How do you say goodbye to someone whoís been so many things to you, you canít even vocalize them all?
In what way do you say goodbye, when theyíre gone so sudden, and youíre not even sure if you believe it?
Hero. Best of friends. Warrior. Pacifist. Humanity in purest essence. Those are the words to describe Bernard Broussard.
My friend was and is a hero in my eyes. My friend was, and always will be, one of the most cherished in my life.
It wasnít long after I started at the Banner-Tribune on my first tour here in 1980. It wasnít long before I was heading to Hanson football games as photographer, because I didnít know squat about football. Still donít. It didnít matter, because Bernard would be taking stats and Iíd be there to capture the action on film. Capture frames of split instants which, even in all their grayscale glory, could never tell the tale of a play, the description of a rush, the saga of a tackle, as eloquently as Bernard Broussard. Nobody wrote sports like Bernard. Nobody, period, finis, end of story.
He wrote a wonderful column on this very page in those days, which he titled Perspective. He was a man of extreme gentleness, fervent about his faith, adamant about justice. He had a laugh and a smile that would, in an instant, make me join in the cheer.
Heíd get so furious at a bad call on the part of the refs Bernard would throw his clipboard down on the sideline and yell red-faced fury at the officials. Then heíd pick it up and, grumbling, turning now and then to demand justice once more on the part of the home team, go back to work.
When I was older, we shared a hallowed and revered tradition of stopping at the occasional wateriní hole on the way home. I hope the family doesnít mind me telling that story, but I have to do so: Much of who I am today, the writer, the storyteller, our friendship, the person I am began to coalesce hunkered over a cold one with Bernard Broussard at some establishment along U.S. 90 coming back from a football game. No, we never were excessive, and no, we never let ourselves become a danger to ourselves or others. But thatís where our friendship truly began.
In later years we would meet at Miss Lucyís place in Verdunville, where an enormous old hound seemed to be mummified in the corner, having passed a decade or so earlier, but it was in fact alive and just slept an awful lot. Now and then it would rise and shuffle off, exuding antiquity like a ruin. Miss Lucy sat in the back and kept watch over the place, but it was Tee Guy who kept the faith, host and entertainer all in one. Here we had grand discussions and loud arguments about philosophy, movies, books, art, theatre, all the while Miss Lucy rocking in her chair nearby. Bernard and I agreed on almost all the most important things, to us, anyway: Bogie was among the top five greatest actors of all time, Hemingway would be Papa for eternity and nobody else ever could take his place, Ray Bradbury was a visionary and, in the end, Ingrid Bergman was probably the most beautiful woman to ever grace the silver screen. We agreed that John Wayne was the toughest cowboy, Hope and Crosby the greatest comedians, and Gen. George Armstrong Custer a drunken villain.
I started reading Bernardís books. I learned things about the warrior pacifist. The man who, along with his wife, Rose Mae, endured death threats in the 1960s. I wonder how many African-Americans today know about the soldiers who fought for civil rights under threat of their own deaths here in Franklin? Bernard Broussard was that warrior, and so was Rose Mae. Read A Ripple of Hope, and if you can make it to the last page of the chapter about the Gingerbread Boy with a dry eye, read it again. You missed something. You missed an awful lot of something. At least he awakened in me some inherent, inherited nature as a storyteller, passed down from my father, and from his father.
How to say what Bernard Broussard means to me? There were many influences to me as a writer. Bernard Broussard was one, along with my dearly departed friend Ella Mensman. If, as Iíve always claimed, former Banner publisher John Landry taught me to be a reporter and Ella Mensman taught me to be a writer, then Bernard Broussard taught me to be a storyteller.
And from one writer to another, I guess thatís the greatest eulogy I can give. But it seems to be so small. So insignificant. His own works brought him more satisfaction, and friends, than fame and wealth, but they stand the test of time, the litmus of integrity. Franklinís small circle of writers Ė Bernard Broussard, Fay Brown, Ella Mensman, Florence Blackburn, Fielding Lewis among them Ė have greatly influenced its cultural history. Have documented its glowing moments of fame, its thriving magnificence, as well as its dark shadows and hidden, locked closets.
He and Rose Mae founded Teche Action Clinic. Did you now that? Did you know they also were in whole or in part responsible for St. Mary Community Action Agency? And Hope Haven? And Chez Hope? St. Jules Apartments?
He retired from the Banner at least a dozen times, but always came back, complaining about the "ink in the blood" until at last he gave up the newspaper business for good a few years ago.
How do I say goodbye to my friend? Who I didnít even know had suffered a terrible stroke, until the day he died?
Neaíse. Thank you. For inspiring me, encouraging me to write. For taking those first, very early short stories and raving over them, patting me on the back, no matter how bad they probably were. For so many, many wonderful stories over a cold one, for so many street corner discussions at a festival or in front of the post office.
Thank you, Bee. For working hard to make this town a better place to live, and never losing faith in it or its people. Thank you, for putting all human beings equal and being strong enough and brave enough to say it out loud.
Thank you, for putting down words that will live on forever. If I accomplish nothing else as a writer myself, I can only hope to do as much as you have. Put down a living record of a time, a place, a people. Tell stories. Thatís what you and I shared most in common: We told our stories, to each other, and to the world.
God, Iím going to miss you. Thereís a big hole in this city today. Nobody can ever fill it.
And I can only end this column one way, with the only fitting closing for a great friend, the only fitting possible for a true writer, as he meets the spirit in the sky at last: