Saturday, May 7, 2022

Remembering Tom Browne: A Motorhead Anecdote

Over the past half century suburban living has gotten a bad rap. For me personally, growing up in a suburban development in the 1960s was a very good experience. The 54-home development we lived in during my teen years offered three styles of houses: ranch, split-level and bi-level, all with either three or four bedrooms. Home buyers had four options for colors, and three or four options for color of roof shingles. All lots were three-quarters of an acre, half lawn, half woods. That, however, was not what made it memorable.

The only feature of the new neighborhood that really mattered to me was that nearly every home had kids. Newlyweds don't buy large first houses like that. They were all three and four bedroom homes. So it was easy to find kids to play with, to organize football, baseball or basketball games after school or through the summer. Since every family there had come from somewhere else -- my brothers and I had been transplanted from Ohio -- anyone wanting to make new friends had a wealth of opportunities to encounter similar situations. 

The Brownes, who lived in a ranch on the upper side of us, were transplanted to Bridgewater (New Jersey) from the Oranges, I believe. East Orange in Essex County was the 20th most tightly packed city in New Jersey, a state with a lot of tightly packed communities. Bridgewater gave families some breathing room. 

Tom was the oldest of three kids, a year younger than I. He had a much younger sister, Donna, with curly red hair and freckles who was a cutie. I used to sing to their mom, "Mrs. Browne you've got a lovely daughter." There was also a young son named Bobby.

I turned 12 the year we moved to Jersey, and Tom (his parents called him Tommy) was 11. My brother Ron was a year younger than Tom so that when we wanted to do something we at least had a starting core. This played out in a lot of ways in which I had ideas that would evolve into bigger things. I'll share examples another time. Summers we played endless hours of billiards, ping pong, slot car racing, Monopoly and other time-filling activities. 

My brother Ron (right) and I with Tom at his home
a little south of Easton.
Mr. Browne had two lawn mowers, one of them a push mower and the other a ride-around. When Tom was 13 or 14, he completely disassembled and re-assembled that push mower. The following year, he decided to tackle the ride-around mower. (I will assume he had permission from his dad.)

These experiences served to strengthen his confidence so that one year before he got his driver's license he bought a dark blue 2-door sports car, an MGB, and proceeded to completely dismantle. He took apart everything you can take apart on a car, and spent the year re-assembling it so that on his 17th birthday, when he got his license he had his car as well. 

Considering that these were the days before YouTube, which makes all manner of knowledge accessible, it was an impressive achievement.

Tom wasn't motivated by school, nor sports and the other distractions of pop culture. He seemed comfortable in his own skin, riding his bicycle on long excursions for hours on end, thinking his own thoughts and transitioning to what he would later become, a biker and independent thinker. He was always responsible, not afraid of work--or probably anything else--and though our lives took different paths, we remained friends, always happy to see one another when I went east to visit my family.

The photos here of Tom were taken in 2016. He would be gone within the year.

Mrs. Browne's lovely little daughter is all growed up now. Donna: this one's for you. More stories still to come.


Henry Wiens said...

Thanks for sharing about your friend. Your portrayal of those days long past are vivid and moving.

Ed Newman said...

Thank you, Henry.
Yes, they do seem long past. Kids are interacting with screen time rather than gathering at baseball diamonds or soccer fields it seems... We spent countless countless hours in the woods or riding our bikes to the river to swim or whatever.... I am going to be writing down some more of these memories soon I hope... There were some unusual games we created.

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