Nashville Adventures With My Buddy .....
Herschel L. Cooper
A REMEMBRANCE OF MY GOOD FRIEND & NEIGHBOR
Take a good look at this kid .... what real boy or girl out there, can tell me they wouldn't want a to have a pal like this? For you city slickers, diddy boppers, hip hoppers, fashionistas et al, forget the farm boy look and just look at his face. It's a Stand By Me look that say's ...
"DON'T WORRY MAN ,,,, I GOT YOUR BACK."
That said, there was no way I could of had this guy for a pal during my boyhood. I wasn't born until 1947 and that photo was taken circa 1930. That's not to say I didn't have friends like him growing up in the '50's. Actually I was lucky enough to have more than one and some of them, that are still here, I am still friends with, because isn't that what a true friend is?
Now we may of had to make some adjustments, had we known each other during our teen years ? Perhaps hang out with a slightly different crowd ?? But then perhaps not, for there is still that look in his eyes that says....
You Up For Having Some Serious Fun ?
Don't Worry I Got Your Back.
Fun had to be a scarce commodity, growing up almost anyplace during the Great Depression, but especially over in Hickman County in Primm Springs, Tennessee. Although according to his daughter Sherryl, "Daddy's family didn't have it too bad during the depression, they didn't go hungry like many people." His Dad was a tinker, who sold pots, pans and general merchandise originally from a wagon, before opening the Cooper Grocery & General store in Primm Springs. The Coopers also had around a hundred acres of farm land.
No sooner were his teen years behind him and world events, a Tennessee boy had no control over, scooped him up along with thousands of other young kids and it was off to World War II. It seems WW1 aka the "War To End All Wars" didn't quite live up to its hype. And so Herschel Leslie Cooper, proud son of Lummie K. & Mary Emily Cooper, became Private H. L. Cooper US ARMY .... and of course he and I were still light years away from becoming buddies. Herschel had a whole lot of living to do and I still had to be born...
ONE LUCKY GI WITH TWO OF THE SULLIVAN SISTERS
Imogene & Hazel , "Jean" would become Mrs. H . L. Cooper
Herschel & Jean were married and with few job prospects in rural Tennessee, went north to Inkster, Michigan, just outside Detroit after the war. There he went to work as an electrician for Detroit - Edison Co. But after 15 years, the hills of Tennessee beckoned and the Cooper family, now with two young daughters Sherryl & Carylon, returned around 1959. By 1960 Herschel started Cooper Electric out of his home. It grew into an electrical contracting firm that still continues today under that name, although he sold the business to his partner some years ago......
And this is where I come in ....
Can I Get A Witness?
It was not until in the mid 1990's, that I first met Herschel. He was a widower by then and his family history was as unknown to me, as mine was to him. His good friend Angie Duncan, had met my wife Anne through the Greek Church here. They had worked together on lots of church projects, like the annual festival. Anne and I got "re-married" in that church, having a traditional Greek Orthodox ceremony, something that was denied Anne when we first were married in 1979 in Florida (because I was divorced) Angie & Herschel, were our witness' at that event. Afterwards, Angie, Herschel, Anne, our son Erik and I went out to dinner to celebrate.
GOT FISH ?
Yeah Man Some Good Eating Here
It wasn't until about 8 years ago though, that I really started to get to know Herschel. For that is when Anne & I moved just around the corner from him and into one of his rental houses in Sylvan Park. Because we were friends first, we never had what you would call a normal landlord, tenant relationship. Although I don't think any of his other tenants would call their relationship with him normal either. I think all of us just moved in on a handshake. That's just the way he was, a true friend you could count on, that always had your back.
Our house needed a "wee bit" of TLC in many different areas before we moved into it. It was during a good month or so before we did, that I got to experience what it was like to work side by side with Herschel. Always exciting in his own way and always kind of fun, especially when things seemed to go awry, which for some odd reason was quite often. He also had a knack for finding some pretty interesting characters from all sorts of building trades to work for him. They just added to the "fun". Erik was a month away from going off to New York for college, so he got to participate in the great Herschel home make over with me. Painting, Spackling, New Flooring, New Bathroom Fixtures, what a great July 2002, we had, along with a entire cast of characters Herschel knew from his years in business. At times the activity at 146 45th Ave N, reminded me of scenes from the Tom Hanks movie, The Money Pit.
He had a fire engine red pick up truck back then. I can't recall now if it was a Chevy or a GMC. ( Same truck, different emblem). Towing a trailer he wrecked it " a little bit " one day around 2004 and never replaced it. My favorite writer and humorist, Jean Shepherd, wrote in his book "In God We Trust ...All Others Pay Cash" that "Some Men Are Baptist's, others are Methodists, My Old Man Was An Oldsmobile Man." I would say you could call Herschel a General Motors man, although he owned other brands too, like his Mercury Marquis, that he really liked the seat in. Even after he set the airbags off accidentally with just a little 5 mph tap, he kept the Merc because he liked the seat. He was amazed that the airbag replacement cost close to $2000.00, the amount he told me he paid for the first new car he ever bought. Knowing I was a car guy and former auto mechanic, he talked to me a great deal about General Motors though and what was wrong with that company. This was long before the world saw it drive over the cliff. His first brand new car, was a 1950 Chevrolet and I used to tell him, "Herschel, now that your semi-retired, you ought to get yourself a nice '50 Chevy and relive your youth a bit." He asked me what one would cost him. I told him "Well you don't need a 100 point show car, just a nice condition daily driver, you can enjoy and be proud to be seen in. I could probably find you one that would run about 15 to 20 thousand." That just short circuited the connection between his mind and his wallet, probably because he only paid 2 thousand for his original.
Driving with Herschel was a real trip, and I have been told it had nothing to do with his advancing age. He was in his late 70's when I first really got to know him. Family members told me, he just always drove that way. He wasn't a speed demon per se, just exciting, with a unique perspective on his judgement of the distance of where vehicles and other things both animate & inanimate, were around him. I would say he had at least one or more angels on his shoulder, to grab the wheel, often preventing total disaster on his daily drives. One day during the initial rehab of our house, he took two carpenters with him to a lumber yard, just about three miles away. When they returned, it looked like they had both seen a ghost. One of them took me aside and whispered, "Have you ever driven with this guy?" I said, " Oh Yeah, It's Exciting Isn't It?..... 'Exciting!! The guy said .....We Had Three Near Misses On The Way Down There And One Real Dilly On The Way Back ,When With No Warning He Made A U Turn In The Middle Of Traffic To Go Back To The Lumber Yard Because He Forgot Something'. " That's Herschel.,,,, I Said, He is Mr. Excitement, But I Used To Race Stock Cars, So I'm Ok With Riding With Him.
I actually was told by Angie, that if I was to go anywhere with him, to never let him drive and she always told him... Now Herschel, Let Ken Drive. These last few years, I often would take him to doctors appointments, as he was being treated for shingles and the treatments required a designated driver. So he would have to let me drive at least on the way home. But there also were times when he would cruise by the house and pick me up to go somewhere, or if Anne had our car, and I unexpectedly needed to get someplace and walked over to his place. and he just didn't toss me his keys, I would cinch up my belt real tight in the passanger seat and say, OK GENERAL Let's Roll ..... or sometimes it was ...The Lines Are Cast Off Captain, Full Steam Ahead !... I just enjoyed calling him names like that, even called him Admiral a time or two. And I think he liked hearing it. Like I said, With Herschel It Was Fun & Excitement & Friendship.
"MR. EXCITEMENT !"
You Had To Ride With Him To Appreciate The Appellation
The home repairs, lawn maintenance and stuff like that we did together, was always memorable for some of the funniest reasons. Case in point, he had some carpenters put a utility room on the back of our house for a washer and dryer. Then always trying to be helpful and with a knack for finding things, he told me he found a good used combo that would save me a lot of $$, (Along With Mr. Excitement, He Was Also Mr. Thrifty ) in fact I think he got that set for the effort of hauling it away. I said great. He brings them home in his red pickup and decides to test them out in his driveway, before we do the installation at my house. He used his garden hose to fill the washer and ran a long jury rigged ( Bare Wires Twisted Together !) extension cord over to his basement. He tells me to go plug it in. I did and I hear the washer start to hum smoothly, I'm walking back to the truck, Herschel is standing by the bed looking quite pleased, and his drivers door is wide open. All of a sudden, the washer jumps the fill cycle, the agitator starts thrashing and splashing water out over the top and then the machine goes into full spin. The drain hose flails like a crazed cobra and goes right into the cab of his truck, pumping water into it like N. Y. City's finest would pour it onto a 5 Alarm Blaze, but luckily it missed the exposed wires. By the time I ran back to pull the plug, the cab looked like he drove it into a lake. He decided that the washer had a slightly deranged control unit, and that was probably the reason the former owner gave it away. All through the drama though, Herschel stood calm as a cucumber, although a slightly damp one and his glasses needed drying off. I think that's when I got the notion to start calling him Admiral. Not to be undeterred, he now was on a mission to find a good used washer & dryer. And he did within a few days. It's been working now diligently for almost 8 years and I only had to replace a dryer belt and one small hose on the washer. That's not to say that the installation of that pair went totally smooth.
Simon Says ? NO HERSCHEL DOES
The washer seemed to do everything just fine and was in place. The dryer was hooked up but not slid into place or hooked up to the vent yet. Herschel is standing behind it and Anne is at the utility room doorway off the kitchen and calls out to me. " Herschel Says, Turn On The Breaker ". I'm in the stairwell, in the middle of our house at the fuse box, a few rooms away. I flip the breaker and can hear the dryer kick into action. A few seconds later, Anne yells out, Herschel says, TURN IT OFF ! I kill the juice and as I head to the kitchen, it appears to be completely filled with smoke as thick as a London Fog. But it wasn't smoke, it was DRYER LINT and there stands Herschel covered from head to toe like he had been tarred and feathered. Calm as a sphinx, he wipes off his glasses just enough to see out of and says , "Ok, __it just needed to be cleaned out, I think I'll go home now, your all set" and he walked away still covered in dryer lint.
"He's A Real Piece Of Work"
That old saying certainly applied to Herschel I knew, but so did "He's A Real Piece Of Art" . To visually sum up the essence of Herschel Cooper, I would say look no further than the many, many covers of The Saturday Evening Post, Norman Rockwell painted through the years, and there you have him. Rockwell was a friend of my grandfather and one of his prints that was a gift to the Spooners in the 1930's, hung at my Grandparents house in NY for decades. It now hangs on our kitchen wall, right by the door to the utility room. Although the subject matter is of a kindly faced Grandmother, giving a young boy, his first corn on the cob, the essence from both subjects is the essence of Herschel Cooper, kindness, grace and appreciation for simple gifts. I will always think of Herschel, when I look at that painting or any other Rockwell for that matter.
ESPECIALLY THOSE THAT INVOLVE WORKING TOGETHER ON HOME IMPROVEMENTS
My Kingdom For A Bolt
One time I heard a clunking noise in the front end of my Taurus, I pulled off the wheels to find a missing bolt on one of the brake calipers and the other bolt loose. I took out the loose bolt ,walked over to Herschel's house to ask him if I could borrow his car to run to the auto parts store. He was just coming out the door with his Greek captains hat on and obviously going somewhere. He said "Sure man, I'll take you. hop in". It turns out it was a specialized bolt that the auto parts store didn't have, so Herschel says " I know where there is a bolt and screw company downtown" It was around noon and it was Veterans Day. So off we go, he stops for gas in place that looked like it was giving gas away. It had gas lines that looked like the gas shortage of 1973. After about a half hour there getting gas, we then ran into a detour for the Veterans Day parade. So we had to take a very long route to get over to the industrial section of South Nashville. We get to the bolt company and its GONE. Not there anymore. Then he said, I think they may of moved over to Second Ave. Sure enough__ he was right. He waited in the car and I walked in only to be greeted by the HUGE SIGN about 48 x 36 behind the counter that said NO CASH SALES UNDER 25.00 or something to that effect. I told the guy, I only had a few bucks on me and I only needed one bolt and that I only came here cause my friend Herschel Cooper brought me and said they would have what I need. "Herschel brought you over, where is he? , "Out in the car", I said. The clerk walked away for a minute came back with two bolts and said "No Charge__ but tell that rascal to come in next time." We still had to take the long way home and he told me stories about all the different buildings we passed on the way, that he had done electrical work in over the decades. It was a fun filled outing, with probably only one near miss.
For the life of me I don't know why anyone wants to become a plumber, but I'm sure glad they do. I hate doing any kind of plumbing job. That said, whenever I had a plumbing problem, Herschel would say, I'm pretty sure you and I can handle it. We "handled" several over the years, a new water heater, that went surprisingly smooth save for an extra trip back to Lowes for missing parts that were never really missing, just buried in the bottom of the crate. A toilet repair to an almost brand new toilet, that only called for a long adventurous drive down the "Super Highway" (Herschel's term for the interstate) to a plumbing wholesaler he knew of over in East Nashville ( we live on the west side) to get an 80 cent gasket. But when the fairly new kitchen faucet went on the fritz, Herschel decided I could use a new kitchen sink too. Putting in the new sink went smoothly. I did that on my own, but our attempt at fixing the fairly new one armed faucet was something else. We got it back together, and he sent me under the sink to turn on the feed line. Now the valve handle under the sink looked like a robot ate it for lunch. The only way to turn it on or off was with a pair of pliers. So I got a good grip on what was left of the valve and gave it a wide turn. I heard the sound of both air and water whooshing and felt water splashing on my back, before Herschel could calmly say, Ok ... turn it off__something's wrong. I pulled myself out from under the sink and arose to see him soaked and starting to wipe off his glasses with his shirt, before I handed him a towel. The attempted repair to the fairly new faucet ended with us replacing the whole unit along with the help of a real plumber Herschel found who hooked up the hot and cold lines in reverse.
Our roof is pretty steep as are most homes here. Our house being fairly new (built in 1949) has one of the more moderate inclines, but it still takes the skill of a professional roofer or a dare devil to walk on it. I tried it a few times, to hose out the gutters when I first moved in and vowed to never try that again. One fall morning, I got my ladder out to clean the leaves out of my front gutter, and as I was using a rake to pull out the leaves , a leg of the ladder hit a soft spot and dumped me off it. I hit our cement stoop first with my chest , then gashed open the side of my head and saw stars. The neighbor across the street, who wears a suit to work, came running over and because I was dazed and didn't know where I was or what happened, ( I broke some ribs) I thought for a second he was the undertaker. After that I told Herschel my ladder days were over, sometimes he would hire guys to do gutter work and other times he would go up the ladder himself. One time I heard pounding on my roof and went out to investigate. There he was sitting on the edge at the back of the house, working away with out a care, The last time was on a cold December day in 2009 with snow about to set in. The front gutter had separated from the roof, and although he called someone to fix it, he grew impatient and went up the ladder himself, with me handing him the tools and standing under him to catch this now 85 year old man, who I was sure was gonna go ass over teakettle on me any moment. He didn't, but we nearly froze out there for three hours that afternoon, with me trying to coach him down to come inside for some hot chocolate or coffee. The capper was when he asked me to bring him the garden hose and he kept pumping water into the down pipe, with none of it coming out. I told him, "Herschel I think its clogged up." He starts beating on it with a hammer or crow bar and all of sudden WHOOSH, LIKE A RAGING RIVER, WATER COMES FLYING OUT WITH SUCH FORCE THAT WHEN IT HIT ONE OF ANNE'S BIG POTTED PLANTS IT MOVED IT SEVERAL FEET.
Shooting The Breeze
When it comes down to it , the most enjoyable times, I ever had with Herschel were just sitting around with him and shooting the breeze. My only regret is I didn't do more of it. Be it on his back porch, as he restrung his weed eater or in his den with either the fire going or the air cranked up. I always loved being in his company. Now there were times the conversation was totally one sided and you just had to let him roll and sound off on whatever it was, he wanted to talk about. Plus he was quite hard of hearing. All kinds of subjects, politics, local goings on, the fate of General Motors, the energy crisis, you name it, he had some thoughts on it. He also talked about wanting to go see New York City someday, but he wanted me to go with him because he wanted to go with someone who knew their way around. I said whenever your ready, but travel plans never got passed our rocking chairs.
He came over a few times for dinner and after one long morning at the doctors for treatment, I made him breakfast at my house because Mrs. Winners, the local restaurant where he almost always ate breakfast, had stopped serving after 11. He commented on my cooking and as he looked at his bacon and eggs and biscuits said " Now That's A Fine Looking Plate." He really enjoyed eating and conversation.
One day we took a long drive together out to Fairview, in his brand new car, ( I drove) When gas hit $4.00 a gallon in 2008 and the air conditioning went out on his Mercury, he drove downtown to Jim Reed Chevrolet and returned with a new silver Impala. He had built some spec homes out in Fairview, on property he had for many years and we went out there to pick up his lawn mower. On that drive we passed a graveyard on Highway 70 and I mentioned Chet Atkins was buried there, Herschel said, "So is Bob Reuther, did you know him?" As it turns out I did. "Bullet Bob" Reuther, who I wrote an article on for Stock Car Racing magazine some years ago, was a local race driver in the 1950's of great note and he also was an electrician. But I didn't know he had died and I don't think Herschel knew he had raced. He did know though that Bob Reuther was "Quite A Ladies Man" and repeated that to me several times. We really got into the philosophy of life that day and I heard him talk of things, I would of never thought crossed his mind. You could never underestimate Herschel Leslie Cooper.
On Monday, March first, he called me and asked if I could take him to a new doctor up in Hendersonville, on Wednesday, as again the treatment called for a designated driver. I said , "Sure thing Herschel, Hendersonville, no problem, what time?" He said with some alarm in his voice, NO WEDNESDAY! to which I said much louder "RIGHT WEDNESDAY, HENDERSONVILLE, __DON'T WORRY MAN, I GOT YOUR BACK... to which he said in a much calmer voice " I know you do, thank you"
On Tuesday he called me again, this time to tell me that the doctors had postponed his appointment, and he was sorry if he inconvenienced me. NAH, HERSCHEL, NO PROBLEM MAN , I GOT YOUR BACK BUDDY, again he said Yes you always do, and I appreciate it.
On Saturday morning I was on my way over to see him, when there was a knock on my door. I opened it and there stood Angie. She didn't even have to tell me, I knew something serious had happened. Herschel went to bed on Friday evening and he never woke up.
There was a flurry of activity over the weekend and Angie asked me if I would be a pall bearer. I said yes with no hesitation, even though I had never done it before. At the vistation on Monday evening, Anne and I got to meet his other daughter Carylon and her husband Buddy for the first time. They live in Chattanooga and were very nice people, but that should be no surprise. His daughter Sherryl, lives here and we had met a few times before, took me aside and gave me his pocket knife. It's one I had seen him use numerous times on the jobs we did together. I am truly honored to have it.
On Tuesday we had the funeral service and the first one to speak was his son in law Buddy, who spoke of both his personal relationship which in many ways was similar to my own and of how Herschel's conduct with others through his life, was in perfect harmony with some selections in the Bible that he quoted. As I sat there listening, I was amazed, not of the fact that Herschel was a very good person, I knew that from the gitgo, but at how right on the money he was with some of the scripture. Religion was one topic neither of us ever discussed much, but the truth is, Herschel Cooper, ALWAYS WALKED THE WALK. I had witnessed it so many times over the years, in the way he helped others that really needed help. Several others spoke, including yours truly and I just wished there would of been more, as I know there has to be some great stories about him. It was a real long ride out to Centerville, the biggest town nearest to Primm Springs, where we laid Herschel to rest alongside his wife. Helping to carry his casket was a feeling that I will never forget.
Some time has passed as I write this on Sunday April 25, but I have been thinking about what to write now for weeks, especially how to start and where to end it. Those who know me, know I have a small collection of antique toys from the 1930's - 1950's, that I have restored a little bit and display them in my writing room. Most all of them have a personal connection to some part of my life. I have had an unrestored Buddy L truck from the 1930's now for about two years, just laying around because I just could not decide what to do with it or what color or colors to paint it. The light came on for me Friday, and it now awaits a shelf for me to display it on.
THE COLORS ARE THOSE OF HERSCHEL'S SILVER IMPALA & MY GREEN TAURUS
COOPER ELECTRIC Ph. 297 - 6790 Nashville, TN
A PERFECT FIT
Herschel's Side Cutters & Pocket Knife
I GOT YOUR BACK