I cannot account for many of the Christmas Eves in the life of Bobby Brewer, but I can tell you where he was for about a half dozen of them about 35 years ago: The Rhodes Family Christmas Eve Parties, at 1206 Oakdale Road, Augusta, Ga.
From 1966 through 1994, those parties were an annual, “can’t-miss” event for just about everyone I really loved in the whole wide world. The memories of those nights are more vivid in my mind today than most of the Christmas mornings that followed. And while I understand it is cliche, looking back, those long past evenings helped me understand why the Christmas season is really built around the concept of sharing time with family and friends.
Aside from a few girlfriends here and there, Bobby was the only friend I ever included in those nights. He became a fixture at the Christmas Eve Party just like my Dad’s best friends, Bob Abshire and Don Dearing, Cousin Dean’s best friend, “the other Dean” Lewis, or Barnabas, our giant white cat, who kindly allowed us all to throw the party in his house.
Bobby was, for all those years, one of us.
The passage of time tends to magnify the meaning of many family traditions, but it is not an exaggeration to say that the collective surviving souls who were always at the heart those parties, still lament that they ever ended. Bobby did, too.
One of the last times I was able to have a meaningful conversation with him, was Feb. 1, 2009. A date that I can only specifically recall because Bobby was calling me on the occasion of the Steelers’ Super Bowl appearance, set for that same afternoon. Just calling to wish them well, he said, but only because he knew I was such a big fan.
Truth be known, he hated the Pittsburgh Steelers. He had to; it was a rule. You see, Bobby was a devoted, dedicated, dyed-in-the-wool Dallas Cowboys fan. Every bit as fervent for the Blue and White as I was for the Black and Gold.
From the first moment we met as fifth-graders, during the morning football games before school at T. Harry Garrett, It was an eternal debate, and we were as obnoxious about it as two 13-year-olds could be.
Quite an odd pair we made, he in his 1975 Sears Roebuck Cowboys’ varsity jacket, and me in my matching Steelers jacket, ordered from the same page in the catalog. We devised insults and nicknames aimed at each other’s teams the way that little girls dream about what they are going to one day name their newborn babies. We could “one-up” each other from the bus ride to school, all the way to the final bell of the day, and no name was too insulting or profane. The only rule: the nasty names had to rhyme with the real names. In the interest of family reading, virtually none of those names can be repeated here, but I can say that I believe the karma from having to endure a decade of hearing “Fairy Bradshaw” finally paid off my direction when the Cowboys drafted Tony Romo.
Too bad we weren’t playing the name game any more — timing is everything.
In that conversation almost nine years ago, we talked football, the recent election of President Obama, and the pending birth of my new son. He was amazed to hear that my daughter was about to graduate from high school, and he beamed as he bragged about his own beautiful daughter, not quite yet in high school. He talked of seeing family at Christmas, and how rushed it was, and then out of the blue, he told me how much he always enjoyed being included in the Rhodes Christmas Eve parties, all those years ago. I did have a few very good-looking female cousins and family friends he enjoyed hanging around, but for the most part, he just liked the tradition of it all. I reminded him that all that came to an end when my parents divorced, and he got quiet for a second, and then said how sad he was when he heard that had happened. It seems we were all like part of his family, too.
Bobby told me had been moving around the country a bit, but he hoped to settle down soon, for a good long while. We promised to get together, but we never really did. For that, I will have eternal remorse.
On Dec. 22, 2010, Bobby F. Brewer Jr. was crossing an Indianapolis street to attend a friend’s Christmas party. His arms were filled with groceries, which means he probably never saw the drunken driver, with no headlights, that was bearing down on him going about 50 miles an hour. The bastard who hit him never even stopped.
It was something of a miracle that Bobby didn’t die that night, but the devastation the violent collision did to his body was ultimately unsurvivable. He died three months later.
When I spoke at his funeral, I told those gathered that I did not believe any young man ever has a best friend quite like the best friend he has when he is 12 years old. Bobby was that to me, of course. He was the only one who knew how really hung up I was on Myra Pirkle. I was the only one who knew that he was Kerry Micklewright’s longtime, love-letter-writing secret admirer.
Bobby always got a kick out of the fact that my many activities with the Tutt Jr. High Drama Club put me in regular, close proximity to the school’s most beautiful and outgoing girls. Truth be known, he wanted a piece of that pie. Probably the best thing I ever did for Bobby was to suggest him as the male lead for our fall 1979 production of “Our Town.” He was given the role of “George Gibbs” the instant he read for the part. That experience ended up being one of the happiest times of his life. It gave him a new purpose, it made him a better student, and he got to do a love scene with Carolyn Bennett. Talk about a dream come true…
George Gibbs is a character whom many have called the best “all-American boy-next-door” role in classic American theater. Bobby Brewer was George Gibbs; there is no better way to describe him to strangers.
I think of Bobby almost everyday. Sadly, those great memories usually end with the reminder of the horrible way he left this world.
As we submerge ourselves in the 2017 edition of the Christmas season, take time to notice the friends and family who share your life, and please remember to appreciate them, the way Bobby appreciated his loved ones, and all the memories he was able to make with them.
For the sake of holidays yet to come, celebrate responsibly, and never drive while impaired.
I hate that my friend cannot be here to tell you that himself.