Opportunity Lost by Snickering Boys


Take what you will, think what you will. I came upon this recollection today and it necessitated a ‘peccavi’. Forty seven years ago or so, a group of young boys played hard, outdoors morning into the dark most of the year. We were physical creatures consumed by the outdoors and the expenditure of energy. In our neighborhood, on a side street off E. Burnside St. stood an old house. It is still there, a testament to our ignorance and foolishness.

The house was occupied by a man called ‘Old Man Brockman’. He was old, hard of hearing, and partly blind. He suffered poor hygiene and didn’t know a razor. I recall one of the brave ones amongst us would knock and ask if we all could come in to see the pictures on the walls. Partly true, but truth be told, with shame, it was to make fun of the old man. To giggle and smirk at his voice, his dirty clothing, his frailty.

Dear God. He would show us pictures of himself and his brother, Gus on the side of Mt. Hood around 1915. Pictures of majestic rock formations, pictures of Model T’s moving up a single lane dirt road called Burnside, the center point dividing Portland North and South. Pictures of loggers, maps on the wall, and all this was lost upon us as Ed Brockman made his way to the phonograph…the one you cranked by hand. Ah, this was the capper…the anticipated moment. Old Man Brockman would crank the phonograph and place the needle down upon an old plastic disc. Static and old music emerged. He would stand there in his home and sing to us. A squeaky voice. On the wall nearby was a written song, the lyrics to a song. I cannot remember it all, but I do know it revolved around ‘there is nothing so lovely as a tree’.

This gave rise to unrestrained giggles and snickering. How ridiculous he appeared. Everytime he finished, most of the boys had run from the house. Myself and another neighbor boy remained. Ed Brockman would give us handouts about trees, mountain climbing (he and Gus were early proponents of the Mazama Club), rock collecting and gardening. We took the items. Nothing untoward ever happened. We would leave his house and rejoin our friends to make fun of the old man. Too cowed to say anything, we went along. Yet, it is interesting that the one that stayed inside with me went on to be climbing mountains and rock formations within the next five years; shortly after Ed Brockman died. I cannot lay credit to Brockman for my love of the outdoors, fly fishing, backpacking…that would be too easy.

But today, I don’t know why, I was overcome by shame for my behavior. Can you imagine the stories he would have had if we would have been mature enough to ask an intelligent question or two. Gus, Ed’s younger brother, lived alone nearby. He avoided us, probably sensing our ill intent. But, Ed endured us, spreading the word and showing his pictures to ungrateful kids.

I can recall spying on him on dark nights. He was visible through an uncurtained back window. Laying in bed in his long johns. A single bare light bulb, emitting that dim, yellow light, dangling from the ceiling. He would have a book open and be reading with one bad eye. Ed died alone in his old home, as we moved on into college. He passed on and we did not notice. What a shame.

Peccavi pek-ah-vee, n (Latin peccavi I have sinned)   An admission of sin or guilt.  (The Phrontistery)

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