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I Remember My Brother Broomtail

By W. T. Block

Lawrence Otis L. O. Block

On Aug. 29, 2004, I had to say good-bye for all time to my only surviving brother Broomtail. It was not easy, as it never is within families that are so close to one another.

I often have been asked if I actually had a brother named Broomtail, or how L. O. Block happened to obtain that sobriquet. I must confess that it happened so early in my childhood that I also wonder. However, I believe that it came from our older half-brother, who once saw him when he badly needed a haircut, and compared my younger brother’s appearance with that of a wild broomtail mustang.

Being 3 years younger than myself, Broomtail was rather like my shadow, always following me wherever I went. We played lots together, but life for boys on a farm was by no means all play. After school, we shucked and shelled buckets of corn together to feed our 200 chickens. Then we gathered buckets of eggs together, and then milked by hand buckets of milk together from our cows. Often as we milked, we enjoyed squirting streams of milk onto the mouths and paws of our cats, and then watch them lick it off.

When we were little, our hair was often upended as we listened to ghost stories about pirates or the people buried in Block Cemetery (now Oak Bluff), which was on our farm. On Sunday afternoons, we often watched from the blackberry brambles outside the fence whenever a funeral was in progress. And once, we turned around and saw ten “ghosts,” each dressed in bed sheets and long pointed caps. As a result we tore up a half-acre of briar bushes as we raced home, while crying tears the size of ice cubes.

Mother needed 20 minutes to quieten us down. Then she tried to explain that the “ghosts” were actually Ku Klux Klansmen, who were attending the funeral.  Well, our ardor for the Ku Klux was quite negative that day, and it has not improved one iota during the intervening 75 years.

I remember the months when we owned a skiff with a sail on it. When the wind was right, we would sail north in Block’s Bayou in a hurry, and then we would have to furl our sail, and paddle back to our boat landing against the current.

Once Broomtail and I were picking butter beans while big bumblebees sought nectar from the yellow blooms around us. We watched as a friend slapped the bees between the palms of his hand, killing then. However, the same process did not work for our little hands, and we got stung repeatedly.

About 1927, Broomtail and I were the “kingpin bootleggers” in Port Neches, that is, in our childhood fantasy. During Prohibition, officers often unloaded from our cattle barge, loads of captured moonshine stills, copper tubing, etc., which often remained stacked at our farmhouse for many months. One day he and I carried a big copper still, some tubing, and wooden barrels for “corn mash” into a sea cane thicket in our marsh so we could play “bootlegger.” Other kids played marbles, “annie-over,” or hopscotch, but our special pastime was playing “bootlegger,” which we shared with none of the other kids.

Long after we moved to Nederland in 1935, we still ran a small dairy with our few milk cows. Broomtail mixed sacks of cow feed, which included sacks of cotton seed meal, which was ground much finer than flour. Having no time to change clothes, Broomtail often wore his overalls to school.

One day, Miss S., the music teacher, caught him throwing spit balls and she called Broomtail up to her desk for a paddling. The teacher only weighed about 90 pounds, soaking wet, yet her paddle was the length of a boat oar.  She hit Broomtail one lick with that paddle, and the cotton seed meal began to rise from his back pockets in a cloud. Miss S. began choking; then she began crying, and she finally sat down at his desk and began to bawl like a baby, while Broomtail returned to his seat.

Broomtail grew up to become a successful businessman, and he was generous to a fault. In my heart I knew I had to record some of our childhood experiences together, for from now on my memories of Broomtail are all that I will have.

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