Monday, February 10, 2020

Robert "Bob" Walker - Panama City Beach, Florida - My Dad / Brad Burcham - My Half Brother / Leroy Burcham / Gayle Dearman

Below is a blog I wrote in 2009. It's been kinda hidden from the world for the past 10 years, but today I am publishing it publicly so he can live on in the Internet! 

July 2009 - I am sitting here tonight just going through these old photos and remembering so many memories about my dad, Robert Stanton Walker, Sr AKA "Bob Walker" from Panama City, Florida. I wanted to journal my memories to share with my family at some point, and to help me grieve right now. I want you to know that the first two-thirds of this note are going to make my dad sound really bad. You have to know up front that satan had a hold on my dad till the day he died. He suffered from Post Traumatic Stress from Vietnam.
He lost a friend in a fire-fight and he saw him die. 

He never, and I mean in 67 years, he NEVER recovered from this. He used drinking to cover the pain, and he smoked 3-4 packs a day. But know that the last third of this note will bring it home. He gave up drinking and smoking and he and I spent the last 20 years making up for the first 20, eventually giving his life to Christ and making up by loving his grandkids. He saw his grandkids as a second chance to do things right.

Now, on with the memories ...

My earliest memories of dad are while we lived on Jackson Street.
We lived about a block down from a local bar. That bar had a "Schlitz" sign hanging on a pole. That sign and pole are still there today. (Update: went by there the other day and the whole building had been remodeled, the pole and sign were gone) I remember my dad walking down to that bar in the evenings. My dad was a carpenter by day, but his real passion happened at night. My dad had a band. During the week our house was full of music.
They played at the local Moose Lodge on the weekends as the regular house band, and during the week they practiced at my house. They had a "reel-to-reel" recorder that they used to record their practices. They were on TV at one point on a morning news show. I remember seeing them leave the house all dressed in the white pants and red shirts. My dad took his music very serious and loved playing. The problem was he loved playing in bars and drinking grabbed a hold of his life early.

One of my earliest memories of my dad is the night my mom and dad had a big fight. I was 6 years old. I remember the house.
It was right across from the old Mercy Hospital on Grove Street. It had shag green carpet with these really 70's green lamps in the house. I remember my dad coming home late after work and had been drinking and ran over my new bike. My mom lost it and they had a big fight. I remember my mom throwing magazines off the coffee table at him. The next morning I remember her leaving.
I was clutching my dad to stay with him as my mom held my baby 3 year old brother . I remember him asking her to bring him cigarettes when she came back. But my mom never went back. We went to live with my grandparents and dad moved away almost instantly. My mom never asked him for child support and she raised us on her own. My dad LEFT, GONE, disappeared. No alternate weekends, not even every other month. Calls on birthdays became the norm. My grandfather became my dad at that point in my life. He never left us. But I'll journal on him later.

I don't think I physically saw dad again for 3 or 4 years after that. My next memory is of him is picking up my brother and I and taking us to Collinsville, Mississippi just outside of Meridian. That's where his parents lived. The funny thing about this trip is that we FLEW from Jackson to Meridian. It was my first airplane flight and it was about an 15 minute flight (if that). I'm sure he just wanted to do something unique and special. It was! I was fascinated with flying. But I digress. We went to see his parents, Memaw and Pepaw Walker. Man was she the best cook ever! She loved us and would literally start cooking the next meal as we were finishing the previous! Her love language was cooking! I remember that visit and the cooking and sleeping with the window fan blowing as we slept on a double mattress bed in the back left-hand side room down the hallway. The smell of "irish spring" soap as we pass the bathroom. That smell today puts me right back at Memaw's house. We went fishing at the spillway with Pepaw. Pepaw taught me how to tie on a lure. He told me to put the line through the hole of the lure and wrap it around itself "7" times. TO THIS DAY, every time I tie on a lure, I do it 7 times and remember Pepaw teaching me that. I have taught my son to do the same thing. I remember the day I taught Alex to tie on a lure and thinking this was being passed on to my son from my Pepaw Walker. Great summer spent with dad, but it came to an end way to quick, and what I remember most about that summer is the goodbye. My brother and I cried as dad hugged us in the front yard by ourselves. I cried so hard I couldn't speak or pull it together. I couldn't stand the thought of not seeing him again until next summer.

That became the norm of seeing my dad. Two weeks in the summer with phone calls sporadic throughout the year. These next memories are pretty random. They are the memories I have during those summers. Not sure of the order, but all of these events happened during our two week summer trips.

My dad was a carpenter which meant he had to follow the work. Every summer found my dad in a different part of the south. Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas, and eventually Florida. This particular summer we were in Little Rock, AR (I think). It was a fantastic trip. They had a fishing pond wherever we were. I remember dad working on a framing job for a big apartment during the day. I remember the smell of the wood as we walked through the job site. I remember him shooting himself through the hand with a nail gun and just brushing it off and keep working. We would get in his car and it smelled like beer and cigarettes with fast food trash all over the floor and squeaky doors when you closed them. After work, he would take us to the fishing pond and throw out a hand full of food into the water. I remember those fish boiling the water when the food hit the top.

Galveston - My dad was staying with a married couple in a one bedroom apartment. His bed was a foldout twin bed setup in the living room. The man living there was a Fireman and he gave me and my brother 3 or 4 old fireman belt buckles. I thought that was pretty cool. I remember the married couple in the bedroom making "noise" and I told dad that he was probably getting that splinter out of her foot that she mentioned earlier that week, and she was moaning as he was trying to dig it out.  I remember fishing off the rock dike in Galveston Bay catching a snake looking fish. I remember when I came home from fishing, the wife had fallen asleep on the couch bottomless. 

One night my dad took me out to the bar with him as he was playing a gig. I remember a woman telling me that her husband was with a "young" girl the other night, so she should take me upstairs. That freaked me out, yet left me so confused. Dad's car was a Brady Bunch looking station wagon. I didn't have my license yet, but he let me drive the car from the bus station because he had been drinking and figured it would be better if they pulled over a non-licensed driver instead of him getting another DUI. HE let me drive everywhere and I was having a blast, just as any 14 year old would who is getting to drive. I remember going to the store for him, and I pulled out of the parking lot of the store onto a 4 lane street. I saw a car coming in the left lane, but I could pull out into the right lane. But I immediately forgot that the other car was coming, and I shot over into the left lane and almost completely smashed the other car. Thank God they slammed on brakes and missed me. I high tailed it outta there! Random Memory - The station wagon had a dial on the dash that measured current gas mileage. The more you pressed the gas, the lower the needle would sink. That really bothered me, so I would barely press the gas, and I watched that needle more than the road.

Fathers could let their sons drink at any age in Texas, so dad asked if I wanted a beer. I don't think I took one. But I did play poker in the back room of the bar. I remember dad gave me $10 to join in a friendly game. I lost that $10, and I remember dad telling me that I had "lost all his money" and now he was broke for the rest of the week. He was pulling my leg, but he was spending his pay day all at once that Friday afternoon right after he had just got paid. I remember making him give me the rest of the money in his pocket because he had just been paid that day and I wanted to make sure we had enough until the next Friday.

Earl's place - One summer my dad came back through Vicksburg and stopped to pick us up. He was staying with a friend named "Earl" who lived in Delta, LA. Dad and his current girlfriend of the month left us alone in Earl's trailer that night by ourselves while they went out partying. A storm came through that night  and my brother and I got in the bed under the covers and held each other until we fell asleep scared too death. Nothing happened but, I just remember being left alone.

Random Thought - Earl had a girlfriend. I remember her scratching her feet and smoking while she cooked. Man was I grossed out. Maybe that's where my germophobia began. Random Thought - I remember dad had a truck with a tool box on it. I remember sitting on top of the toolbox while driving around town until a cop pulled up beside us and made me get off the toolbox. This made my dad extremely nervous because he hated cops. 

Alabama - It was a very dark night and dad had a new girlfriend while he was working in Alabama. Dad once again left my brother and I by ourselves in his trailer while they went out partying. Then around 2 AM, they came in yelling and screaming at each other when they came in the door. The girlfriend threw my dad (and subsequently his two sons) out on the rural Alabama highway at 2am. Literally, we were walking down the highway with a suitcase in pitch black dark. We walked a couple miles to a phone booth at a store. He literally called another woman and within an hour she picked us up. He had convinced her to pack her stuff and take off to Texas with him. And she did! I remember when we started down the highway her small car was so packed with stuff that the front seats had to lean forward so all the boxes and suitcases would fit. I remember us sitting on top of the boxes in the back seat. I remember us pulling over on the side on the road and sleeping for a few hours. They dropped us off in Vicksburg on the way. I remember crying again and begging him to let us go with him.

Teaching me guitar - Very young, 8 years old, dad was working here in Vicksburg. One Sunday afternoon dad decided to sit me down and teach me guitar. He taught me my first 3 chords (D, G, A) and the song "I wish I was a teddy bear" that I thought he made up. I learned it pretty quick because he brought me on stage with my brother that night to sing to the crowd.
They went wild when we finished, the screams and applause. I was hooked! That was my absolute FIRST TASTE of being on stage and singing in front of a crowd. But the funny part happened recently. For over 22 years, I thought that he made that song up just for me. No joke. The day that I sat down with Alex to teach him his first guitar, he was about 8 and I taught him D, G and A and I taught him "I wish I was a teddy bear" the best I remembered it. About a year later Alex came to me and said that Pepaw Bob didnt write that song, because he heard it on the radio. I was stunned. It took me 22 years to find that out! Random Thought - I remember that same weekend with dad there was a local small carnival in town and we really wanted to go, but every time we asked dad to take us, he said "later". I don't think he ever did.

Another Random Music Thought - I remember one summer dad was playing guitar with some other guys, and I picked up a set of badminton rackets and started playing drums with them on a book or something while they played the song. I distinctly remember after playing the first song dad telling me how great I was playing and keeping time. He went on and on about how good I was. I was probably 10 years old or so, but to this day I remember that moment feeling like I was part of the band and was contributing.

Another Random Thought - Since dad was subject to drinking and driving, he was always making sure his car didn't have any taillights out so the cops wouldn't pull him over. I remember one night on one of the random summer trips he told his girlfriend at the time that his taillight was out even though he put a new bulb in. He asked me to look at it, because I was "super smart" and would figure it out. I guess I was 13-14 maybe, I really don't know, but I did fix it. saw that the metal clip in the bulb had broken off, so I took a piece of metal scrub pad like you find in the kitchen and stuck it down in there and it worked. Again, I remember him gushing to everybody how smart I was.

Memaw's House - I remember my mom taking us to Memaw and Pepaw's house in Lauderdale County / Meridian one summer because that is where Dad was going to meet up with us and pick us up. He was supposed to show up that Saturday morning, but when he didn't show, we started to worry. He was driving up from Panama City, FL. That evening Memaw got a call from the Butler Alabama police department and dad had been stopped for DUI and arrested. I remember her going to bail him out and him showing up the next day. I remember him driving up in this huge brown/orange Pontiac car. He had just bought it from his landlord Barbara. We took off to Panama City the next day. 

High School Graduation - He came to my high-school graduation. Don't remember much about that day other than I was surprised when he showed up.

Summer Road Trip - In 1986 dad lived on the bottom floor of a two story small house in Panama City Beach, Florida. Bradley Barnes, Brian Register, Carolyn and I drove down there that summer and crashed in his floor of his one bedroom apt. I remember renting motorcycles and driving around the strip. Dad was so excited that we came, he got the grill out and we cooked BBQ pork chops and shrimp wrapped in bacon on the grill. We hung out on the deck and played music. At night dad would take us out riding on the Panama City Beach strip and would role his window down and bang on the side of the car whistling at the "pretty girls". While he lived on the beach with Mary, his longtime live in roommate, he would often go down the strip to play bass and sing in a local bar. Mary hated it. I remember going with him one night and watching him play.

Snow Cone Machine - I have an early memory around 5-6 years old when I got one of those snowman snow cone ice shavers. It came with snow cone flavors that I could make home made snow cones. I asked my dad if he wanted one and he said "yes, but I want it plain with no flavor". I remember thinking that was strange, but made it for him. I remember just having so much fun shaving the ice. When I handed it to him, he poured his beer into it and made himself a beer snow cone.

Death of my half-brother - My dad was married before he married my mom. He also had a son with his first wife "Flora Gayle" while he was in the Air Force. My half-brother's name was Robert "Brad" Walker Burcham. He was born in Meridian, Mississippi and died in Florida. Another man named Leroy Burcham adopted him after dad divorced his first wife. I never met Bradley.
He was born January 7, 1961 so he would have been 7 years older than me. My dad had always wanted to find Brad and reconnect, I think he wanted me to meet him as well. But that never happened. One day my dad called me and was upset. He told me that Brad was killed in a car accident in Florida in 21 August 1988. He was 26 I think. I met my dad in Meridian to go to the funeral. Here is where it gets freaky. I walked into the funeral home and when the family saw me they freaked out. Turns out that I looked exactly like Brad and they had never met me or even knew that I existed. I saw Brad's body in the casket and it was true, it looked like I was laying in the casket. I remember dad was very uncomfortable and we left shortly. NOTE: If you are family of Bradley, I would love to connect with you. No strings attached, just would like to meet his family or children he might have had, which would be my nieces or nephews. My younger brother didn't have any children. I know the father that adopted Brad was Leroy Burcham who had another son named Gary Lee Burcham who tragically was also killed very young in an oil field accident. 

Dads Spiritual Journey - My dad was raised by a mother who was a Christian. Memaw Clarabell went to church but I'm not sure how much dad went to church growing up. As my dad's health declined as he got older, I started to wonder about his salvation and if he would go to heaven when he died. I started to worry about my dad's salvation and started wondering if he believed in Jesus and also started hinting as I went to visit him that he should start going back to church. Since I lived in Vicksburg, MS and my dad lived in Panama City, FL. I didn't get to just go see him that often, but I did see him once or twice a year. I remember a period of time when I hadn't seen dad in a while that I wanted to be bold and finally have the big talk with my dad that might lead him back to Jesus, for me to have that big salvation moment when he would ask Jesus back into his heart and recommit his life to Christ. I remember specifically praying that I would get to go back to Panama City to someday have that talk with my dad. Then it happened. I was sitting on my couch in Vicksburg, when there was a knock on the door. Not thinking anything about it, I opened the door and there stood my dad. He had bought a new (used) truck and just took off to Vicksburg to come see us. My heart started racing, God was making a statement. He answered my prayer to have a face to face with my dad to talk about his faith and removed any distance barriers by bringing him directly to my doorstep. We sat on the couch a while and talked about the kids and family and old times, and then I decided to make my bold move and asked dad to take a walk down the street with me. I asked him flat out about his faith and he told me that he was a good person and that he believed that all religions would go to heaven. He told me that he didn't need to go to church and that since he was a good person, he would be ok. I was still kinda immature in my faith, so instead of starting slow with dad, I started a religious debate with him. I started kinda fussing at him and telling him he needed to go to church and stop drinking and smoking, but the real turn off to religion was when I told dad that not all religions go to heaven. That the millions of non-christians will not. This really made him mad at me. This really turned my dad off and we just kinda let the conversation die. My dad wasn't ready to recommit his life to Jesus. But, I would get another chance years later.

You see, my dad smoked 3-4 packs a day for many years until it finally caught up with him. He started having blockages in his neck at first, then in his heart. I remember him calling me worried about getting stints in his heart. Chest pains and dizziness were starting to worry him. His mortality started seeping into his thoughts. This worried my dad and he called me a few days before his stints. I drove down and talked with him and he told me he was ok with God and I didn't press it and in my mind there was no pressure because it was only stints. Then a few weeks later The stints failed and he was admitted to have quadruple bypass surgery on his heart. He called me literally the day of his surgery and that was it. I had to press him on his faith. I asked him on the phone if I could pray with him. I think I actually prayed the sinners prayer for him and asked him to repeat the words with me. He didn't say the words out loud but I assume he said them in his head. I told him that if he meant the words that we prayed that he was 100% going to heaven. It was a great feeling to finally have that off my chest.

The next conversation I had with my dad was his wishes if he was to pass away. Let me just say that my dads wishes were for me “not to claim the body and let the Veterans Administration (VA) pay for his burial”. I told him I could do better than that and we could get the details down in a will.

He wanted to be cremated and his ashes buried in Collinsville, MS with his Mom and Dad. The problem was that his girlfriend (Mary), would have nothing of it. She insisted that he would be buried in Florida with her family (and not cremated!) This led me on a mission to get his wishes in writing so that when the time came, I could show Mary that these were his wishes.

Me and the family went back to Panama City several times over the next couple years. Dad was off the booze and cigarettes for the first time in 60 years and gained about 40 pounds!
I had never seen him that big. But the heart surgery led us to find out that his heart had been damaged too much and that he was only getting about 15% usage out of it. He was now on oxygen full time and slipped into depression. You could see it in his face. He was scared and knew that it wasn't going to get any better. He was in and out of the hospital at this point. I was the one that arranged Medicare to bring a bed to his house and check on him twice a week. This kept him happy for a while, but his breathing got harder and harder. I got a call one night that dad had had an episode and was in ICU at Bay Medical Center. They weren’t sure that he was going to make it. I hadn’t gotten that Will signed by dad yet, so I was worried that he would pass before I got there and got his wishes on paper, but when I arrived at the ICU, he was sitting up in his bed drinking coffee and talking away to the nurses. I let off a big sigh of relief and then went to find a paralegal to draw up his will. 4 hours and $400 later I had a will for Dad to sign. I actually had to pay a notary to come with me to the ICU to witness his signature and make it official, but it was done. I spent a few days with Dad and then went back home once again.

Dad’s death - I was on a church trip at Willow Creek in Chicago at the UNOs pizzeria with my friends when I got a call from my Uncle Kenny Walker. I stepped outside, When I answered the phone, he said “Bobby, Bob has passed away”. I knew that this day was only a matter on time, but it did shock me. I got home the next day and made my way to Panama City. Here is the Mississippi obituary and here is the Florida obituary

I went to the funeral home and arranged the cremation. The funny part was that they couldn’t get the ashes back to me that day so I had to arrange “shipping” of the ashes back to me in Vicksburg. They came in UPS three days later. I kept them in my trunk of my car for the next month of so until we arranged the funeral.

The funeral was one of the most real services I had ever been a part of. My Uncle Kenny had found a southern baptist preacher in the Collinsville, MS area, a young pastor that showed up in a wool suit in the middle of a Mississippi Summer. It had to be 100 degrees and he was burning up.
I told him to please take off the jacket, but he refused. My uncle had already dug a hole in between Memaw and Papaw’s grave. The pastor did a quick sermon and I spoke for a minute and asked “anyone who wanted to, could come lay hands on dads box of ashes and help lower it in the ground.” It was so real and personal. several folks came up and helped lower his ashes into the hole. There is a great photo that my cousin took as we lowered the ashes.

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