Saturday, June 13, 2015

Lessons Learned from 1961-1963 by David Albert Brown

Each day that I work in my office in downtown St. Johns, I try to take a few moments and contemplate the history of the building. My grandfather, Joseph Albert Brown, served as the St. Johns' Postmaster for many years. When I was a little boy, half of the building was the post office and the other half was my grandmother's Variety Store (which was an antique version of Dollar General). As I sit and remember my grandfather, I am reminded of the important life lessons that I learned attending his and four other funerals during 1961-1963, when I was 6 to 9 years old.

In late March of 1961, I witnessed the entire community come together as planes landed and took off incessantly looking for Virgil and Farr Whiting. They were my dad's older first cousins and, in the Whiting family in St. Johns, first cousins are the same as brothers. All of Dad's first cousins in St. Johns have always been my "aunts and uncles." I remember praying fervently in family prayer that they would be found. I remember the massive funerals and feeling a sense of profound loss for the community of St. Johns. My heart ached for my two second cousins my age who lost their fathers. I never told them this, and they are now both gone.

A few weeks later, my grandfather died at the age of 66 on April 21, 1961. My favorite memory of my grandfather was sitting in the middle of the pickup seat between my dad and my grandfather driving to the farm or the ranch. Grandpa Brown had an amazing ability to make me feel like I was the most important kid in the world. Mom, Dad, Norman, and I visited Grandpa in Albuquerque not too long before he died. I will never forget him telling us that he loved us even though he could barely speak through a tracheotomy from his throat cancer. The impact of the funeral hit me when I touched my grandpa's cold face and saw my dad cry for the first time.

One of my father's favorite uncles was Edwin Isaacson Whiting, known as Uncle E.I. As such, he was also my favorite great-uncle. Life was never richer than when listening to my dad talk to Uncle E.I. about ranching, business opportunities, politics, and family issues. He was a one-man adventure team. Uncle E.I. passed away on January 4, 1963. I was so impressed with the grace and charitable disposition of Uncle E.I.'s good wife, Aunt Ethel. Later, when I was in high school, I had the privilege of home teaching Aunt Ethel with my father. She lived right across the street from the church. It was a royal treat to be hosted by one of the most graceful, proper women I have ever known. Even after burying her husband, four sons, and a son-in-law, she still lived life to the very fullest. She died during my senior year of high school. Partly from the urging of Uncle E.I., Dad ran for the Legislature and began serving several days after Uncle E.I.'s funeral. That decision changed my family's life. In January 1963, we moved to Scottsdale for the legislative session where I disliked the rest of third grade.

The last funeral that impacted me from 1961-1963 was that of President John F. Kennedy, who was assassinated on November 22, 1963. Anybody around my age or older remembers exactly where they were when they heard about the shooting. I was playing basketball at the Pioneer School during lunch time. I will forever remember the feeling of community in St. Johns. For one week in St. Johns, the Catholics and the Mormons prayed together, rang bells together, worshipped together, mourned together, and drew closer together. Truly the worst of times can be the best of times. Indelibly imprinted in my mind is the little black and white TV we had at our house and watching the funeral procession down Pennsylvania Avenue while little John John saluted his father as his body passed by. My entire family wept. Political differences seemed so trivial at the time.

During that 2 1/2 period of my young and impressionable life, I learned many lessons, but these are the most important that I remember now:
1. The Comforter is real, especially in times of tragedy.
2. Family bonds are eternal.
3. God loves little boys.
4. Living in St. Johns is a laboratory of the human experience, and everything good can be found here in spite of death and tragedy.