Character Sketch: Brody Daniels

Brick Wall

My 52 Week Writing Challenge will include character sketches and plot outlines from possible future WIPs. Brody is from ‘Brody Daniels’ Girls’. (Week 6)

As a young man, Brody Daniels never gave much thought to his future. Not because he didn’t care, but he knew with hard work and determination, he would be successful.

His father taught him that.

The grandson of sharecroppers and great-grandson of slaves, Jimmie Earl Daniels never missed an opportunity to better himself and provide for his family. Brody was constantly in awe at how his father, a black man in 1940s America, prospered in a time when life was a struggle for a large majority of blacks.

After a drought-plagued harvest left the Daniels family with barely enough food to last until the next harvest and none to sell, Jimmie Earl began hiring himself out repairing barns and stables. A hardworking and conscientious man, word soon spread of the good quality of the builder’s work. When Brody was nine years old, the county hired his father to not only repair the long-neglected one room school for colored children in the outlying rural areas but also add two rooms to it. Daniels Contracting was born.

Brody spent every free moment he could following Jimmie Earl around the construction site. Had it not been for Jimmie Earl’s strict enforcement of school attendance, Brody would have been with his father all day, every day.

Jimmie Earl was proud to have his young son on the job site. The nine-year-old was extremely bright and was learning the basics of construction faster than most men. It was for this reason he was determined Brody not miss school and complete his education. Along with his intelligence, Brody already showed the qualities that would take him far in a world which preferred not to see him.

Not like his older brother, Junior. It was a bitter pill for Jimmie Earl to swallow the day he found out Junior and run off and enlisted in the Army, bound for Korea. The angry young man was barely old enough to serve in the military and his father was sure Junior had lied about his age.

Unlike Brody, Junior never wanted to work hard and never took time on details and accuracy. Though he was almost twice as old as his little brother, Jimmie Earl Daniels, Jr. was envious of the boy’s quick mind. Learning came easily to Brody while Junior struggled. Too embarrassed to admit he needed extra help, Junior hid his learning disability by dodging work to hang out with friends.

Brody Daniels idolized his father, but he adored Junior. He mimicked the exaggerated strut of his brother, dreaming of the day when they could hang out together. Brody was broken-hearted when he learned of Junior’s enlistment. All he knew of war he’d learned in school and Brody only prayed his brother would make it home alive.

Those prayers would go unanswered.

Entering junior high near the end of the Korean War, Brody’s world was altered after he received the news of Junior’s death. Without varying his daily routine of school and working at his father’s latest job site, Brody still became withdrawn. The once talkative boy with the endless list of questions kept to himself completing assignments at school and tasks for Jimmie Earl.

When he was fifteen, Brody’s second eldest brother, Tarner married Lucy Delts, a local girl. Jimmie Earl gave them a small plot of land and sponsored a barn raising for the young couple. Arriving at his brother’s farm one afternoon after school, Brody was anxious to help Tarner complete the interior of the barn. Not finding Tarner in the barn, Brody Daniels strolled aimlessly around the property thinking his brother may have gone up to the house for a cool drink.

Distracted by hunger pains, Brody headed for a small apple orchard sitting on a hill bordering Tarner’s corn fields. At first eying the shiny red apples, Brody’s attention was drawn to the fields below, and he took off in an immediate run.

Brody blazed through the tall corn stalks, praying his worst fear would not be realized. He slowed as he neared the overturned tractor. The large pool of blood had started to dry.

Falling to his knees, Brody stared into the unseeing eyes of Tarner Daniels. Pain mixed with rage churned inside Brody’s chest. He’d lost another brother.

Jimmie Earl and Sadie Daniels didn’t know how to reach their son. They shared the depth of his grief. When Junior was killed in the war, his father got drunk — the first time anyone who knew him ever remembered it happening. Sadie cried for weeks. But like the strong, determined parents they were, the couple pulled themselves back together to go on for their four remaining children.

When Tarner died on his farm, Jimmie Earl couldn’t even speak. As a man, he not only had lost two children but sons. Sadie took to her sick bed, physically ill at the loss of another of her babies. However, they could cling to each other until the pain of grief dissolved into memories of the heart.

Brody had no one to cling to. His older sister, Vashti, and younger sister, Ella, stayed at their mother’s side. As the only son left in the family, Brody knew the concerns of his family came before his own. Nearing manhood and high school graduation, Brody struggled with leaving home for college. He wanted to make his father proud and realize his own dreams, but Brody felt drained. The pain which never left his chest consumed his enthusiasm and energy.

Senior year mercifully ended and Brody Daniels was at a crossroads in his young life. The long years of mourning his brothers had taken away his direction. His life was a mindless routine, each day blending into the next. Brody found minor solace working for his father. He hefted hammers with ease, sawed wood faster than any two men, and his bricklaying was a work of art.

But he was still just existing, not living.

The women of Granger did everything they could to get Brody Daniels’ attention. With the tall broad frame of his father, and the exotic golden brown eyes of his mother, females of any age would visibly swoon in the oblivious young man’s wake.

Jimmie Earl pulled Brody from a job one morning and took him into his office.

“I called the registrar’s office at Beckford College yesterday to finalize your fall tuition. They haven’t heard from you since spring.”

Focusing on his shoes, Brody shook his head. “I can’t do it, daddy.”

Leaning back in his chair, Jimmie Earl studied his son. “You’re eighteen years old, boy, and you’ve done more than some men my age. Don’t tell me what you can’t do.”

“Then I don’t know what to say, daddy-”

“Look at me!” Jimmie Earl’s booming voice filled the room. Scrubbing his hand down his face, Jimmie Earl threw his hands up. “Brody. I know it’s been hard, boy. Losing two brothers before you were even a man yourself. But they wouldn’t want you like this…frozen. Not feeling. Not living. Me and your mother don’t want this for you…and you shouldn’t want it either.”

“I don’t want it! I don’t want any of it! I hate feeling this way, daddy. I want to be me again…I want to laugh and enjoy myself. I want my life back. But it’s just so hard when they’re gone…and not coming back.”

Leaning forward, resting his arms on the desk, Jimmie Earl clasped his hands tightly…and did what he promised his wife he would do.

“You know how hard it is for Negroes to get into white colleges, Brody…especially the private ones. But I talked with the Dean, and he understands your situation and agrees you may not be focused enough to start classes in the fall.”

“I’m sorry, daddy. I didn’t mean to mess this-”

“You haven’t messed up anything. The Dean said there is a way you can keep your spot and defer enrollment.”

Brody looked at his father for the first time since entering the office. “No.”

“You don’t have a choice, boy.”

“No choice? So, you’re just going to send me off to the Army so I can die like Junior? Hasn’t this family lost enough, daddy-”

“Don’t you dare tell me what I’ve lost!” The calm is Jimmie Earl’s eyes belied his rapid breathing. “He…he was my firstborn. Carried my name…and…and…he’s gone. But Tarner died right here…on the same land he was born. Working his own fields, trying to provide for a new wife and start a family.” Jimmie Earl paused, the lump in his throat hindering his speech. “Your mama and me talked about this boy. We can’t let you hide here. We won’t allow it.”

“You don’t underst-”

“Enough, boy!”

“No! I’ll leave here…and get a job on another work crew…or working the fields.”

Pain and sadness wiped away the hardness in Jimmie Earl’s eyes.

“You’ve never disobeyed me in your life, Brody Cutler. I know you’re a man now, but I also know you know this is the right thing for you. Brody, this will eat away at you…killing your heart…and your soul. You’re my last son, and this isn’t easy for me. But boy, I don’t know no other way to help you. I wish I did.”

Mental exhaustion washed over Brody in waves. His father spoke the truth…always had. Brody felt like he was dying inside and knew something in his life had to change.

“Okay, daddy. I’ll go.”

“You’ll see, boy. This will help. I know it. Do your service, come home, and go to college. Meet a pretty little girl, get married and have some babies. The business will always be right here and is yours when you’re ready. Things will work out for you, Brody.”

Enlisting for three years, Brody Daniels never saw combat. He never even left the country. With his extensive knowledge in construction, Brody was attached to a contracting unit and spent his tour of duty building new or rehabbing Army barracks around the country.

Overjoyed at not losing another son to war, Jimmie Earl and Sadie gave Brody a hero’s welcome when he returned home.

The Dean was true to his word, and Brody enrolled at Beckford. He wanted to work part-time for his father, but Jimmie Earl insisted Brody concentrate on his studies…and living. So, when a friend invited him along to a birthday party, Brody had no idea it would change his life.

That was the night Brody met Isabella Marchand…’the pretty little girl’ he would eventually marry and have babies with. Four girls.

But pain, heartache, and loss were not done with Brody Daniels. In fact, they were just getting started.