On January 12, 1920, Clarence (Red) Edward Brosam was born on a farm near Decatur, Nebraska. His childhood was framed by family, hard work, and God. Though I may not have known him then, I can tell you that at the age of 98, the framework hasn’t changed. Two decades later while walking down a street in Decatur, Red spotted a beautiful young lady, Ms. LaVaughn Snow. The two struck up a conversation on the spot and after conversing for four years, Red decided to marry LaVaughn – which they did on April 22, 1944.
They were best friends. Listen, I’m 25 (a millennial – if you will), and I’ve yet to marry; however, at First Baptist, I’m surrounded by so many extraordinary couples (who always describe themselves as best friends in love) that I know what I’m looking for in a spouse. Red and LaVaughn were an exemplary example of true love. After 72 years of marriage (not including the 4 years of dating), LaVaughn passed away at the age of 95. She was an amazing soul, and her dedicated husband not once left her side. Red would never leave someone’s side – let alone the side of the love of his life.
This Friday on January 12, Red will turn 98 years old – then again you wouldn’t know he’s lived almost a century by his incredible metabolism. He still gets on his hands and knees in the garden. Knowing Red and being a country girl myself, there’s no better way to end your day with mud on your knees and dirt under your fingernails. That’s just who Red is, and most people who know him would agree.
I have racked my brain over what to say (and how to say it) about Red. He deserves the world, and all I can give him are a few heartfelt words. In a way, literature has always been a meaningful and effective way to memorialize one’s legacy. There’s so many things one can say about Red, but it hardly does the man justice.
He’s quiet but in a respectful way. He’s the soft-spoken elder that you’re instinctively drawn to; you find yourself wanting to sit at his feet and listen. One afternoon, I stopped by Red’s brick ranch home that sits on a quiet block in the southern part of Blair. There’s two types of homes: ones where you walk in and feel uptight, and ones where you walk in and feel at home. Red’s home feels like home. Anyway, I had stopped by with my dad to pick up a frozen turkey that Red was donating to the church’s annual Thanksgiving dinner.
As we walked into the garage and lunged up his ramp, one hard, resounding knock from my dad immediately signaled Red, and the door was opened – with quite the gusto I might add. We sat down at his kitchen table, where I occupied myself with his and LaVaughn’s yellow parakeet. It was a loud bird who didn’t take too kindly to my fat thumb invading his cage. As I was acting like a five-year-old, Red was putting a newly-mixed batch of brownies into the oven. Dad and I attempted to delay the baking process, saying, “Red, sit down. The last thing we need is chocolate.” We might’ve well had said nothing. He’s a proper host, and a host always has a snack waiting for his/her guest. Us millennials call that type of behavior “old school,” but it’s just respectful.
So, as we ate brownies, Red told us some of the best stories I’ve ever heard. Him and LaVaughn lived several years on a farm just a stone’s throw away from my family’s country cemetery – Rose Hill. Thus, a lot of his stories involve prominent community names that we know. For example, Red told us a story about Old Lady Barton (I didn’t come up with the nickname!). Now, remember that Red was a farmer, and if there’s one thing that farmers do a lot of, it’s talk. Where were we? Right! So, Old Lady Barton was a frugal lady as people were back in the day – especially in the late 40s and early 50s. She had experienced firsthand the Great Depression, so let’s not judge her for pinching a few pennies.
Basically, Old Lady Barton had a reputation for being cheap. The Barton house is still standing, and it just so happens to sit two-to-three miles north of my house. Red and a couple other guys ventured over to the Barton place to help Old Lady Barton, who they consider a nice lady who lives comfortably. As they’re doing their tasks, one of the guys lifts up this massive rug. What the men saw left them speechless.
There were tons of twenty-dollar bills under the rug. There were so many bills laying on the floor, they didn’t have time to count! I said, “Red, what did you do?” Chuckling, Red said, “We laid the rug back down and carried on our way.” Here was this meek widow, Old Lady Barton, and she’s secretly stowing away twenty-dollar bills under her entryway rug. THAT’S A GREAT STORY!
The thing about Red is that he has a ton of these stories. I’ve learned so much about the Rose Hill community from just sitting down and listening to him. Halfway through a story about broom-making (a trade Red used to practice), Red got up and pulled the brownies out of the oven. He took a butter knife and made several straight-lined movements. Within a few seconds, he was placing not one but two or three brownies in front of both me and my dad.
What was supposed to be a twenty-minute stop turned into a two-and-a-half hour walk down memory lane. I learned so many things from Red, and the runover in time didn’t bother me a bit. Why? Because when Red speaks, you listen – you want to listen.
Well, it came time for us to leave. Red told me to go downstairs and get the turkey out of one of his deep freezers. As I’m wading through a basement I’ve never been in before, I feel a pair of eyes on me. The feeling was so unnerving, I physically bring myself to a stop. My heart’s pounding louder than a Metallica concert in the 80s. I turn around and see eyes; however, the eyes belonged to one of LaVaughn’s cornhusk dolls.
The whole incident scared me so bad that I grabbed the thirteen-pound turkey and sprinted up the stairs. Red was so startled by my Olympics-worthy sprint, he started to chuckle a bit. Whenever you make Red chuckle, it’s a good day.
Dad and I left, and Red made sure we got out of the driveway safely. He waved to us all the way until we turned the corner. What kind of person waves until you’re completely out of sight? Red – that’s who.
Our church is small. There’s a consistent group of twenty people who attend First Baptist, and Red’s one of them. When your church is this size, things run smoothly. You become close to everybody; you become family. We’re a family, and Red is our most senior member. He’s revered by every single attendee.
I’d take a bullet for Red, and I don’t say that lightly. I love him. We love him. I don’t even know how to put into words how much our congregation loves Red.
Shortly before the holiday season in 2016, Red’s wife LaVaughn passed away. She was 95 years old, and the absolute love of his life. Grief is a cruel bedfellow, but it was the great poet Tennyson who said, “Tis better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all.” What a love they shared. Nothing stops Red, and what a testament to his incredible soul that he has endured the last year with the bravado he has after suffering such a loss. Then again, as Christians, nothing gives us more hope and peace than knowing that our loved ones will be there with us in the Kingdom of God. LaVaughn will be there.
In the last year, Red has adjusted to what he’s called the “bachelor life.” He’s adjusting well – considering how long LaVaughn was by his side. When he comes to church, it lights up our entire service. One of our young students (a boy) goes out of his way to say hi to Red. He actually gets shy when he approaches Red. It’s called reverence, folks. There was one Sunday that Red couldn’t make it to church, and this boy said, “Hey, where’s Red?” He’s a staple in our church.
I could keep writing, but I’ll just finish with this: We love Red. We hope that his 98th birthday is fulfilling and fruitful. He deserves it.
In conclusion, here are a few descriptors about Red that you can take to the bank: God-fearing, Christian, honest, trustworthy, revered, respectful, quiet, a leader, genuine, loving, meek, funny, an amazing storyteller, congenial, inspiring and exemplary. I just love this man so much – as does our entire church body. We worry about him like we would a family member. I chided him a few weeks ago about falling, and what does he do? HE CHUCKLES! I started laughing because I was talking to a brick wall. I’m not going to prevent him from doing what does because he’s Red, and there’s no freer spirit in this world than him. He’s stubborn, but he’s ours. He’s ours, and I wouldn’t trade him for the entire world.
Happy Birthday, Red. We love you so much.
P.S. Please stop falling! You’re giving us heart attacks.