Sixty years ago today my oldest friend was born. Hurd Grier Bradford, III. I was little and don’t remember much beyond slipping into my parents’ bedroom to sneak a peak at the baby and being scolded for waking him. We were both curly tow-heads and at first we were each other’s only playmates. I remember when we had matching seersucker shorts, and we both stood in the middle of the bench seat of the Chevy, side by side and I claimed we were twins. I really wanted us to be twins.
Even as a baby Grier was independent, self-determined and utterly fearless. Before he was old enough to talk Mama dropped him off at the church nursery one Sunday morning. Grier decided he’d rather be at home, so he slipped out of the nursery and started the half mile walk down the street back to our house. Along the way a man saw him and took his hand, and Grier led him home.
We had big walk-in closets in our new house, with deep shelves up close to the ceiling. Grier and I made them our hideout. We’d climb onto the top shelves and talk by the hour. We made up songs and had a kind of language that was our own. Were I to tell the story of my childhood it would be a rather boring account of a usually well-behaved southern girl with a wild, exploring, adventuring brother who lived vividly every day. When we visited the state capitol Grier used the 19th century tricks our Great Uncle Pelham taught him to catch a pigeon on the lawn. He imported the pigeon to Huntersville where it escaped to the roof. Somehow Grier got up there to retrieve him. I have this crazy memory of my little brother on the ridge line three stories up chasing a pigeon.
Grier grew up, schooled in the outdoors, in hunting and fishing, in working on the farm. He loved animals and over the course of our childhoods, he had many. I remember an alligator, a couple of dogs, and a hamster to which he was particularly devoted. There was a parakeet, ducklings, a rabbit and a horse. He learned this love of animals from our mother who had a streak of St Francis in her. Once in college I came home for the holidays and Grier had rescued a little owl, and Mama had rescued a one-eyed flying squirrel. That Christmas the owl sat all day long on the top corner of the bookcase in the den while the flying squirrel darted frenetically around his cage on the hearth.
Like the kind of kid you read about in a book Grier wanted to grab the attention of his pretty third grade teacher, so he retrieved a dead mouse from the trap my dad had set and placed it in his teacher’s top desk drawer. As a teacher I often thanked my lucky stars that after Grier was created, they broke the mold.
When I left for college Grier also left for military school. He marked our separation by writing me dozens of letters. To each and every one he taped a penny, with a quote we often heard from our parents “here’s a little piece of money. Don’t spend it all in one place”. When our father became ill and died, we both left school to come home and attempt to run his business. We were green as grass, but our grief for our father took the form of picking up his baton and going forward. We encountered some dark machinations, immediately, as two twenty-somethings attempting to play corporate ball with a bunch of hardened old businessmen. But Grier used his gifts for building a powerful network to connect us to people who showed us how to navigate. I call that experience getting my MBA. And Grier was the professor.
For a time we shared our grandparents’ farmhouse, along with a pig named Benny, a goat, some ducks and chickens, an orphaned fox and a horse Grier hand-raised. Then Grier moved across the road, and for the 39 years since we have lived a half mile apart. I won’t say we live a half mile apart because we can’t bear to be separated, but because we were both drawn like magnets to the mythic farm that evoked for us our father and grandparents. You can often find us standing somewhere under some big oak or pecan tree talking about the ancestors, the grandparents, the lost father, tied as we are by our heartstrings to something bigger than a house, bigger than a piece of land.
All around the farm things are constantly changing. The neighboring farms have become whole villages. The perfect Post Oak was cut down to make the road wider. The forest pines blew over in a hurricane. All the property for miles and miles to the east is being zoned commercial. At one point I despaired and began to daydream about leaving for some quiet place in the mountains. Grier did not. He and his amazing wife, Kim, instead, reimagined their farm, restored a number of derelict farm buildings to new usefulness and asserted the rural beauty of our home in the face of urbanization. It is now more a farm than it has been in a half century. Their courage and imagination has quieted my sense of dread. Their courage and imagination has created a community center at their restored general store, where neighbors stand by the woodstove, just like they did 100 years ago and the latest news, good and bad, is passed through the community. And Grier stands at the center of a vast network of friends. He knows everyone, high and low, rich and poor, saint and scoundrel. Everybody has a Grier story. Most of them unprintable.
So here’s to the 60th anniversary of my lucky day. Here’s to my hero–my brilliant, courageous,creative, curious, funny, tender -hearted bedrock of a brother. What an honor it has been to share this time and this place on earth with you. The ancestors are beaming, I promise.