Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Legend of the Hippo Brothers

If you look up the word “legend” in a dictionary you will read these words: “A nonhistorical or unverifiable story handed down by tradition from earlier times and popularly accepted as historical.”

In simple terms it means that a legend may be true or may not be true but everyone happily accepts it as truth anyway. 

But we all feel better because we do.

L-R Jimmy Childre,Jr, Big Will, Ruth Jones (our 6th grade teacher)
and me. Picture taken in 2012
My lifelong friend, Will Crawley, died this morning.  There will be a noticeable increase in tall tales told in the next days and weeks about Big Will and his twin brother Mike, many of them nonhistorical and unverifiable. They are stories in which the legends were made but stories that we who loved them desperately need to hear. And stories that will somehow make us all feel better.

I was born less than a month before Big Will in the fall of 1954.  We grew up on Macon Street in Reynolds, Ga.   In the fall of 1959, I attended Kindergarten at Mrs. Crawley’s Kindergarten.  Thad and Mary Louise Crawley built a small Kindergarten building on their property, across the street from the Methodist Church.  It was at that very young age and in that little Kindergarten building that my first memories were made of the Crawley twins who always stood out from the other kids. After all, they looked exactly alike and always dressed exactly alike. 

And they were bigger than everybody else.

The next year we started the first grade together just a block over at Reynolds Elementary School.  There were two first grade teachers that year - Mrs. Ogburn and Mrs. Verna.  We had Mrs. Verna. For the next eight years we had every class together, attended Sunday school together, attended church together and eventually MYF (Methodist Youth Fellowship). We even sang (if you call that singing) in the children and youth choirs together. And there were more than a few birthday parties in the backyards of friend’s parents along the way. 

I remember standing behind the gymnasium at school one day after we had begun to learn about the birds and the bees.  I vividly remember Big Will being really bothered by what we were saying.  His comment I never forgot was, “There is no way my mama and daddy do that!”

After those eight years, we went to high school together. In May 1972, we graduated from high school together.

 After high school, we went our separate ways to different colleges to further our education but we always stayed in touch. 

It was during those years that the legend began to grow. The Hippo brothers they were called – although for some reason I never called them that.   Big Hip (Mike) and Little Hip (Will) became known throughout the state for their many and wild escapades. Friendships increased exponentially. Some knew them in person.  Some knew only by reputation.  For several years they hosted an annual Hippo birthday bash in October.  People came from all around to be entertained by the Hippo brothers. The stories that came from those parties are now accepted as historical but some are thankfully unverifiable.

I remember introducing them to my fraternity brothers at the University of Georgia.  It was homecoming and since I was a freshman and a pledge, I was part of the group that had to build our homecoming float that was displayed at the fraternity house on the front lawn.  It would also be our job to tear the huge display down after the homecoming festivities were over.  Late that Saturday night, the Crawley twins appeared at my fraternity house and quickly made friends with everyone there.  Next thing I know, they tackled the Homecoming display and took it completely down to the astonishment and loud applause of my pledge class and other brothers looking on.  Admittedly, a little alcohol was involved that night.

The story of them getting banned for life from a certain “all you can eat” catfish restaurant has been told many times.  One sat at the table while the other went to the restroom.  After a few plates of fish, they would swap out.  After more than a few visits, the manager finally caught up with them.

As they grew in years, they begin to settle down as most of us do.  Big Mike became well known and respected as a paramedic and Registered Nurse.  Big Will owned a landscaping business. 

Then trouble came.

Big Will's liver began to fail.   Many of us watched and were inspired as the brother Mike looked after the brother Will.  Through Big Mike’s connections in the medical world, he was instrumental in getting Will on the transplant list and eventually getting him a new liver and a new life. 

During that very difficult time and illness and thinking his time was at hand, a very sick Will begin to look deep inside himself and made peace with the God of his youth.  Mike saw Will’s renewed faith and the same transformation took place in him.  Everything changed for both of them after that.  They now looked at life through different lenses.

Incredibly, Will’s life was saved when he was literally given a new life after the transplant.  Ironically, Big Mike, the new man with the new faith became sick and died of liver cancer.

Mike saved Will’s life in getting Will a new liver.   But in doing so, Will just might have saved Mike’s life for all eternity. 

For the past seven years, Will has existed on earth without his best friend and twin brother. Since Mike’s death, Big Will admirably went back to school and received a couple of degrees, including a Masters in Public Health. But the truth is, when Big Mike died half of Will died with him.

Their older brother, Charlie, has been looking after Will since his stroke in December and making sure all his needs were met.  Big Will gave Charlie very little guidance in preparation for his death.

He told him only two things:  He wanted to be cremated. And he wanted to be buried next to his twin brother.

For those of us who knew Big Will so well, we are certainly saddened at the news of his death.   But at the same time we are smiling because the Hippo brothers are together again. 

On earth as it is in heaven.

But make no mistake; the legend of the Hippo brothers has only just begun.


Eve Peacock said...

RIP Will, tell Hip that Eve says hello.

Just want to share a story... I worked with Hip (Mike) at The Med as a paramedic partner for years and then we worked together as nurses. Well, as I was walking into the Mall one day, I saw Hip and ran up to him and jumped in his arms! Guess what? It wasn't Hip, it was Will. I will never forget his expression. Lots of gr8 memories...LOTS

Anonymous said...

Are you sure that it was a Catfish House or Finchers?