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Thursday, May 12, 2016

In Loving Memory of Papa Bruce

A Tribute to Papa Bruce

29 Years ago today (12 May 1987) my father, Robert Bruce McClendon, Jr., went to live with Jesus. It was very much a surprise to me when it happened.  Evidently it was not so much a surprise to him.

When Papa died, my mother, brother, and his wife were in Texas visiting my mother’s side of the family.  Before my mother left for the trip, my father had visited Southlawn Memorial Gardens in Starr, South Carolina, to arrange the purchase of burial lots. He decided that he and my mother would go there together to make the purchase when she returned.

Not too long before he died, my father asked me what I would like to inherit from him
Suzanne and Papa
. The truthful answer was nothing.  However, after he pressed me a little bit, I realized I did want the cash register he and I had bought together a few years before.

The day before he died, Papa asked to get to visit with our son Jared.  After the store closed that night, we took Jared up to see Papa and left him to visit Papa while we went to see the movie Crocodile Dundee.

That night when we came to pick Jared up, both Papa and Jared were asleep.  We took Jared to our house without waking up Papa.

We got to thinking that Papa might wake up and panic if he saw that Jared was not in his crib. I called to let him know we had Jared.
Jared "Holding" Papa Bruce

At the time of Papa’s death, I was getting the store converted to a computer inventory system. This was a long process.  The day before Papa died the computer came online and we printed out one receipt.  It was a pretend sale, but Papa could see great things were in store for our little company.

That test sale was the first and last sale the computer ever made.

In order to get the computer on line - this was back in the days before there was an internet - we had to have a second phone line installed at the store.

Every morning I would open the store early and get started working on getting the store’s inventory entered into the computer.  I would start about an hour early before customers started coming in because this was usually a good time to get things done.  Since I was not quite ready to start transacting business, I did not answer the main phone line at the store, but I did answer the computer line at the store since only Suzanne had the number.

The phone rang and I answered it.  Suzanne said, “Papa is having a heart attack.” 
What had happened was that my father started having chest pains while getting dressed.

Out in our back yard between our house and my grandmother’s house, my father had installed an old farm bell like what people on farms used to let those people who were working in the field know that it was time to eat. Papa had discovered that his grandson, Patrick, loved to ring this bell.  So, he put a rope on the bell that went all the way to the ground so that Patrick could ring the bell all he wanted to.

*Papa went out to the back yard and started ringing the bell over and over.  This alerted my grandmother.  She saw Papa lying on the ground ringing the bell and ran down the hill to our house and got my wife Suzanne to the door.  Suzanne called me on the computer line at the store.

I was rattled and could not think right.  I knew the rescue squad’s phone number.  The number was also on a big orange sticker on the telephone at the store.  Further, the auto-dialer directly by the phone was programmed with the rescue squad’s phone number.  I could not think of any of these things.  I did remember to dial the operator.
The ambulance was dispatched and I went to the house.  I locked the store but did not set the alarm.

When I got to the house, Papa was on the ground telling my grandmother to calm down and go into the house.  He was also telling me to have Suzanne get the store open.

Suzanne had never opened the store before and did not have a clue how to do it.  I told her as best I could and we loaded Papa in the ambulance.

At 10:10 AM, Papa was pronounced dead by Dr. William Walker.

Papa was a great man.  The story I am about to tell is indicative of the type of man he was.

Television Marathon

The best way to get my father to do anything was to tell him he could not do it.  He had to prove you wrong.

The RCA television sales representative came to the store and offered Papa a great deal on a truckload of televisions and VCRs.  So, he ordered them. This was on a Friday evening.

He told my mother what he had done and she walked him into the storeroom and pointed out that it was full of televisions, stereos, and VCRs.  She told him we did not have room for the truckload of electronics and that until we sold the stuff we had we could not pay for it.  She told him he would have to cancel the order first thing Monday morning, unless he could somehow get rid of EVERYTHING over the weekend.

The next morning, Saturday, I was eating breakfast at the Waffle King.  Papa walked in and said, “Get your ridin’ britches on, David.”  He then told me he was going to sell every television, stereo, and VCR we had in stock that day.  This was a large stockroom full of electronics. 

When we got to the store, I loaded half of each kind of VCR we had in the 1965 Ford Galaxy I was driving.  I also loaded 5,000 feet of antenna wire and a large assortment of antenna connectors, along with my tool box in the car.

At this time, cable-ready televisions were fairly new and practically no one knew how to set up a VCR.  It required a technician to set up either.  So, I would have to set up and install whatever Papa sold that day.
Papa sold the first one early and he told me to call before I left each house to see where to go next.

Suzanne fixed me a sandwich and I gulped it down between stops.  I would go to a house and find that one of the two trucks (Old Red and the Ford Truck) had dropped off a television and, in some cases, an antenna. 

At one house I arrived to find three televisions, three VCRs, and one antenna.  By this time, I was exhausted but I got it done.

Finally, about three hours after the store closed, I made it back to the store.  Papa had sold everything, even a television that had been traded in that did not work.  He sold it to an electronics student that wanted to tinker with it.

I was worn out.  The only electronic things left in the store were the coffee pot we used to make coffee for employees and the calculators we used in the office.  There was absolutely nothing electronic left in the store.

I was tired; Papa was happy.  The entire crew had pulled together to get this all done in one day.  Suzanne and Nana filled out contracts until their hand cramps had cramps.  The shop guys took turns delivering televisions in the two trucks and Carl delivered several in his car.

This was a lot of work and a lot of fun.  I wish we could do it again.

Papa, we miss you.

*Note: In the video I state that Papa put on his shoes and went outside.  My Aunt Gloria reminded me that when we went into the house we found his shoes beside the chair where it appears he had placed them.  It appeared that he was going to sit down and put his shoes on but got to hurting too bad and went outside to the bell.

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