Posted on

Brother Blackmon

Brother Blackmon and I shared two special things. We were brothers and we loved electronics. I met him when I was in seventh grade.

At this time I was the classic definition of the dork–the poor soul who is awkward in every conceivable way. I was four and a half feet tall–even the small girls towered above me! I had only few friends and extreme buck teeth that needed fixing. I was odd–one of three people who carried a black leather box briefcase everywhere I went. I read enormous amounts of science fiction and would sneak books to class and read them instead of paying attention to the lesson. I had nervous energy and fidgeted all of the time. I was a sesquipedalian–one who uses big words. I actually learned that word in seventh grade. Other than playing saxophone in the school band, I didn’t have much going on. I was learning electronics on my own and talked about the subject incessantly to my family and any friends who would listen. Perhaps for my sanity or for theirs, someone suggested that I should meet Brother Blackmon–the man who ran the audio booth at church–and perhaps become his assistant. That’s how our friendship started.

Brother So and So…

Brother Blackmon. When I was a boy growing up in the churches of Christ, we had a tradition of referring to our fellow church members as Brother or Sister so or so. It was a rather quaint tradition–or at least it seems so now. It was our way of bestowing an honorific title to those who worshiped as we did.1 The rule for kids was this: call regular folks Mr. or Mrs. so and so and church people as Brother or Sister whatever their last name was. A young person could only use the last name of an older person and never the first. But I digress.

Brother Blackmon

Blackmon was a crippled man who lived on disability. He didn’t have much going on either–other than running the audio booth at church. He walked with two metal brace like canes and he lived in constant pain. He told me that I should administer his nitro-glycerin pills should I ever discover him slumped over in the booth. I resolved to remain vigilant.

He had not always been that way. Before the accident Bill owned a neon sign company and described himself to me as a sinful man who smoke, drank, fooled around and didn’t think much about church. He had a tattoo on his forearm that he got during his time in the Navy. That was all before his accident. In his post-accident new normal, he was spiritually reformed–though he still smoked.

The socially awkward boy and the broken crippled man became fast friends.

The Audio Booth

In those days, the booth was a mysterious room that was filled with electronics and tape recorders. Large amplifiers with glowing vacuum tubes and VU meters that swung frenetically to the sounds it processed. There were reels of magnetic tape, thick black electrical cables, tape recorders with large back-lit buttons, and demagnitizers which had to be used oh so carefully lest we destroy our sacred work. The room was dark and electrical lights glowed in yellows, greens, reds and blues. Like the early Gemini space capsule, the booth was very small and had room for only one or two people. It was like being in a science laboratory–except we didn’t wear lab coats. And like the space capsule, it had one small window to view the world. The doors were closed at all times and no one but the minister and trained electronics experts were allowed inside. Brother Blackmon and I were not ministers but we were the high priests of the audio booth.

Our job was to make sure the amplifier was on, the microphones were properly adjusted and to tape the sermon for posterity. Electronically speaking–things were simple.  At that time in churches of Christ, there were no musical instruments or ministers walking around with portable headsets. One mic–just turn it up and down as needed. It sounds boring but for a kid it was high technology and excitement! There was a baptistery microphone as well. When people were baptized I welcomed them into the family of God and rejoiced that I could adjust the sound of yet another microphone!

Electronics

Brother Blackmon tutored me as much as he could about electronics. I remember learning about Ohm’s Law–and the magic triangle method of computing it. He also taught me about oscillating circuits, and any number of other electrical subjects. He was my amateur science electronics teacher and he gave me a thick amateur radio handbook to study carefully. Most times, after church services, he’d take some time to teach me what he could. I remember his wife patiently waiting on us. I wasn’t able to read social leave-taking cues back then.

Looking Back

Brother Blackmon was my friend at a time when I was unaccepted and socially awkward among my peers. I knew that I loved being around him and learning new things–but I did not know or appreciate what he was doing for me that was unrelated to electronics. To me, the knowledge of electronics was like possessing an arcane secret known only to a few. It made me feel special and intelligent. Others around me may not have seen any value in me, but I knew that I understood things that they did not–and that filled an important need for acceptance that I had at the time.

As a college teacher, I realize that Brother Blackmon, was doing what I do–and get paid for nowadays. He was using his subject area to reach out and make a difference in someone’s life. There was the obvious subject that we addressed on the surface and there were the intangibles that matter just as much. All I know is that almost 50 years later, I think of Bill very fondly and wish that I could express to him an appreciation for his short but meaningful part in my life.

He was a physical cripple and I a social one. In Christ, none of that mattered and we were both given what we needed.


  1. It sort of suggested that the only real brothers or sisters were those who believed exactly as we did–all others were worldly people who needed converting and were not included as part the universal family of God that were saved.