Since it is not a common experience I wish to write down what having six older brothers has been like to me. I've just returned from George's funeral. He is the third brother to die within the past ten months. Two deaths were long anticipated and the other a most unfortunate case of West Nile Virus. Ike, the fourth youngest, and I are the two brothers still living. I moved away from our home town when I was eighteen to attend college. Like many siblings this ended my being near my brothers in day to day living. But each of them has forever been very near to me and influencing me in my inner life. One exception of our being physically separated was that my fifth oldest brother Gene was my Chemistry teacher for my first two years of college. Most of my reflections will be how I remember them during the years of growing up in Florence, AL. I will be speaking mostly as that kid who found that the background and fabric of his life included being the far youngest of the seven Hibbett boys at 637 N. Cherry St. My brothers ranged from seven to twenty years older than me. In a very real way it was like having six extra fathers in my life. There was too much distance in our ages for me to feel any serious competition with them. I always was confident they liked me and were for me in every imaginable way. *
|Rufus Hibbett And Sons ...@ 1972|
I cannot focus on one of my brothers without 'seeing' them all. They belonged together like a team, each providing a very unique flavor to the whole. A central part of my identity was that I was the youngest of seven brothers. I used to enjoy telling others that and I loved the sound as I would rattle off their names in order: Rufus, Lester, George,Ike, Gene, Barry and me. Still one of my favorite fantasies has me driving my boat up to my brother Ike's boat dock. There on the dock standing casually are my six brothers looking at me. All are well and healthy. And each is flashing his very unique smile of approval. I then attempt placing myself standing with them and realize that I can see them far more clearly and objectively than I can see myself. In my mind they are 'together' my brothers. I had absolutely no higher value or evaluation placed on any of them over the other. To me they each were precisely what they were suppose to be and I truly had no sense that any of them had any flaw whatsoever. Also I could not imagine them not feeling that same way about each other. And as we have grown older I think there was solid and demonstrated truth in how my brothers valued each other and supported each other. Since they were to me a single 'unit' of my life I think when they began to die, Rufus being the first about twenty years ago, that I knew something very formative and important was trying to die inside of me. It was like experiencing part of the circle of my life being broken. I had a strong need for them to 'all' be present as they had always been while I was a youngster. As a child I could not have verbalized what I am saying now. I surely took this 'brothers' background for granted as any child does his surroundings. I did not think of it as particularly unique. It was just my life. My brothers contributed strongly to the security and confidence of my young life.
As best I can calculate my conscious memory of my brothers picks up when I was about six years old. I can remember four of my brothers when they still lived at home. Ike I can only remember was at that time 'living in the basement.' This was a 'rite of passage' for Hibbett boys. Some time as a late teen each fixed up the musty room in the basement and slept there away from the rest of the family at least for awhile. The tiny room had its own outside entrance through a four by four window door. This basement living usually ended when one morning our feet touched the floor in about six inches of water after a heavy rain. My time to live in the basement was when I was a senior in high school. I recall Ike bringing me to his basement room. He let me listen to his homemade radio, whose circuitry was on a ply wood board, through a headphone. From then on Ike was forever introducing me to new wonders and gadgets. Growing up I experienced Ike as a great giver of things to me. He was like a living Santa. Ike liked to give things to people. As the Hibbett store CEO he was always giving out promotional gadgets, candy etc to his customers and friends. And I was always included with handfuls and bags full of things. It was a child's bonanza around Ike. I recall suggesting to Daddy that I might should have a new football. Daddy's first thought was to look through used balls at the store for one he could put new lacing in. I noticed Ike talking to Daddy. And shortly afterward I had a brand new leather, sweet smelling, white lined pee wee Wilson football in my hand. I strongly suspect Ike had a hand in the grandest Christmas present I ever received. On the tree was a note that said a twelve foot Feather Craft boat with a new 35 horse Evinrude was being rigged out at the store for me. That boat and Shoals Creek were my salvation during my teen years, much of that time being at Ike's place on the lake. Ike built an all red wood A-frame type house on the lake when I was a freshman in high school. He made it clear it was mine to use anytime. He gave me a key and gave me no restrictions or rules on using it, just common sense, keep it in good clean shape. I did not realize at the time just how open ended his gifts to me were. He let me work at the store as much as I wished and I came to see myself as a rather dependable and hard worker there. I think he did expect me to take my work reasonably seriously as he did his. A few times I recall he asked me to do something with him. I had the unusual sense that he needed me for something. When he was single he once took a few days off and asked me if I would be his buddy at our Mama Gene's place on the lake. I was happy to and it relieved me to see him not working so hard. That was an unusual way for me to experience Ike. I was glad to have helped with that project. Ike asked me a month before I entered college what the tuition costs were. I told him and a few days later he gave me tightly rolled bills saying, 'This is for your first semester tuition and books.' When I was a senior in high school Ike purchased a new 1962 beige Thunder Bird. This was the first year of a very new design. With less than 500 miles on it he said, 'Jimmy, I'm going on a week long business trip. Would you take care of my car while I'm gone? Just remember in this car you are always going faster than you think you are.' I drove it to school that week and got more attention from peers than I ever did in all my life. Two years later he let me drive his blue Thunder Bird to Illinois to impress my girl friend. After married my English Ford broke down on a trip home to Florence. Ike paid me an outrageous price for it so I could purchase a better car for my family. This is how I think of Ike, always sharing his exciting newest things with me and always supporting me in every way. How fortunate can a boy be? I am so thankful I've been able to visit with Ike, Barbara and Kneeland on two occasions in the past year. I hope I will have occasion in the future to see Leigh Ann and Whitney and their families. On my trip South last August Ike slipped me a note with a hundred dollar bill saying, 'Gas money for your trip to visit your brothers.' That is my brother Ike.
I also remember my oldest brother Rufus at home. I recall him sleeping in our 'middle bedroom.' And I slept very securely with him. I must have been about six years old and this was shortly before he got married. I recall him at home in his dress navy uniform. He was sharp and handsome, my big brother. Rufus and his family moved to California when I was an early teen so my direct contact with him was rare after that. One of my favorite times with Rufus was when I was invited to make a Smokey Mountain camping trip with him, Betty and my two nieces Becky and Esther. Betty's sister Margaret also made that trip. These are extremely fond memories. I remember Rufus as an extremely sweet and kind person. One would have to push very hard to get an argument going with Rufus. It was not his nature to fight or argue. His temperament may have set the tone for the rest of the Hibbett boys regarding fights and arguments. I know I have never had a real fist fight in my life and I can hardly imagine any of my brothers being so engaged, unless very strongly provoked. We just were not looking for that. Rufus loved to laugh and was always ready to hear or tell a good story or joke. It is still so clear to me. I was staying the night at Daddy's sister in Nashville while the rest of the family was with mother at Vanderbilt Hospital February 7, 1954. Rufus' assignment was to come and tell me mother had died. Bless his heart. He sat in a large rocking chair in the front bed room and held me close on his lap. His soft kind words gave me the most distressing words of my life. No one could have done that job better. We were all devastated. Rufus and Betty were the blue ribbon hosts for any Hibbetts or Florence friends who made it to California. I was the recipient of such graciousness twice, once with Daddy and Mama Gene the summer of my junior year at Coffee High. And with my wife and six months old daughter Sheri when I was at Arizona State in 1970.
Three of my brothers, at least, had very good singing voices. In our church of Christ any boy who took an interest in singing would be given good attention for developing into a church song leader. I can clearly recall the sound of three of my brothers standing up front and leading the congregational a'capella singing. This they got from their Daddy who also was a song leader throughout his life. Rufus, George and Ike were all I think exceptionally good song leaders. Each one had a very unique and very sweet voice. I wish I could have been present when Rufus and Becky sang a spiritual duet in her Church many years ago. I remember the family singing together only when camping in the mountains and sometimes riding in the car. I'm not sure why we did not sing at home. Maybe they did before I came along and the others began to leave home.
Another brother I can remember being home with me is Barry. He was seven years older. Just enough distance that he could not help but to occasionally tease me. Barry never roughed me up physically which he could have easily done. I recall on a car trip to Tennessee Daddy bought us each a candy bar of our choice. I observed Barry and concluded he had eaten his. So with much enthusiasm I gobbled mine right down. Barry then brought out his unopened bar and slowly ate it while I cried how unfair he had been to me. I don't think my parents took my side in that sibling dispute. Barry was one of the most positively determined of all of us brothers. And that took him far. I recall as a teen how much he liked nice clothes and he often visited Otto Speaks and Krisman's Men's stores on Court street, either buying a new item or just seeing what the latest fashions were. Barry achieved a wonderful and heralded career as a dentist and he demonstrated his positive determination when confronting the troubles of life. I had the highest admiration for my brother Barry. He was an adorable brother to me. Barry and his fiance Ann Griffin, showed profound interest and patience in teaching me to ski. I can't guess how may attempts Barry helped me make while I learned to ski. This began on the Tennessee River near the Florence boat harbor where Barry taught me to ski on two skis. And later he showed even more patience helping to 'get up' on one ski on Shoals Creek. The strongest impact he ever had on me was when our mother died. I was three days before being ten years old and of course folks were concerned about what impact mother's sudden death would have on me. Few may have considered that Barry was only a sixteen year old kid himself. What a tragedy this was for him as well. A week or so after mother's funeral Barry took me aside in a more serious way than I had ever experienced him. He said words to this effect, “ Jimmy, I want you to know that I will never tease you again as long as we live.” From that day on Barry always treated me as his peer and never looked down on me as just a little brother. I was deeply affected by that demonstration of brotherly love. In 1984 my family and I were devastated by my loss of a long time ministry position. Barry called me. He was already in Springfield, IL and wanted to visit and offer his encouraging support. This demonstrated to me the depth of Barry's spiritual intuitiveness and his love for a brother. A year later Ann and Barry graciously took me into their home as I wrestled with serious mid-life issues. I'm so glad to have had conversation with Ann, Ken, Rob and Molly several times recently.
Also I can most clearly remember Gene being at home with me. Gene was truly a best buddy for me ages six through about thirteen. I always looked forward to when Gene arrived back home from his teaching job at Deshler High, his navy cruises and his return home for the summer during his early college days. Gene was always a great source of security for me. He played with me, made me laugh and nearly always included me even when he had friends over. I think I transferred some of my emotional need to Gene after our mother died. He nor I knew just how important his presence was for me. I can recall that I was not happy about his getting married. I felt I was losing a very dear friend and confidant. Jackie Graben only proved to strengthen Gene's and my brother connection. I've had wonderful and memorable times with Gene, Jackie, Lynne and Lee at their home during all these years. Gene was amazed many years later when I shared with him how I hated to see him leave home. He was quite elated and full of smiles to hear just how much he meant to me. Gene was always to me a fully sweet, gentle and kind person to have in my life. We continued our strong connection when I attended Freed Hardeman College where he was my chemistry teacher for two years. He was instrumental in helping me get admitted to dental school after two years of college. He came to Illinois to conduct Beverly's and my Wedding Ceremony. Gene continued right up to his death to keep ongoing quite regular contact with me. He always asked specifically how I and my family were doing. He even wanted to know how our finances were. He and Jackie encouraged two of my children to attend Freed Hardeman where they were nurtured by Gene and Jackie. Gene suffered much with some of the changes in religious belief that I experienced beginning in 1985. He expressed his great spiritual care for me. We were experiencing more pressure on our strong brother relationship than we had ever had before or since. We agreed for about two years to not discuss religious matters for both our hearts' sake, but to relate only through the brother relationship which we both considered a true gift of God. After that we gradually returned to where we were able to converse about religious matters and anything else as we had always done. About five years ago following a thirty minute phone conversation and maybe remembering some our more difficult talks Gene joyfully remarked, "We have had a really good conversation haven't we Jimmy?" That is the only kind we had from then on. I likely have experienced more spiritual conversation with Gene than I have any of my other brothers. I think we both sensed that we had won and discovered that our precious brother connection truly did transcend any religious differences that we at moments had painfully felt. I had learned something importantly grand about brotherly love.
My first remembrance of George was also at age six. I clearly recall Mother, Daddy and me driving to Clarksville when Judy was born, my first niece and my parents first grandchild. It was a really big deal. I remember going up the steep stairs of their apartment house. Out the back window one could see the Cumberland River. When mother was giving Judy a bath she used the occasion as a learning experience for me(Judy I hope you don't mind.) She made sure I saw the baby girl naked. This was the first chance mother had of letting me observe the basic difference between girls and boys. I got it. George Hibbett to me has been a person with whom I have never had an uncomfortable moment in his presence. Quite the contrary, George was always an interaction I looked forward to with joy and enthusiasm. I recall other times of being with him in Clarksville. I visited a week with him, Martha, Judy and baby Chip shortly after mother died. George was always such a pleasant person to me. I loved being with him and his family, eating at their table, taking trips with them to the mountains, being invited to their times on the lake. This family gave me my strongest impression of what good young family life can be. They served as a primary example to me for what I hoped to experience in a family of my own. In Clarksville I got to go with George on his sales route where we attended stores and cafes taking orders for produce. I observed George's gentle and kind approach to people in the business environment. I learned a lot from being around my brother George. After George and family returned to Florence to work at the Hibbett store I continued to associate often with him again noticing his good and friendly way of interacting with others. I've yet to see a better example of a man in such situations. As often as possible I continued to be in George and Martha's home with their children. I would frequently go home with him for lunch from our work at the store.... for a good meal and maybe a quick nap. I learned about children younger than me by being a frequent baby sitter for his three children. All of the Hibbett family was devastated when David Hibbett was killed in a street auto accident when he was only ten years old. As terrible as this tragedy was for George and his family their faithful response demonstrated the character of George and Martha as they modeled to all of us how to handle one of life's most devastating disappointments. George and his family visited my family in each our homes in Illinois and Tennessee. It was good to know they had seen how my family lived and maybe what I had learned about being a father and husband from him. In recent decades I have visited George in his home usually spending at least one night on my trips to Florence. What a blessing to know that George would always be his joyful self and always have his door open to me at a moment's notice. During some of my most difficult years George was always a strong listener to my unfolding personal story. And because he was a good and open listener he heard more from me than most anyone outside my own family. It is hard to say Goodbye to my dear brother George.
|Anne And Rufus Hibbett With Sons...1945|
My first remembrance of my big brother Lester was , again about age six, when Mother, Daddy, Barry and I visited him and Elaine in their upstairs apartment in Nashville. Lester was well into Med school at Vanderbilt. Their brick apartment home was just off West End Ave. I recall a stuffed toy on their bed, a blue duck maybe. On that trip I had my first fast food burger. Lester brought home Crystal Burgers one day. Once we joined Lester, Elaine and baby Susan in Nashville to make our way then to the Great Smokies for a week's camping at Smoke Mont near Cherokee N. Carolina. Lester had creatively put a baby bed mattress on top of luggage in the back seat making a perfect place for the baby.(I realize that would violate seat belt regulations now. But I was able to use that idea many times for my children.) I think Lester had the admiration and respect of me and all my brothers in a way that was unique. It may be because of his, showing much endurance, becoming a medical doctor. Or it may be that he may have had a higher natural intelligence than some of us. Lester's opinion was often sought out. This may have been a heavy load for him at times. I remember calling him several times from Illinois with medical questions that my family was having. In the mountains you wanted to be around Lester. He made you feel the magic of family camping in the mountains. He made it fun beyond all imagination. I remember Lester taking me fishing. I was as young as six years. It seems to me we went to a home on Wilson Lake near the dam. I associate it somehow as belonging to Elaine's father Early Williams. Lester and I made our way to a small fishing boat with a little motor on it and went fishing. All I recall was our seeing an extremely large dark snake gliding through the edge of the water. I watched with great wonder and awe. I was with my brother so all was safe. After Lester moved to Florence and first practiced at the Florence Clinic, I would walk several blocks from grade and junior high school to his office. I would show up unannounced at his waiting room. I would explain I was Lester's brother and would like to see him. Every time with a short wait I would be called back. Lester would greet me with his winning smile and full welcome as if he had no patients at all. He would chat with me and always give me something, usually a paper weight , calendar or some other pharmaceutical promotional item. Those were precious times being in the presence of a big brother I so admired and who I knew thought the world of me. Several days before my wedding Lester invited me to his lake house. After some boating activities, and with some embarrassment, he gave me a box of condoms. I think he saw this as an older brother's assignment and a kind of rite of passage ritual. Also it was a strong and practical demonstration of his interest in my personal well being and happiness. Of much importance to me, the five years before Lester's full illness he and I had numerous email exchanges. He is the only brother with whom I have ever had significant written communications and I highly value the interest he had in that opportunity for our relationship. I am so glad that I finally made it to Temple Terrace, Florida to see where Lester and most of his family have lived for I think nearly two decades. I was able to visit with Elaine, Beth, Ann and Emily there and see my dear brother Lester for the last time. I also was fortunate to visit with Elaine, Susan and Ann in Florence several days after Lester left us.
|Susan, Emily, Elaine, Lester at Shoals Creek Home|
There are so many more clear memories of my brothers. The stories would be endless to tell. These are some primary images I carry of my brothers each day of my life. I will carry them till I join them in the experience of leaving this life as we now know it. Should the five who have departed be aware of life back here I hope they can give their smiling approval to my attempt to describe what they each continue to mean to me. Jim Hibbett