An Appreciation of Tom Brooks

He was my grandfather, and he was a fine and good man—a pillar of the community. When he died, all of Wharton mourned. But six months later, it seemed he was forgotten just like anyone else.

ON THE FIFTH OF MARCH, 1925, MY GRANDFATHER Brooks died. I was nine years old.

A few days earlier he had been examined by a doctor for an increase in life insurance, and when it was discovered that he had a weak heart, he was turned down by the insurance company. He didn’t tell any of this to his family.

He was taking a walk past Jack Crawford’s filling station, at the far end of the downtown business section, when he collapsed on the sidewalk. He was dead by the time Dr. Davidson, the family doctor, could reach him. This was shortly after one o’clock in the afternoon. My grandmother was called, of course, and all the children then in Wharton were found and told the news. My uncle Billy, fifteen, and the youngest son, was still in high school, and he was sent for immediately. I however was told nothing and, when school was dismissed, took my usual route home past the Sante Fe tracks down Burleson Street, past the Crawford house and the Baptist church and down the dirt road (unnamed at the time) to our house.

The day was a typical March Texas day, fair, not too hot, with a slight breeze from the Gulf. I ran into the yard when I reached our house and went directly inside. I remember an eerie feeling as I entered, because of the quiet. My mother and my brothers were usually there to greet me in some fashion, but when I came in the front door, there was not a sound of greeting from anyone. I walked through the house calling my mother’s name, but there was no answer. Usually under such circumstances, I would head out the back yard and go directly to my grandmother’s, expecting to find my mother there, but for some reason I didn’t, and I went back out to the front yard and crossed the street to the Joplins’ house. Before I could call for my friend Edwin to come out to play with me, his mother, Miss Ida, appeared and said, “Son, I think you’d better go on over to your grandmother’s.”

I must have sensed something urgent in her voice and frightening too, because I asked no questions, but went back across the street to our yard. Instead of going directly to my grandmother’s, I went back inside our house, called my mother’s name again, and when I got no answer, went out to our back porch where I could see my grandmother’s yard and porch. I stood for a moment looking over there, and all seemed normal enough to me, so I assumed the fear Miss Ida’s laconic request had started in me was unfounded, and I walked out into the back yard and slowly began to cross our yard to the back yard of my grandparents. When I got through the gate separating the two yards, I saw Eliza, the cook, standing there with her sister Sarah. I walked over to them and they were talking and didn’t notice me. Eliza was telling Sarah that she had felt sad and heavyhearted that morning, not wanting to get out of bed, and when she had finally dressed and started for the kitchen to get breakfast for the family, she saw on the roof of the house two doves, and she said she knew then, doves being the symbol of death, that someone in that house would die today. Before she said whether her prophecy had been fulfilled or not, she saw me and she said she thought I should go on into the house and find my mother. I remember wanting to ask her why but being almost afraid to, and before I could ask the question my mother appeared at the back screen door of my grandparents’ house and called me. She was wearing a dark dress, the kind of formal dress she usually saved for Sundays or special occasions, and that puzzled me. As I headed toward her, I saw she was crying, and when I got to her on the steps, she embraced me and began to sob and she said, “Son, whatever will we do now?” I wanted to ask about what, but didn’t, and I stood there as she held me and continued crying. She said then, “I think your grandmother will want to see you,” not telling me why.

We went into the back porch of the house and into the back hall. I could hear the murmur of many voices as we entered the back hall, and then when we went into the front hall, I could see into the living room, which was filled with people, men and women, all dressed as for church, talking in quiet, subdued tones, some crying, some comforting those that were crying. I followed my mother through the front hall, to the door of my grandparents’ bedroom. The door to the bedroom was closed and Mother opened it and said, “Mama, Little Horton is here.” I looked in the room, and saw my grandmother crying, and beside her on a cot was the body of my grandfather. No one said he was dead. I had never seen a dead person before, but I knew, without being told, that he was. I went over to my grandmother and she took me into her arms and in between her sobs she told me how much my grandfather had loved me and how proud he was of me.

Whatever happened next, how I got out of the room, where I went, I don’t remember. I do remember my father staying home from the store, though, and my not going to school for several days.

The afternoon of the funeral, my father’s mother, Grandmother Cleveland, came from Houston to stay with us, and she arrived early in the morning with my great-aunt Lyda. I was not allowed to go to the funeral—why, I don’t know—and I sat on our front porch as the funeral procession passed by a half

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