S: Following the Sun ~ Hiding in the Shade
FC: Following the Sun Hiding in the Shade
1: I can’t believe it, it’s 8:30 in the morning and Dad is already here, sitting out on the patio soaking up the sun. I haven’t seen the old man in almost three years and I have missed him so. Texas is so damn far away. But today I have a plan. I am going to pick his brains and make him dig deep into the recesses of his mind to days gone by. So Daddy, do you realize how little I know about you? Really, I know so little about you and I need to know. My children need to know. My grandchildren need to know. I have taken it upon myself to be the “ancestrian” for our family. And thus it began. If we want to go way back, we can look at the information I have gathered through ancestry.com. That shows us that the Briley Family Tree looks something like this
2: John Briley Eliza Mary Myers | Grandparents | Parents | Samuel T Broomhall Elizabeth M Slater | Hugh Gillis Mary | Norman P Briley Margaret Broomhall | Donald J Gillis Sadie Clark | Eva Ida Gillis | John Meyers Briley | Great Grandparents | John Charles Briley
4: Yes! I think it’s pretty impressive, and it is the result of a lot of long, hard work. But, it is only statistics. It isn’t the heart and soul of the man I call Daddy. Others, John, Grandpa. That is whom I wanted to find on that warm summer day. Did I? John Charles Briley, born in Los Angeles at Lutheran Hospital on November 22, 1925 to John Meyers Briley and Eva Ida Gillis. John and Eva were married in Santa Ana California at the Court House in 1924. Those are the boring facts. Behind those facts is magic and wonder. This child was born to a boy and a girl, not to a man and a woman. John Myers was but 21 years old, born in Springfield Illinois on February 12, 1904 and Eva Ida was a girl of 17 born in Clearwater, California, on May 12, 1908. The Roaring 20’s! Prohibition! Flappers! Followed by the Great Depression. All of these things impacted John’s life. His beautiful mother was a rebel. She was a fashion diva. She wore slacks when women did not wear slacks. She was a flapper! I can close my eyes and see her dancing, surrounded by admirers.
5: I have in my treasures a small evening bag that was once hers that she may have carried to a speakeasy to hold her lipstick. Later on she worked at Douglas Aviation as Courier, driving VIP’s around. I’m sure she was just the right gal for the job! She was the most beautiful woman you can imagine. She had so much creativity and zest for life. She later married Lee Goforth, I am his namesake and she settled down to a domestic life. But pain was to be her constant companion as she grew into womanhood, and she died too young at the age of 50 in 1958.
6: My heart tells me that his father was not a strong man, but one who was drawn to the forbidden. It was, after all, prohibition. The forbidden alcohol. I think it was too much to resist. Was this the beginning of his alcoholism? It plagued him for many, many years. John Meyer later married Jane Treanton and they had four children, but Johnny was never a part of their lives. John Meyer eventually quit drinking, but it was forever a scar on his relationship with his son, even though in the last years of his life, Johnny went to care for his father until the very end. I don’t know how long John and Eva were married, but it wasn’t for long. This was asking too much for such a young couple with a baby and the country in such turmoil and they divorced. Such scandal! But what did that mean for Johnny? Let’s go back. Who were these people who formed the life of John Charles Briley? From whence did they come? What are their stories? Sitting in the sun, the tales began to come out.
7: I was named for Charles Billetti. When my mother was pregnant with me, my father was a rumrunner working for a produce wholesaler. He would go to pick up the produce and they would tell him “hey Johnny! Why don’t you go have some lunch?” While he was having lunch, they would load up the produce with the rum in the middle. He would go deliver the “produce” and they would then tell him, “hey Johnny! Why don’t you take a break” and while he did, they would unload the rum. Well, Charles Billetti told my father, “if you name your son Charlie, I’ll give you a $50.00 bonus.” Well, the temptation was just too much, so I am John Charles Briley.
8: “Mom Briley” That’s what we always called my father’s mother. I’m not sure I ever knew what her name was. His father was Norman Percival Briley. He was born about 1879. The story as we knew it is that he went to the University of Illinois and was a Graduate of Engineering. His big claim to fame was that he was a World Champion hammer thrower. He worked at Fellows & Stewart Boat Builders on Terminal Island as a Blacksmith (Iron Worker.) During prohibition, they built a fast boat that bootleggers bought, and the U.S. Government asked them to build a boat to catch it. That boat was the prototype for the class of boats that the PT-109 was one of. Oh! Mom Briley’s name was Madge Broomhall. My dad had only one sister, that was my Aunt Norma. In many ways, she was much like a mother to me.
9: You know, I don’t know what my mother’s, mother’s name was. I just don’t know. She was born in Kansas City, Kansas. Her father was Donald Gillis, and he was born in Santa Barbara. My mother was born in a town in California called Clearwater that isn’t even there anymore. I guess divorce runs in the family because my mother’s parents got divorced and her mother married a man named Fred Lewis.* He was a plumber and built violins and cello’s. | *Did you know that Sadie & Fred Lewis had a son named Briley?
10: Leaving dad to gather his thoughts and soak up the sun, I go to fix lunch. Grilled smoked gouda cheese with pesto, and fresh tomato on artisanal bread; fresh peaches (peeled of course, Daddy hates peach fuzz) and fresh raspberry Italian cream sodas.
11: I do remember! My mother’s mother’s name was Sadie. I don’t know where that was hidden, but her | name was Sadie. Sadie had a Sister whose name was Velva who married a Navy man whose last name was King. He was an Admiral! My mother had a brother, Oliver Donald Gillis. He never married, but road the rails. He lived in the Railroad Jungles – in other words, he was a bum. He contracted encephalitis (yellow fever) and died. You know, I spent a lot of time in a lot of different places growing up. For a while I lived on “the ranch” with my grandparents. The ranch being, of course, Creston. You know, there was a creek running under the cabin. Remember the cabin? Yes? Well, the creek used to run under the cabin.
12: The sun is gone now, but the stories are not so we head inside to continue.
13: When I was 13 or 14 I was a boat boy at City Lake in Riverside. I would take out the canvases at night. I guess I’ve pretty much been working my whole life. Dad, what was it like working at Juvenile Hall? Ah, my time there as a counselor was interesting. One day, my boss, Mr. Germany said to me, “Mr. Briley, If you are going to get along here, you are going to have to learn to get down to their level.” I said to him, “Mr. Germany, if these boys were at my level, they wouldn’t be here.” Mr. Germany retired a month later. You never were one to mince words were you?
14: “Daddy, as I’ve gotten older, I look at my hands and I think, Oh my God, I’ve got my mother’s hands. But now that I have a granddaughter, I’ve become a knitter, and the other day, I looked down at my hands and thought, Thank you God, I have my mother’s hands.” “Did you know I taught your mother how to knit? Yes, I did!” “Show me!” So, I got out my knitting and handed it to Dad and I’ll be damned, he picked it up and just like riding a bike, he began to knit. Now I knit in a very unorthodox way, so I knew it to be true because my mom taught me how to knit, so he must have taught her how to knit. And thus emerged the following story.
15: Mrs. Latta taught me how to knit. When I was 14, my dad had kicked me out of the house and I had gone to live with Mrs. Latta who was a widow and her two sons, Douglas and Miles. In the evening, there wasn’t much to do, and with three rowdy boys, Mrs. Latta sat us down and taught us to knit. I remember she tried to teach me to make socks (he says with a wry grin.) Well, one day, Douglas, Miles and a friend and I went for a bike ride up a hill. The rule was that we had to be back before sunset. I was the oldest, so I took it as my responsibility to make sure we did. Well, we got to the top of the hill and noticed it was almost dark, so decided we better hurry and get down the hill. Well, if anything happened, you had two choices. You either crashed into the side of the hill, or you went over the | side of the cliff.
16: We all went flying down that hill and when we got down to the bottom there were only three of us, Miles was missing. Oh my God, where was he? So, we split up to go look for him. Which way did he go? When we found him, he had gone over the side of the cliff. I sent our friend and Douglas to a house where we saw the lights on to send for an ambulance. They came and took Miles to the hospital. He was unconscious. His mother came and Miles regained consciousness long enough to say the Lord’s Prayer with her before he died..” oh my Daddy. Did Mrs. Latta blame you?” I don’t know. I never saw her again. I went home to my father where he told me to get my bicycle and he took it away from me telling me I didn’t deserve it. And that was the last I ever heard of the incident. Silence . . . . . for awhile.
17: So ended our day of Dad moving his chair from place to place to keep his face to the sun. Ever seeking its warmth. After all his years, some 86 of them now, his bones yearn for it. And me, just an arm’s length away in the shade, loving its cool comfort. But just as as Dad was soaking up the sun, I was soaking up his words. “Before I have to let go of you Daddy, I want to ask you one more, maybe the most important question. If you could give me, our children and our grandchildren, and perhaps even their grandchildren one piece of advice, what would it be?”
18: When you look at your life, the greatest happinesses are family happinesses. ~Joyce Brothers | “Be absolutely honest in all things.”
20: I cannot begin to tell you what that day sitting outside listening to you remember your childhood and early manhood meant not only to me, but to our children, grandchildren and future Briley-Sullivan children. I truly believe that the past is our link to the future. You are that link and we treasure you and love you with all our hearts.