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I Recently Lost And Found My Brother
9/7/2016 2:26:14 PM

By Barney Blakeney 

I lost my brother a couple of weeks ago. Normally, I try not to write about stuff so personal. I often pepper my stuff with personal anecdotes, but it’s usually an attempt to give my readers some reference. I don’t think newspaper writing ever should be about the writer. It always should be about the story. Ego is a heckofva thing, but it has no place in news writing.

So despite the admonition of numerous friends who implored me to write about my brother, Ulysses ‘Hat’ Blakeney, I didn’t see the relevance until a conversation with my other brother from another mother, Shoot Me. He helped me understand that my brother’s story perhaps is one that goes beyond the personal into the realm of news and information.

My brother’s death was sudden and unexpected. He always was strong as an ox, usually in good health. We were estranged, the product of some mental illness on both our parts. I think all my mother’s children are a little ‘tetched’ in the head. I lost a twin at 16. She was crazy too!

But my brother was special. Even as a small child my brother, four years my junior, was a loner. He was content to be by himself. He could go into his world and sit for hours, focused on whatever it was that had his interest. When my twin and I started first grade, we’d walk to East Bay Elementary School with our older sister leaving Uly sitting on the floor; his face just inches from the screen watching Captain Kangaroo’s morning television show. When we returned from school he’d be in the same position watching whatever was on. The boy would be in a zone!

For all of his childhood Uly was overprotected, I think. My sisters insulated him totally. They shielded him from all my big brother antics. They wouldn’t allow me to push him around or subjugate him - none of the stuff big brothers are entitled to do to little brothers.

I shielded him too. I once attacked my cousins Waymon and Wilbur when I thought they were playing too roughly with him. Our dads, who also were older and younger siblings, pulled me off them and gave me the talk about us being cousins and how we never should hurt one another. I cried into my woman’s shoulder when Wilbur died a few years ago.

Uly and I shared a lot. We played Sea Hunt (our version of the 1960s underwater television show starring Lloyd Bridges) and cowboys together. I don’t know whose imagination was greater. We’d put our mother’s bras on backwards and pretend they were our air tanks for sea hunt and straddle straight back wooden chairs backwards pretending they were our horses.

I had a bunch of older guys I played with in the neighborhood. Uly was my ‘in the house’ playmate. I guess we never really developed a hanging out together relationship outside our home. I was older and had other interests. Uly also had other friends. He and our cousin Cyril were close. Cyril recently said I’d always run the two of them out of the house. I can’t imagine what that was about.

As we grew older Uly and I grew farther apart. I always felt like I was his big brother, but I wasn’t a part of his life. He spent a couple of years at the College of Charleston before going into the Army for four years. I did my thing, he did his. Still our paths crossed a lot. As bachelors we’d end up living at Mom’s house together from time to time. I once overheard Mom telling one of her friends she had a daughter and two boys. “My daughter is gone and married, but my boys are here. You know how boys are,” she told the lady. I never could figure just what that meant.

After Mom’s death, I didn’t see my brother much. Mostly just in passing. Uly was a private person. He was out there, but I didn’t know what he was doing. As always, he dealt with the world in his own way. He had many meaningful relationships, but he’d retreat into his zone and wouldn’t let anyone in. As his big brother I worried about him, but he wouldn’t let me into his world. So I prayed and trusted. I guess I was ready when Dep. Coroner Dottie Lindsay knocked at the door that Tuesday night.

Since his death, I’ve learned that my brother led an extraordinary life. My brother floated among Charleston’s homeless population. He looked the part of a vagabond. On the streets he had become a guy called ‘Hat’. But I knew Uly. I never was fooled by his ragged exterior. I figured he had retreated into his Zone.

What I didn’t know was how much my brother had grown and evolved. That overprotected child had become the man Mayor John Tecklenburg called Charleston’s Street Angel. His spirit led him not only to pray, but to lead prayers. At his funeral our church was filled with people paying him respect - my brother, this street urchin.

I could go on and on about what I’ve learned about my brother, but there isn’t enough space. Bottom line, I’m emphatically reminded that you never should judge the book by its cover. I’ve learned that my brother lived a useful and productive life. He touched a lot of people. Most of all, I’m comforted that my brother knew God and tried to live The Word. I have, and always will love you, brother.

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