“Southern Brothers: A Collection of Stories”
Authors: Dick Mullins and Ed Mullins
Foreword by Rick Bragg
Price: $17.00 (Paper)
Ed Mullins and his brother, Dick, are real Alabama boys, mostly raised in Enterprise and both educated at first in Alabama. Ed, the older, attended the University, then after a Ph.D. from Chapel Hill, had a career first as a newspaper reporter and editor and then here at UA as a teacher of editing, and, for many years, Dean of the College of Communication.
Although Dick first studied Chemical Engineering at Auburn, he went to law school at Emory and practiced for 40 years, mainly in his home county.
One can easily imagine these brothers chatting, reminiscing and finally deciding to write down their stories, probably intending at first to circulate the manuscript among family and friends—we have all thought to do that—but then deciding to publish the work and let anyone interested have a look at it.
The volume “Southern Brothers” is just that–stories, not fiction, at least not intended to be, some by Ed but well more than half by Dick. Apparently, they believe small-town lawyers meet more odd characters in the course of their careers than do college professors. I have spent 50 years on campus and I don’t agree. I wish there had been more stories by Ed about the various eccentrics he has dealt with here at UA, colleagues, students and administrators, but this is not the case.
Many of these anecdotes reminded me of “Hadacol Days,” the memoir of Clyde Bolton which might just as well have been called “Halcyon Days.”
Those of us of a certain age know it’s true. Sixty years ago, kids hitchhiked without fear, played, unsupervised, in vacant lots and in the street after school. Drugs and even alcohol were almost unknown. Life was, as these stories remind us, less stressful in many ways.
But the Mullinses have not presented an idealized South, nor is it a caricatured South. As Rick Bragg says in his Foreword, “This is the South as people lived it, as we lived or as our fathers and mothers and grandmothers and grandfathers lived it.” It is not the South of mansions or the Kentucky Derby and mint juleps, nor is it the South of hookworm and Snopeses.
Although close as brothers should be, the subject matter for each man is different.
Ed tells of newspaper work, newsrooms and deadlines. But his writing is most alive when he writes of baseball and dogs.
Ed had real potential as a baseball player but injured his shoulder playing, alas, football. Although he weighed only 128 pounds, Ed was co-captain of the Enterprise team, which went 0-10-0 his senior year.
Dick also played on the Enterprise team, which in his junior year went undefeated, 10-0-0. He was heavier at 135 pounds. While an undergraduate here, Ed, on Friday evenings in the fall, hitchhiked the 200 miles from Tuscaloosa to Enterprise to watch his kid brother play.
Ed’s pieces are unfailingly positive. He writes not only of his favorite dogs, including pictures of Danger, Beatrice, Sissy and Boudreaux, but his favorite colleagues and most especially his favorite students. In the section “Looking for Meaning,” he remembers fondly bosses he has had over the years, and students like Joel Brinkley, Gay Talese, and Jan Crawford, colleagues like John Luskin, Christie Parsons, and Rick Bragg.
Ed has after all spent his life on campus.
Both Ed and Dick Mullins, editor and attorney, have a sensitivity to language. Ed’s chapter on language is, not surprisingly, related to baseball, especially the ballpark terms that have entered our everyday language such as: “right off the bat” and “out of our league.” Like many baseball fans he is especially fond of Yogi Berra’s sayings including, about baseball, “Ninety percent of this game is half mental.” About a famous restaurant: “Nobody goes there any more. It’s too crowded.” And, finally, “I really didn’t say everything I said.” There is wisdom in Yogi, but it takes a second to reach you.
Dick has a chapter entitled “Seen and Heard,” based on sayings and malapropisms he has run into in Enterprise and especially practicing law.
Local husband’s review of “The Nutcracker”: “I’d put it somewhere between havin’ a root canal and takin’ the tailpipe off a fifty-seven Ford.”
Client: “They got me for writing ruthless checks.”
Client: “Do you handle bank-ruptures?”
Lawyer: “Yes I do.”
Client: “But if I file for bank-rupture, will it afflict my credit?”
Client: “I can’t pay you right now because I got altered by the IRS.”
Dick writes of successes and failures, clients and young people he was able to help and some who could not be helped no matter how hard folks tried.
In “Making a Difference” he writes of his experiences 25 years ago as coach of a youth football team, made up mostly of disadvantaged kids. There were successes, but he writes most movingly of the sense of futility when nothing seems to work.
Three boys go joyriding in cars stolen from a used car lot and are arrested. It seems unreal, unfair, to Mullins that these teens would receive felony convictions, perhaps serve time, and have their lives blighted forever.
He helps with bail, court costs, fines and damages. He finds the boys jobs to enable them to repay, but some don’t show up or mend their ways. Sometimes with help, young men turn out OK, but just as often they don’t.
Not all the boys are Opie; not all days in the small-town South are halcyon days.
Don Noble is host of the Alabama Public Television literary interview show “Bookmark with Don Noble.” His most recent book is Belles’ Letters 2, a collection of short fiction by Alabama women.