“Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!”
—Psalm 133:1 KJV
“A merry heart doeth good like a medicine.”
—Proverbs 17:22 KJV
In this post I celebrate the birthdays of my two brothers, Adrian and Joe, who were born on the same date exactly one year apart. Adrian was born on October 20, 1930, and Joe was born on October 20, 1931, in rural Selma, Arkansas, where I was born later, on November 23, 1938.
It seems that mine was an unplanned birth, seven and eight years after the births of Adrian and Joe. When it became evident that I was indeed going to make my appearance, Mama began to prepare my brothers for my arrival.
One thing she did was tell them that she was ordering me from a Sears and Roebuck catalog. Not the one in the outdoor toilet that was used for personal hygiene, but the latest issue (no pun intended) from which many of our other “store-bought” items were purchased. Since Mama figured that I would probably be little and scrawny, she told the boys to pick out the smallest and least attractive infant in the baby items section of the catalog, “’cause if we don’t take him, nobody else will.”
The amusing part is what Adrian and Joe did when I was born in that farmhouse in Selma on the night before Thanksgiving in 1938. As friends, relatives, and neighbors began to drop by to view the newly arrived “bundle from heaven” (actually Sears), the boys would run into Mama’s bedroom and bring out the baby items Mama had also ordered for me. Showing them off, they would proudly exclaim, “And just look what they sent with him!”
I find it amazing today that in a cattleman’s family which, as Mama often said, “bred cows at the supper table,” boys seven and eight years old did not know where babies came from. But that was a simpler, more innocent era and area.
But I digress. Back to my brothers and their births. Mama often said that when Joe was born, Adrian, who was exactly a year old, regressed to Joe’s age so that she ended up with two infants instead of one. As an example, I recall her telling how she and my father once tried to take the boys, both on bottles, to a movie, a rare treat for Mama in those hectic days. Unfortunately, Daddy had stuck each of the bottles in a back pocket of his pants. When he sat down in the theater seat and scrunched down to get relaxed, the tops of the bottles were forced off, sending warm milk all down his pants legs. The long ride back home from McGehee to Selma over that rutted gravel road in the dark of night was miserable enough without both babies screaming for milk at the top of their lungs the whole way.
As the two boys grew older they became more and more alike in many ways. The result was a lifelong sibling rivalry. That rivalry was most evident in their devotion to Daddy and their determination to be just like him—especially in his work as a livestock dealer. Both of them began following Daddy from the time they could walk and were inseparable from him, learning “the cow bidniss” from him and emulating him in everything from riding horses to roping and branding calves to slaughtering cattle down under a huge oak tree behind our house.
One of my earliest memories is watching them as they killed cattle by shooting them right between the eyes with a 22-caliber rifle, causing the poor beasts to hit the ground with a thud almost simultaneous with the sound of the shot. I also recall the piles of dried cow skulls around the slaughter tree, each with a neat little round hole between the eyes.
I also recall accompanying Daddy and my brothers as they delivered meat to the stores in McGehee. Since it was during WWII and meat was rationed, I remember seeing the customers lined up at the front of the stores, ration books in hand, as my family carried the meat in the back door. (To read more about Daddy and our life in Selma, see my earlier posts titled “The Way We Were,” “Yo Recuerdo (I Remember),” and “My Father’s Brand and Seal.”)
However, as noted in an earlier post titled “My Favorite Childhood Books,” I differed from my two brothers not only in age, but also in interests. I was more of a Mama’s boy who had rather stay home and help Mama do housework than to go with Daddy and work with cattle—especially buying and selling cattle. To me, working with stubborn ornery cattle was messy and tiring, and buying and selling them was boring and tedious.
Not so for Adrian and Joe. They loved to go with Daddy and learn what he called “horsetradin’.” (Note this term as used later in this post by my brother Adrian to describe his business.) Each of them spent most of their adult lives engaged in some type of buying and selling. Joe died in North Little Rock on March 24, 2004, and Adrian died in Helena on November 27, 2010.
Amusing Memories of Joe and Adrian
There are many, many memories of the years my brothers and I spent together, but in this post I want to focus on the humor in their personalities and lives.
In an earlier post titled “Reader’s Digest-Type Humorous Anecdotes” I recounted an amusing anecdote about my brother Joe during his service in the Arkansas National Guard back in the 1950s and 60s.
To read that jewel of military comedy, click here.
In addition, I recall the time in Selma when Joe, just a boy, was writing on the blackboard in the country school. He was so timid that he could not bring himself to ask the teacher if he could be excused to run to the outdoor toilet. Instead, he just tried to “hold it” until recess. This time, however, the urge to relieve himself was just too strong, so Joe just continued to write on the blackboard as he peed in his overalls. Despite the squeals of laughter from the other kids, Joe, the back of his neck beet-red, just went right on writing while urine ran down his pants leg and formed a nice little puddle at his feet.
On another occasion in that same country schoolhouse, Joe and another boy had done something wrong. Their punishment was to stay after school and fill the wood box for the heater. This task involved taking a little red wagon and walking out to the woodpile, filling the wagon with a few pieces of the heavy wood, and then transporting the fuel back to the school. There, Joe stood on the ground outside an open window and handed the wood up to the other boy who took each piece from him and stacked it in the wood box in the classroom.
As Joe handed up each piece of wood he was complaining about the injustice of the punishment and calling the teacher all kinds of impolite names, saying how mean and cruel and unfair she was. What he didn’t know was that the other boy on the inside was telling the teacher everything that Joe was saying. When confronted by the teacher who asked him what he had been saying, Joe was too embarrassed to even look up, much less to recount his misdeeds. The teacher, knowing how timid he was, let him go with a verbal lesson about the proper respect to be paid to his elders.
On that subject, Mama had always warned Joe and Adrian (just as she did me years later) that under no circumstances were they to go anywhere near the “branch” that ran between our house and the Selma Methodist Church and the general store. However, disregarding her admonitions, on the way home from school one day Joe accepted a challenge to ride his bicycle across the branch on a “stackin’ strip,” a two-by-two-inch board used to separate planks in a pile of lumber at the sawmill.
Of course, any thinking person could foretell what was going to happen. Sure enough, as soon as Joe’s bicycle tires began to roll out over the branch, the “stackin’ strip” turned over, and Joe and his bicycle tumbled into the muddy water.
On the way to the house, Joe stopped off at the peach tree, snapped off a small limb, and carried it to the back door where he called out for Mama.
When she came out on the back porch, Joe looked up in what Mama often called “shame-faced” remorse and regret, and with huge crocodile tears streaming down his dirty face, snubbed and sniffed to Mama, “I rode my bicycle off into the branch, so here’s a switch. I reckon you’re just gonna have to switch me.”
Mama later said that she was so moved by Joe’s contrition and his bedraggled appearance that she just didn’t have the heart to switch him. So, like the kind teacher, she let him off with a word of caution about the consequences of disobeying his elders.
As he got older Joe outgrew his timidity and, like Adrian, became quite outgoing and convivial, loving to entertain others with his wit and humor, a trait that I believe I may have also inherited to some minor degree from our grandmother Simmie. (To read about Simeon Sumrall Peacock and her tale-telling and sense of humor, see my earlier post titled “Thank God I’m a Country Boy.”)
In his eulogy for Joe, his son Perrin Peacock recalled:
“My father loved many and was loved by many.
“He was a lovable man. We think of him fondly, recalling how lovable he was. He was such a character, my dad. But he was so loved I think because he was so giving of himself. He was also willing to show his own inefficiencies and shortcomings—to reveal that he was very human. People loved my dad because he gave of himself to others.
“Never was that so apparent as now, when folks have come up to my sister Desha and me to tell us how much they loved him. They have told us how much he did for them and why he made them feel special. He had that gift—the gift of making others feel special.
“Joe Peacock loved to laugh, joke, and have a fantastic time. He liked to talk on the phone. He liked to talk face to face. He just liked to talk. He was extremely giving. He could motivate anyone in all kinds of circumstances. His optimism was contagious. He was very strong-willed. He loved his family and he loved his many, many friends.
“Desha and I never doubted that he loved us and would do anything for us. We are very thankful for that. In this life, you can do without a lot of things. You can do without money, you can do without material possessions, you can do without status or fame or physical comfort. But it’s hard to do without love. My dad always had an abundance of love to give. And if I had to choose one of his many attributes to highlight, I would choose his abundant love.
“Dad, we love you, and we will miss you.”
To conclude this memorable birthday salute to Adrian and Joe, here is a copy of an article about Adrian that appeared in the East Arkansas-North Mississippi edition of a Memphis newspaper back on August 28, 1978. I think you will see the humor in it also.
“Peacock Parlays Country Roots, Humor Into Business Success”
By LINDA ROSS ALDY
From: The Commercial Appeal
Northwest Miss. Bureau
WEST HELENA, Ark.—Adrian Peacock is a mixture of Hee Haw’s Junior Samples and Jerry Clower with Sample’s voice and Clower’s humor. [For more about country comedians Junior Samples and Jerry Clower, popular at the time of this writing, click here and here.]
He sells boats, motors, motorcycles and campers here and has a sizeable following for his five-minute radio program in Arkansas and Mississippi.
Peacock, 48, claims the radio show, in which he argues and advertises with the disk jockey, pulled him out of near bankruptcy, but it’s hard to tell when he is serious or being the character he has developed.
“Some feller wanted to know who my publicity agent was. I told him bankruptcy. I figured owning a couple of radio stations wasn’t gonna hurt us any worse than we were hurtin’ already,” Peacock laughed.
[Adrian’s son Johnny, who shared this clipping with me, notes about it: “There’s one typo: ‘owning a couple of radio stations’ should read ‘owing…’ He was going to owe them for the advertising (air time used during the phone calls). These were phone calls that were broadcast live every weekday morning at 9:00. At one time he was talking to two announcers from two radio stations—one was KFFA AM 1360 in Helena, and the other one might have been an FM station in Clarksdale, MS. I can’t remember. WKDJ 96.5 FM maybe; it’s the only currently listed country station, but these ads were done in 1978, so I don’t know if there have been any changes. Only the locals would know, especially those who listened to him.”]
“Most folks who just hear me and don’t know me, they come in here and say they thought I was fat, short and bald.”
Just the opposite is true. Peacock looks more like an art professor with his salt and pepper beard.
He claims to have three personalities, one for buying, one for selling and one for getting his customers serviced.
It’s the homespun humor that is making Peacock a personality in the Mid-South.
“I don’t have no sense, I just see things and relate them to everyday life. I saw a tombstone one time that said, ‘Here lies the second fastest gun.’ That’s kind of like a salesman coming in second[,] might as well be last.”
Peacock says he is an unusual guy.
“I jumped the track, but you’re born an individual, you don’t become an individual.”
“I was born and raised in the country. I come from a town [Selma, Arkansas] with a population of 160, 100 of ’em in the cemetery and 60 of ’em living. We didn’t have no indoor plumbing and didn’t get electricity till I was 18 years old. We had high ceilings in the house and my daddy didn’t believe in wasting no money. We used 40-watt bulbs and when you pulled that strang cord, it looked like a star a-shinin’ off in the sky,” Peacock said. [For more about this subject see my earlier post titled “The Way We Were.”]
“When you picked out your cow feed that was when you picked out the color of your underwear. One reason I never learned to swim, much as I love the water, was because I didn’t want nobody to see my flour sack underwear.
“I get my horsetrading natural. I’ve seen my daddy sell my mother’s milk cow with her a-milkin’ it,” he said. [In my fifteen years as a “cowboy” with Daddy I often heard him say that everything in his life was for sale at the right price—“even the wife and kids.”]
One of his favorite stories is about his graduation from high school.
“I was valley-dick-tore-rean of my class and I had me a D-plus average. There were only three boys and me in the class. I was supposed to get a scholarship because it didn’t matter what kinda grades you had if you was valley-dick-tore-rean. I had to give the speech at graduation.
“We had graduation at the Methodist church, well, it was the Baptist church, too, on every other Sunday. [For more on this subject, see my earlier post titled “My ‘Bucket-List Trip’: The Selma Methodist Church.”] I always prided myself on my good memory and I had that speech learned. The president of the college was there and my momma was so proud, she was setting on the third pew.
“I had the speech in my pants pocket, you know, under that old graduating gown and I rattled off the first paragraph looking down at the floor. I figured I was so smart that I could look up and stare the people in the eye, so I did and my mind went plum blank. I said, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, I’m sorry, but I have forgotten my speech.’
“So I reached down, clear to my ankles to get the end of that graduating gown and went under it to get the speech out of my pocket and I read every word of it. If there had been a trapdoor under that third pew, my momma would have gone through that thang.”
But with all the scatterbrain, country-boy image aside, Peacock is a smart businessman. He bought his business one morning after breakfast when he didn’t even know it was for sale. He told his wife that night in 1973 and went to work the next morning with less than 30 cents in his pocket.
His goal for the first year was to do $250,000 worth of business. He did $350,000, he said.
Peacock Pleasure Products will be awarded the Diamond Award in October by Evinrude Motors for the highest volume of sales in Eastern Arkansas and has won similar awards from some of his 17 other franchise dealers. [Since Adrian is now deceased, this business no longer exists.]
He doesn’t like hearing about self-made men.
“No man can be successful by himself. It takes the bank, his wife, his customers and his employees and luck . . . Naw, I’m gonna change that. I just told a man this morning I don’t believe in luck.”
He adds, “This is not a success story. I’m still overdrawn at the bank, but my banker, when he let me borrow this money for this business, said, ‘I’m going to let you buy this business because you’ve got two collaterals—you ain’t lazy and you don’t have a clock.’ And that’s what it takes.”
But if Peacock can’t make it selling, there might be room in the entertainment world for a man who has telephone linemen scrambling off the poles to get to a radio for his program and the entire line in a factory shutting down to listen to him every morning.
Note: A framed copy of this article was displayed beside Adrian’s coffin at his visitation and funeral, which like Joe’s, included humorous anecdotes about their lives. As mentioned, this subject of “down-home” folksy humor in our family has been touched on in some previous posts and will be visited again in some future posts.