernell, Chinee & Me

Honored by his love, humbled by his vastness, anguished at his departure, grateful for the memories. I dedicate this to Mr. J.B. Allen, (Chinee to those who loved him most) My BROTHER.

There was never a day that I first “met” him. Quite simply, he was just always there and I expected him always to be so. He was a part of my life before I knew life. He was a part of me, before I was me. He impacted my life. He was my surrogate father, my counselor, my confidante, my best friend, He was my brother.

One of my earliest most significant memories of my brother takes place on my school’s playground when I was 6 years old. My best friend at the time was Fernell Hickman. I loved this little girl as much as I loved chocolate cake, which took some doing let me tell you! She inhaled, I exhaled. If she stubbed her toe, I cried. When I was hungry we both ate. She was a petite little thing, much smaller than the other first graders, with a slight but adorably, endearing speech impediment. Fernell was my bosom buddy, my lifelong pal, Mon petit amie and whether she knew it or not, she belonged wholly to me.

This particular memory took place during an early morning recess on a late spring day. Fernell and I were doing our usual arm in arm, skipping about the playground dance when I declared, without preamble, “I love chocolate milk”, to which Fernell replied, “I yuv chocomilk too”! Immediately my affectionate sentiments drifted to colors. “I love yellow”, (and still do), and Fernell sweetly responded, “I yuv yelyo too”! It was at that exact moment when my vision captured a particular movement at about fifty yards or better to my right, toward the high school end of the school,…(Wiergate School was a one stop for all school, encompassing grades 1 through 12 with indistinguishable lines separating the 1st and 2nd grade classrooms from the 3rd through 7th and these from the 8th through 12th classrooms. It was a highly functioning class system; yes, pun intended), …and I saw the handsome, adorable, smiling face of my brother walking across campus toward the science building, (believe it or not, my little country town in the Piney Woods of East Texas was so progressive as to have acquired a categorically competitive Science department, complete with a well stocked chemistry laboratory!) In the same sing song manner in which I had voiced my 2 previous affections, I began, “There goes my brother and I love him more than anything” and just has she had mimicked the two previous statements, no doubt having gained my silent permission to do so, Fernell began to repeat, (began is objective here and you’ll see why shortly). “There goes my brudda, and I”…

…What followed was a knock down drag out fight which was as one sided and out of the blue as an Arizona snowstorm in August! My dear darling friend had crossed a line of which even I didn’t know existed. I do not know how much time had passed or how long Fernell lay cowering on the ground terrified in the face of my absolute anger as I stood there stoically resolute in my belief that I had fought off the true enemy of the “Big brother/little sister relationship”! That was however, until I felt myself being lifted ever so swiftly by my right arm, (had it not been for this macabre intervention, would I have dealt the death blow with my angry little fist?). Not only were my feet being lifted off the ground, I began to feel a fierce unfamiliar stinging on the calves of my legs, what in God‟s creation could this possibly be, A SWITCH??????!!!!!!! Talk about an underhanded sneak attack!

Looking over and back to where my right shoulder should have been, was a face that was malevolently intent on teaching a lesson more complex than my 6 years of experience could ever begin to comprehend. Mrs. Adams, that loathsome harbinger of impending suffering to all who dared to enter the primer grades, had placed a death grip on my wrist with her left hand and was none too politely flogging the hell out of me with her right. You must understand that my keen mind and sharp wit had yet to develop by this age and being so lacking, I was refused even a glimmer of suspicion as to why this woman was attacking me, nor was I left with any clues as to how to bring about a cessation of this action without hesitation; (was Fernell feeling the same thoughts just moments earlier?). With a simple thought of self preservation, I did what would come naturally to any self-respecting 6 year old; I screamed and screamed loudly, repeatedly! This befuddled the old crone long enough to cause her to loosen her grip and momentarily halt my flagellation with that formidable switch, (where the heck did she find that thing anyway? She usually carried a gigantic pencil of which was often applied forcefully against the head of a wayward first grader).
In this case, a belt would have been infinitely more preferable, had I been given that benevolent choice.

My dear Reader, never in your wildest imaginings, in the whole of your whimsical thoughts or in midst of your most embellished dreams could you have spoken what was to have happened next! I daresay, at that precise moment my only thought was…it’s about damn time!

Fernell stood up on those tiny little legs and ran as if her dress was on fire; calling out to MY BROTHER, yelling for him to help ME! (Do you want to take a guess as to who was more incredulous than me? Yep, you’re right, Mrs. Brown). It was as if Gabriel and his host had descended upon that playground when my BROTHER arrived with half the football team following him and bringing up the rear, on tired but determined little legs, was Fernell! At this point I began to feel a bit sorry for old lady Brown, (“began”, here again, is also objective), but she needed to be taught a lesson in elementary protocol. Not bothering to say a word, my brother simply yet purposely plucked me from Mrs. Brown’s hand, sat down on the hard packed sun baked red clay of that little Texas playground and cradled me. Nothing more profound than that but it was the world being laid at my feet. He was my Polydeuces and I, his Helen. Mrs. Brown, that bastion of 1st grader nightmares, shrank in the presence of my brother’s unshakable rage for her and his unwavering love for me.

Then there stood Fernell, gently rubbing the angry welts on my legs saying, “She wasn’t hurting me, Miz. Brown, hur was just paying with me”!


It was all too soon summer vacation and it would be almost five decades before I would meet Fernell again, her family had moved away. I missed her and I forgave her for taking so long to get help but not for claiming my brother as her own! (Yes, it would seem I was once an awfully self- righteous little waif).

But these musings are not about me or Fernell, as odd as that may seem. They are however, about one of the first loves of my life. Ladies and Gentlemen, please allow me to present to you with venerated pleasure and unabashed pride the subject of many of my ruminations, the occupier of many of my memories, the embellisher of my life. Please enjoy meeting…My BROTHER, Chinee, aka J.B Allen.

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