Published in SGES Quarterly December 2010 Volume 51, No. 216

MY UNCLE HERO —Eddie Braddock

By J. G. Braddock Sr.

Clarence Eddie Braddock was more than my uncle and more than my hero. He was my first and most effective role model for being a decent human being. From him I learned the value of home and family and, above all, having a strong sense of humor. He learned to value home and family the first nine years of his life while living with his parents, James Owen and Ola Wood Braddock, and older brothers, Louis and Arnold, in Hoboken, Georgia, where he was born August 29, 1909.

He began learning the value of a sense of humor when his father, who worked as a section foreman for the Atlantic Coast Line Railway, contracted tuberculosis and could not work. No longer having an income, the family moved in with Ola’s brother, Ed Wood, in Dowling Park, Florida. Owen died May 10, 1920 at the age of forty-four. By the time Eddie was thirteen, the family had moved to Jacksonville where he ended his schooling at Kirby Smith Junior High in the eighth grade by climbing out a classroom window and never going back. In 1925, his brother Louis, a brakeman for the ACL, was killed at the age of twenty-one on a rainy night when his foot slipped on a wet boxcar ladder and he fell beneath a train wheel. Eleven years later his brother Arnold, my father, died of pneumonia at the age of thirty-two. Six years later, Marjorie Taylor Hix, the love of his life and wife of ten years and mother of his five year old daughter JoAnn, died unexpectedly. Several other relatives close to him, including my 10 month old sister June, died in that same time span. The development of his sense of humor was truly a case of learning to laugh to keep from crying.

Although he was a master at joke telling, his sense of humor was more of a creative type. He excelled at practical jokes. One of his favorites was to make a spider using a cork for its body, cut rubber bands for jiggly legs, match-heads for eyes, and a length of black thread run through its body for dangling it down over the face of some poor, unsuspecting soul. His mother was his favorite victim because she would scream louder and jump higher than anyone else, and he could do it again five minutes later and get the exact reaction from her, except her response would be uglier and louder.

Once, he screwed a screw into a front step of his house on Lambert Street, soldered a dime to it, then took delight in sitting at the window and watching door-to-door salesmen trying to pick it up.

 His daughter Carolyn JoAnn, who has been more like a sister to me than a cousin, arrived on the scene February 3, 1936. When she was about four years old, Eddie delighted in showing people how she would always pick the nickel when he offered her the choice between it and a quarter. My brother asked her one day why she didn’t pick the quarter; it was worth five times as much as the nickel. She responded, “I’m no dummy. Once I pick the quarter, he won’t do it anymore.”

He pulled off what he considered his masterpiece of practical jokes when our family lived with him a few weeks while my father was out of work during the Great Depression. Although I was only three, too young to remember it, I heard him tell the story so many times that I know it by heart. Daddy would take a leisurely bath every evening, lounging in the tub—which stood a few inches above the floor on legs, as most tubs did back then—and singing at the top of his lungs, forcing others experiencing the call of nature to wait. One day Eddie crawled under the house and drilled a hole in the floor under the tub. That night, while Daddy scrubbed and sang, he stationed Marjorie at the breaker box controlling the house’s electricity. He then went under the house and slipped a firecracker of no small caliber into the hole with its fuse sticking down through the hole and lit it. Signaled by the resounding boom, Marjorie pulled the main breaker switch, putting the house in immediate and total darkness. I had to wait at this point in the story each time Eddie told it until his laughter subsided enough for him to tell the part about Daddy ending up in the middle of Lambert Street stark naked, leaving in his wake a broken bathroom door latch and, with the breaker box being in the path he took to safety, Marjorie lying flat on the floor.

As well remembered as he is by all who knew him for his sense of humor, he is even more fondly remembered and revered for his acts of kindness, especially to his kinfolks. But you would never hear about them from him. You would know about them only if you witnessed them or heard about them from those who were the recipients. In addition to the expense of maintaining his own home, he provided a rented house, utilities, groceries, and other financial needs for his mother Ola and her old maid sister. And he did it on the meager salary he received as an installer and maintainer of home gas lines for Jacksonville Gas Company, which later became Florida Gas Company. Except for a stint at Merrill-Stevens Shipbuilding Company during World War II, he spent his entire adult working life with the gas company. Let me interject here that an aroma somewhere between solder and cooking gas permeated the air within several feet of Eddie when he had on his work clothes. Even today, I’m still conditioned to think of him when I smell an aroma anywhere akin to it

I can speak first hand of his caring and kindness, and his integrity. After our father died when I was five and my brother was six, he and Marjorie took us in and treated us as if we were their own, materially and emotionally. We were, for all practical purposes, their children. They supplied most of our real needs. He was the only father image we ever knew. We lived with them for three years. My brother and I grew up to possess more than a reasonable amount of integrity. So have our children. The main reason can be traced back to Uncle Eddie’s counseling and example. One of his repeated admonishments my memory’s ear can recall is, “You don’t have much of material value, but with the Braddock name you have an honorable one, and you had better keep it that way!” He did his share to keep it honorable, sometimes in situations when it would have been more financially profitable not to. An article, along with a picture of him handing a wallet to its owner, in the September 6, 1968 issue of the Jacksonville Journal tells of his returning a wallet he had found containing $1,500 to its owner.

 

He did not abide misbehavior, and my brother and I had a special talent for finding some kind of childish mischief to get into. Usually, it was no more than sibling differences of opinion that escalated from verbal to physical, which was frequent for two brothers less than a year apart. For lesser transgression of this sort, we usually got off with only a stern talking to. However, disobedience, especially if it had put us in harm’s way, always called for capital punishment administered with a switch. The most serious such instance I can remember is the day he learned we had been swimming with cousins in the St. John’s River off the potato docks near Tallyrand Avenue almost everyday while he was at work. He would begin the punishment ritual by handing us a knife and ordering us to go cut a switch. He liked slender ones of medium length and used them in short, quick flicks on the backs of our legs below the knees, just enough to inflict short lived, but long remembered pain, without leaving marks. The first time, we cut one that barely qualified for being more than a twig. That was a mistake that we never made again. Its replacement he cut was bigger around and longer, and although it left no marks on our legs, we remembered well its longer lasting sting the next time we cut a switch.

Like most other kids in our neighborhood, we went barefooted and constantly inflicted our feet with sandspur stickers, glass cuts, and nail punctures. The nails were often rusty. Yet, I did not have a tetanus shot until ten years later. But thanks to Eddie’s expert treatment, I suffered no lasting ill effects. No matter where our misfortunes occurred or what time of day, we somehow managed to grit our teeth and continue our pursuits until we had just enough time to get to Eddie’s before he got home from work. When he pulled his Jacksonville Gas Company truck into the driveway and saw one of us sitting on porch steps holding our foot—now more damaged by our unabated use of it than by the initial injury—moaning and crying and awaiting his sympathy and treatment, he knew to bring the company first aid kit out of the truck. After washing off the wound under the yard spigot, Eddie beat on each side of it with a small lath board to “bleed out the bad blood,” as he would say. Fetching a small cotton encased vial from the first aid kit, he would crush it. I always found it fascinating to watch the cotton covering slowly turn the color of the iodine. He then coated the wound, making sure he got plenty down into the hole of the wound. I attribute the high threshold I’ve had to pain most of my life to enduring all the cuts, bruises, and punctures—not to mention the excruciating sting of iodine. To protect the wound, Eddie covered it with a gauze pad and secured it with white surgical tape or tied it on with strips of gauze. Usually, he confined us to the house for the rest of the evening to allow healing to get a good start. Before leaving for work the next morning, he would admonish us to sit out the day and give the injury a good rest. Talking about falling on deaf ears—as soon as his truck turned onto 8th Street, we would hobble off down the road in search of adventure to fill the new day. Within the hour the bandage would be gone and the wound would be jammed with dirt.

After Marjorie’s death he married Mary Tison Davis and raised her son Bobby as if he were his own. Mary was of the same caring, reaching out nature. Seeing a baby in dire need of caring parents, they adopted Vicki Lynn and raised her as their own. When his Uncle Ed Wood became too old and crippled to earn his own upkeep, they took him in and cared for his every need for several years until his death.

After being reunited with our mother and new step-father in another city, my brother and I would put on a successful campaign each summer to be allowed to visit Uncle Eddie in Jacksonville and bask again, if for only a week or two, in that incomparable feeling that comes with being in the presence of someone who you know beyond a shadow of a doubt loves and cares about you as if he were your real father. He continued blessing us with his humor and fatherly caring even after we were grown and had families of our own. It was not unusual for me to answer the phone at home, and sometimes at work, and hear his voice reciting a joke or a funny story he had just heard. And he continued to express his caring in more than mere words. Even after we were grown he treated us like sons and never hesitated to offer to bail us out of financial difficulties. Once, while heading with my family for a week’s vacation in Florida in a beat up old Volkswagen bus, the bus’s engine conked out within a few miles of his house. His son-in-law, Harold Hurst, who was cut from the same caring mold as Eddie, volunteered to help me fix it. During our two days of futile efforts, Eddie kept insisting on loaning me the $300 a local Volkswagen repair shop wanted to install a rebuilt engine. After our not being able to get the engine apart, I had no choice but to take him up on the offer.

Having lost so many of his family when he was young, his children, JoAnn, Vicki Lynn, and his step-son Robert Randall “Bobby” Davis, and their children were extremely dear to him. JoAnn and Harold Hurst have two sons: Frank Edward “Chuck” and Harold Richard “Rick.”

Chuck is a chiropractor and is married to Belinda Gail Jones. Their children are Jennifer Carol, Sarah Marjorie, and Caleb Franklin. Jennifer married Glenn “Buck” Beverly. They have three sons: Tyler, Brandon, and Colby. Sarah married James “Jamie” Blanton.

Rick owns Summit Electrical Contractors and is married to Karen Elaine Alvarez. They have two sons, Chad Richard and Jared Michael, and granddaughter Kynlee.

Vicki Lynn married first Richard Patterson. Their children are Dawn and Valari. She then married Benjamin Murphy.

Bobby Davis retired from Pan-Am Airways and is married to Patricia Walters. Their children are Joani, James, and Timothy.

Eddie died March 6, 1981, leaving an ample dose of sense of humor and caring in all who knew him and loved him. I could run on for paragraphs innumerable relating incidents numberless of acts of Uncle Eddie, from the day I first knew him to the day he died, that made him a giant of a man in my sight. Instead, I’ll let the aforesaid suffice.

 

 

 

 

 

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