Johnny Brewer & JFK

Johnny Brewer received the absolute perfect Christmas gift from his son John Everett. It was a tapestry of John F. Kennedy just like the one Johnny had in his room when he was growing up.

Yes. It was the perfect gift.

Have you ever had that childhood memory that has always stayed with you? Many of us have, I’m sure.

Christmas 2020 brought floods, if not rivers, of memories from my youth because of a story I once told in the waiting line of a restaurant while on vacation.

But first you need to know 2 stories for my 2020 Christmas story to have meaning. At least have meaning for me anyway.

Story #1

At almost the age of 3, I have this young remembrance of Friday, November 22, 1963. Maybe not the date specifically but moreover the event. It was the assassination of John F. Kennedy. My family was not political by any means but as with all Americans it made an impact. And the kitchen and dining table talk made an impression on young ears listening. Enough for me to grasp that there was an importance of it all.

I recall sitting on the floor (and way too close) to our “old” Zenith Television. I sat for what seemed like hours. At my age then, this television appeared massive but I’m sure it was not as large as I remember. It was in a wooden box with skinny legs. I will always have this memory thinking that the TV was way too heavy for these tiny little spindled legs like that. Naturally, I was too young to read, but I remember vividly the lightning bolt Z of the Zenith logo and the crown emblem that was right beneath the screen.

For the next few days, I can recall in my memory watching the fuzzy black and white screen of the news of the assassination. I remember several days later watching the funeral possession and I can recollect vividly the caisson with the flag draped casket followed by the black riderless horse. I was sad but not really knowing the larger importance it was actually having on the world. All I really knew is that this was an important person.

Story #2

I have mentioned before that my mom, Willie Ruth Brewer was a businessperson of sort. She was the owner and manager of the Riviera Motel that was on the corner of Highway 79 and 431 South, located near the intersection of Publix. Of course, the Riviera is no longer there. My mom also worked for Owen Couch at Lakewood Grocery across the river, and consequently, that was my first job, pumping gas and dipping minnows for fishermen and stocking the grocery shelves. But I’ve also written in an earlier story that my mom owned a business called the “Clothes Hamper.”

Allow me to use the description from my earlier story to describe this establishment. In the early 1970s “The Clothes Hamper” was a loosely based semi-consignment shop that sold knick-knacks and old furniture, some of what might be questionably called “antiques.” I feel certain that in the early 1970s, if Cracker Barrel had begun stockpiling the décor it uses now, we would be millionaires or at least somewhat wealthy.

My mom also sold work clothes like “Dickies” before “Dickies” were the “in” thing. For the most part I affectionally called “The Clothes Hamper” the “junk store.”

On occasion I would find an item in our “junk store” that I was drawn to. For this story it was around 1972. It was a blue velvet tapestry of John F. Kennedy. He is positioned in front of 4 microphones, with the American flag on the left and the Capitol building on the right. This was probably marketed and purchased shortly after that tragic event of late November 1963.

Finding this velvet tapestry engaged me to recall the watching of the news of the death and burial of President Kennedy on that old Zenith Television back in 1963.

I took this tapestry home to O’Brig Avenue and with 4 thumb tacks placed it on my wall in my small room. This large tapestry by decorator standards could be considered a focal point in the room.

Now of course, I had a few random posters on my wall as a lot of pre-teens did, me not as much as perhaps some of my friends. I was also a “latch-key” kid before the term was even coined. My mom and sister Gail worked, often long hours.

I would come home after school, make myself a sandwich, sneak a small, bottled Coke from my mom’s hiding place and get my homework done. Most of the time it was at a tiny desk in my room which faced an open screened window. Now, I am not able to say I was constantly inspired by the tapestry because for the most part I took it hanging on the wall for granted. Even more so as the years waned forward. The constant was that it was always there.

It was maybe late 1976. We moved to a renter house on Gunter Avenue. I packed the JFK tapestry with everything in my room and from that point on, I don’t remember ever seeing it again and only on occasion would I think of it and wonder what ever became of my unique wall hanging.

So! Let us fast-forward to the mid-1990s. Katherine and I had been married for a few years and on occasion would take a vacation to Gulf Shores. As most tourists traveling through Foley in south Alabama have done, they have stopped and eaten lunch at “Lambert’s – Home of the Throwed Rolls!”

On our very first trip to Lambert’s, as we entered and stood in line waiting to be seated, right above the attendee’s desk was this lighted tapestry of John F. Kennedy positioned in front of 4 microphones, with the American flag on the left and the Capitol building on the right. I was beside myself.

I grabbed Katherine’s arm and told her the story. With every subsequent vacation we took to Gulf Shores we would always make a point to eat at Lambert’s and every time I would share my excitement about seeing the JFK tapestry.

Our son John Everett was born in 1994 and through the years and the many family vacations to Gulf Shores later and of course, our standard visit to Lambert’s, I became the broken record of telling the story of this tapestry. John Everett was old enough at one point and I’m sure Katherine was relieved that he was of now of age to take over listening to Dad’s story.

Jettison to Christmas 2020. Christmas morning. JE walks in with a framed gift for his mom of a beautiful handmade needlework crocheted piece of “Welcome” that Katherine’s great Aunt Polly gave her decades ago. John Everett also brings in a large flat wrapped gift.

As you can probably guess at this point, John Everett had framed a blue velvet tapestry of John F. Kennedy positioned in front of 4 microphones, with the American flag on the left and the Capitol building on the right.

I wasn’t expecting this and was stunned and flooded with emotions on 3 fronts. The first 2 were of those childhood memories of watching the television in 1963 and the 4 thumb tacks holding up a wall hanging of an image of someone I truly admired from history. The 3rd rush of memory was the visits to Lambert’s and telling anyone who would listen my story.

More importantly than all of this is the loving effort John Everett went through to find the ideal gift for his “old man.” Planning months in advance, calling multiple times to Lambert’s in Foley and asking them to send photos of the tapestry so that he could then search online for the correct one, order it, wait for it to arrive, and then have it framed. All of this is a testament to a young man, my young man, and his perseverance of listening to his dad’s stories about his youth.

Yes. It was the perfect gift.

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