“I guess you know it is all your fault,” my sister Bonnie said.
I had just gotten word of her husband Jim’s death. I was calling to share with her and offer what comfort I could. I was taken aback by her words that it was all my fault. I was not quite sure what to say next.
Bonnie Sue continued, “If you hadn’t taken Jim as your working partner, things would have been totally different.”
There is something about your baby sister putting a guilt trip on you that causes your mind to dig deeply into the memory bank. At once my mind went back to 1958. And I am under the hood of my all-too-warn-out 1941 Chevy club coupe. I had driven to class that day, to go right to work after class. The car had been giving me trouble since last Sunday night driving the 130 miles from the church where I preached every Sunday. Not only did I need to get to work today, I needed to load up my family to get to church 130 miles away for a Saturday program and all-day Sunday services. I was bamboozled; the Chevy just wouldn’t start. Suddenly, there was another guy looking under the hood, saying, “Maybe I can help.”
He rummaged through my toolbox, found some electrical wire, tools needed and in no time the Chevy was running. With greasy hands we introduced ourselves and shook hands. He was Jim Brooks from Weatherford, Texas, a new student at Ozark Bible College, and roommate with my friend from New Mexico, Sam Tate. That was the beginning of something special.
I was twisting every coin Melba and I could earn to stay ahead on my college debt, feed and house a family of four. The church at Urich paid ten dollars a week. That covered the gas for two hundred seventy or so miles, including the Sunday afternoon church calling. We no longer had rent money coming in from our property in New Mexico; we had sold it and the money and property was in escrow. Melba and I were both making sixty-eight cents an hour, minimum wage; Missouri was in the midst of a depression. The big advantage was the church in the country north of Urich was all farm folks. Every Sunday night the deck area behind the front seat was filled with beef, ham, bacon, eggs, jugs of milk, jars of fruit, veggies and other goodies. I gained fifty pounds the first year preaching for Urich.
It was a cold and snowy Missouri winter. This trip, I had used chains on the tires. It was long after midnight; Melba, Dale and Lori were wrapped in blankets to stay warm and the engine was cutting out, trying to die. I was trying to keep going for the last fifteen miles to our house in Joplin. Melba was praying, I was stomping the foot feed and shifting up and down. The Chevy died at our apartment with a sigh of exhaustion.
The next afternoon, Jim, Melba and I are looking under the hood of the Chevy; Jim is shaking his head, ”I don’t think it will make another trip.”
Melba was saying, “Let’s pray.”
Little did we know that God had already answered that prayer. On Tuesday, Melba left a message for me at the school, “Don and Kit DeVinney had sent us a money order for $300.” Jim and I went car shopping that afternoon; Jim said we will get a better deal on a Studebaker, “they are not real popular in this neighborhood.” We left the school walking and drove home after dark in a 1951 Stude V8 with overdrive and torn-up upholstery. We had made the deal for three hundred drive out. In a few days we’re both dissatisfied with how the businesses were treating us, and the other students at the college. We started a new business, Pinney-Brooks Specialty Services. Over the next three years we headquartered out of our own DX Sunray Service station, mechanic shop; we had a half a dozen lawn mowers, lots of equipment. We employed fifteen to twenty college students part time as it fit their schedule. Each one made four to five dollars an hour because we contracted all the jobs; a student could work at their own pace, and was paid accordingly. Always making three to four times minimum wage.
In 1960 mom and dad came to visit, bringing with them Bonnie and Eddie, both still in high school. Jim was over most of the time they were in Joplin. Jim and Bonnie were off to the side talking. From that trip on, Jim know more about what was going on in Socorro than I did.
In snowy February, Jim said, “I am taking a couple days off. Bonnie has invited me to Socorro Christian’s valentine banquet.”
“How are you going?” I asked.
“I am hitchhiking,” Jim said.
We went into the shop, took a five gallon empty gear oil can, cleaned it out, cut it apart, made gaskets, welded threaded rods on three sides with washers and wing nut, painted it red and I said, “There is your suitcase for the trip.”
Jim made the winter trip with almost no delay between rides. We were eating our midnight supper, doing payroll, and Jim said matter-of-factly, “When Bonnie graduates from high school we are getting married.”
So it was with my graduation from college, Pinney-Brooks was no more; soon it was Jim and Bonnie Brooks.
No couple were more perfectly handcrafted by God as a pair. Mother used to say, “Herb, you were born a hundred years after your time.” If that were accurate, and I believe it was; I believe Bonnie and Jim were born a hundred and fifty years behind their time. They were a perfect match. Their goal was to rear Jesus-loving children, faithful to the Lord’s church; you can check that one. They were much more excited over a new litter of bunnies than the latest fad. Bonnie was far more at home baking bread, or bottle feeding the latest rescued animal she had nursed back to health than attending a woman’s book club.
It has been a race this past month—who gets to go home first—Jim with his failing heart, or Bonnie with stage four cancer that has taken over her body. She has told the doctors, no special treatment, “I just want to go be with my Lord, my mama and daddy.” Now, with her Jim.
I was quiet for a moment when Bonnie said it was all my fault. I responded, “Well, I guess it is all my fault.”
She interrupted me, “Yes, it is all your fault; thank you for Jim. It has been a wonderful life. Thank you, my dear big brother.”