By Michael Brannon
In 1956, my friend Shorty Embry built a basketball goal in his backyard and like many small towns such as Eupora, we had our gathering spot to pass away the time when not fishing at Grady Doss’ lakes or Mrs. Busby’s pond.
Being 12, and with ego in full bloom, having to return to study hall on account of not being able to play a sport you loved was devastating. Coach Garner didn’t know Mike Brannon except he knew I wasn’t up to par at the moment and looking back I realized I had not spent much time with the round ball.
All “12-year-old men” had dreams of the NFL dancing in their head anyway. So, when the goal was erected, a flood of the neighborhood boys converged on Shorty’s back yard and in a short period of time, no grass was visible in our Madison Square Garden.
Life tends to give you gifts and not until later years do we realize those gifts we took for granted were some of the most valuable ones bestowed upon us.
You may wonder what this has to do with the title of this story, but Charles Winston Carl is one of the most wonderful gifts the Brannon family ever received. “Chuck,” as we knew him, visited our home with my sister, who was at the time living in Lexington, Ky. He grew up in Versailles, right outside Lexington. And we all know that the two most important things in life in Kentucky are God and basketball, and those who bleed blue get them mixed up at times.
I was a gangly kid, voice going from high soprano to bass all in the middle of one sentence. Avery Jean, who we call Bibs, had her sights set on Chuck, and since I was born on her 11th birthday and she raised me for the first six months, I wasn’t fond of his presence.
Sometimes one sentence or one event can be logged for a lifetime, and considering I held this one for 57 years, it must have weighed heavily at the time. We were sitting at the dining room table and mother had sliced some fresh tomatoes out of the garden and knowing everything there was to possibly know, I simply salted and peppered them before handing the plate to Chuck. He told me he didn’t like black pepper on his. Well, I’m here to tell you that I KNEW that no one who didn’t salt and pepper their tomatoes wasn’t fit for my sister.
Each afternoon, Shorty, Robert Miller, Buddy Reed, Charles and Rob Sugg, David Hall and various others would gather for our game of basketball. Being the youngest, but not knowing it, I always seemed to lose. I told Bibs that I was headed across the street to Embry Arena to play basketball, and Chuck said he would like to go on account he had played a time or two. I remember how I didn’t want him to come with me, but reluctantly gave in.
That particular day, only Shorty, Buddy Reed, me and Chuck were there. We always chose sides, and if an instance were etched in my brain, it was that moment. I DID NOT want this guy as my teammate because I almost never won, and I sure didn’t want to lose with some stranger. But, Buddy chose Shorty, and Chuck was left with me.
I’m quite sure he could read the disappointment on my “this-is-going-to-be-pure-hell” face. Keep in mind Chuck’s hands could wrap around a basketball like a vacuum cleaner on a golf ball. I know of no kid who doesn’t want to be able to palm a basketball, even from the cradle.
Game On! March Madness! Deep in the court … swish, left-handed hooks … swish, right-handed hooks … swish, pass between the legs … I made a layup, pass behind the back … another layup. What a defining moment in my life. I learned that day that God puts people in our lives for many reasons. I knew he sent Chuck to Eupora for my glory and for revenge. Chuck had played some for Adolph Rupp, the legendary coach at Kentucky, but I, to this day, had rather played with or for Chuck than any coach in the world.
I told my sister that he was a keeper. They married, raised a family, and he took care of her until her death. When I say that, it somehow falls short of his devotion to all those in his life. That day in the Embrys’ yard, I met a man who I feel is one of God’s chosen ones. I was speaking of Chuck yesterday, and told a student that he was a much better man than I, and if the truth be told, I could not even be on his court.
Of all the men I’ve met in my 69 years, my father and Chuck are the finest … soft heart, hard work ethic and kind beyond words.
As I sit here this morning, putting together another story, tears run down my face. Cancer has entered his court, and he is in rough shape. I don’t share my spirituality too much, it is just my way. But today, and certainly not for me, take a moment to ask God to bless this man who loved as easily as we breath
Eupora native Michael Brannon of Hernando may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.