Hunker Down: Life after death
I tell people that story about Leon seeing a Tarzan picture show up at the Park Theatre and going down to Paris Landing the next day and jumping off that high bridge over the Tennessee River…. I can see in their body language they don’t hardly believe it! He didn’t think about the height, wind direction or the swift moving current. He gave a pretty fair rendition of the Tarzan yell and off he went! When Jackie Burns and Nicky Joe Stafford helped me pull him to the bank a good half-mile downstream, he was spitting out buckets of water and coughing up a storm.
But just as soon as he found his voice, that beautiful smile that always lit up his whole face broke out - and he turned to look directly at me and said, “Who’s next?”
He told me and David Mark often, with that same smile, that we both tied for second place in the best-looking Colbert brother contest.
Leon was World War II older than me. He was born Oct. 19, 1942. Because of the extenuating circumstances of Dad being furloughed to the South Pacific, I didn’t see the light of day until 1947.
I tagged along everywhere he went. If he minded at all, he never let on. I didn’t want to miss whatever he was going to do next!
No one believes that story about Leon borrowing the light off of the police car and hooking it up to the juke box out at the Dairy Bar. Unless they were there!
And I know it might be hard for some to picture Leon the Halloween he hopped on old Prince, pulled his shirt up over his head, and thundered that big horse towards town as the headless horseman yelling, “The ghouls are coming! The ghouls are coming!”
He was bouncing off trees, running over garbage cans, knocking down mailboxes…
And I’m not even going to mention the cow in the high school auditorium, the bloody arm sticking out the trunk of the car, the high wire act over the Obion River or the time he bent the young tree all the way to the ground, put David in the top and catapulted him into space.
We didn’t get a TV set ‘till Leon was a sophomore in high school. He immediately made me the first remote control ever! He wouldn’t move out of the easy chair, “Turn to channel 7.” I’d dutifully get up, go to the TV and change the channel and the remote antenna to pick up the station in Jackson.
Two minutes later he’d say, “Turn back to channel 3.” Of course, before I could get comfortable, “Turn it back to channel 7.”
We didn’t have but two channels. Leave it to Leon to try to watch both of them at the same time!
This week marked the sixth anniversary of his passing. It won’t take much “reading between the lines” to realize my loss. You talk about a lifetime friend. A hero. A mentor. The glass wasn’t half full… it was overflowing!
Sure, he might have picked on me some. But he never let another soul touch me in an offhanded way!
He’d wake me up on Christmas morning to tell me Santa had come. If it was extra hot, he let me have the last swallow of his Dr. Pepper. When I was going on my first date, he dabbed a touch of vanilla extract on my face, “Can’t use too much, the girls will jump all over you.”
On the day I got married, as I walked out with the preacher, he stretched a big banner across the back of the church that read, “TEST, TEST… Can You Hear Me Alright!”
He never quit being the older brother. When our boys went to college 500 miles away - but just “on the other side of Nashville” from Leon - he checked on them every day. He drove across the city to sit on a cold bleacher Josh’s first year there to watch, support and cheer for a nephew that usually didn’t even get in the game.
I tried to thank him once, saying there was no way I could ever repay him…
He looked at me like I had lost my mind, then the smile broke across his face as he replied, “I didn’t know we were keeping score.”
I’m telling you, there is no love more special than that of an older brother!
The day after the anniversary that sparked this article, I spoke at a local DAR meeting. Afterwards, a lady approached me, “Kesley, I’m Jennifer Nix. Bob and I lived in Hermitage, Tennessee, for 35 years, just down the road from Leon.”
Her eyes had a glint of moisture as she continued, “He and Paula came to our house often. Everything you write in the paper about him is true. He was so much fun to be around. He was always smiling, loved everybody and he never seemed to have a turn down day. He was such a good person.”
Yes, I know.
The Second-Best Looking Brother