From time to time I correspond with my old friend and former pastor, Bruce Pate. Bruce was the pastor at Norlina United Methodist back in the mid-60s. He and his wife, Jean, are now retired and live at Lake Junaluska. I often relate to him how some of his former parishoners and friends in Norlina are doing. I recently sent him a note and told him that one of his former members, Bryant Caulder, was very ill. Bruce quickly responded with a story about Bryant.

As middle schoolers and young teens, my backyard basketball court was a hangout after school. Bryant and I spent hours on that court. By his senior season on the Norlina High School team, Bryant had become a very good player. Bruce was a Duke graduate and  (naturally) a big basketball fan. He would come to most of the games. Bryant’s maternal grandparents, the Rivers, lived on our street. His grandfather was blind and required around-the-clock care, so Mrs. Rivers had never been able to attend a game. She wanted to see Bryant play at least one game, so Bruce arranged for someone to stay with Mr. Rivers and took her to the game--in Littleton. Bruce wrote that Mrs. Rivers was “so excited to see Bryant play a game.” And “Bryant responded with one of his best games,” scoring 27 points to lead the Blue Waves to a win. He would go on to average more than 14 points per game and make the All-Conference team that year.

Bryant was also one of the charter “members” of Norlina’s version of Our Gang—well, for golf that is. A “motley” crew of young boys carved out a six-hole course in our neighborhood. And with push mowers and Campbell’s soup cans for cups, we made our own golf course. We managed to find a few sets of old clubs and had our own tournaments. Bryant, Mike Baker, the Wimbrow brothers, Tommy Quick, Gene Evans, and yours truly had a ball on that homemade course. 

My dad was working on his master’s degree and made a lot of trips to Raleigh to study in the N.C. State University Library. He would drop Bryant and me off at the Cheviot Hills golf course going into Raleigh. While he studied, we would play a round of golf on a “real” golf course. Those were carefree times in the summer months.

As you read the obituaries, you will see that my old friend passed away last week. Coincidentally, this is the week of The Masters in golf. On the first tee, a gentleman announces the golfers who are ready to tee off to begin their rounds. The announcer tells the first player to hit, “You have the honor.” This week, we all have the honor to remember a Vietnam veteran and great guy. It is our honor, Mr. Caulder.

Southeast Sports Syndicate, 2019