There are events that make you reflect on your entire life, bring everything into focus and make you think about the big picture.
There was an event Wednesday that did that for me. The passing of Barbara Broyles (Mrs. Frank Broyles to some but just Mrs. Broyles to me), sent me on a bitter-sweet trip down memory lane.
Mrs. Broyles was, without a doubt, the sweetest, kindest and most gentle person I've ever known. She had a way of making you feel good every time your paths crossed. She could remind you of things that lifted your heart.
You have to understand the Broyles-Henry relationship, as it existed in the 1960s when I was a young boy. Football trips to Fayetteville were more than the game. When my father finished his articles for the newspaper, there was the after-game dinner at the Broyles house. All of the assistant coaches and some of the writers attended those dinners.
Interestingly, those dinners, in my mind, had a lot to do with the kind of special relationship my father had with the UA coaching staff, especially Coach Broyles. I know my father expressed that to me many times. The late Bill Connors, my boss for 14 years at the Tulsa World, told me the same thing. His wife, Nita, so much looked forward to those after-game dinners that she'd beg her husband "to cover more Arkansas games."
To me, Mrs. Broyles is the one who made sure those dinners were special. She handled all the details and was just as gracious after a victory or a defeat. Most suspected there would be no after-game dinner when Texas won the Great Shootout in 1969. Nope, Mrs. Broyles handled it just like always and made everyone feel at home despite the devastating loss.
Years later when Lou Holtz, late in his Arkansas tenure as coach, struggled with his image with the media, someone, probably my father or Coach Broyles, encouraged him to host similar post-game events in his home with the media. He tried, but they didn't have the same impact. I understood why. Lou didn't have Mrs. Broyles to handle them for him.
That was the major difference in my eyes.
What I remember most about those dinners at the Broyles home was Mrs. Broyles and the way she took care of everything. I know my mother looked forward to those nights, and so did I. It was a chance to have some fun with the Broyles boys. I usually played with Tommy and/or Dan.
It was during one of those after-game events that the three of us got into some real trouble. I was probably about 12. We caught the house on fire, making a smoke bomb in one of the bedrooms out of a chemistry play set.
I thought for sure we were going to get a beating from our respective fathers. I thought it might happen in front of the coaches and the other houseguests. I was relieved when Mrs. Broyles handled the discipline and then told my parents it had been done. I can't remember the exact discipline, but it was swift and severe and handled appropriately.
It was never mentioned again.
My brothers remembered the fire trucks more than the discipline. They told me they thought it was pretty neat that I did something so that they could see that many fire trucks. I guess it was. I know I felt better after Mrs. Broyles was done with us because things were normal in quick fashion. The dinner hardly missed a beat and she was the reason. No big scene. She took care of it and the evening continued like nothing had happened. I'm not sure she even told the folks up stairs why there had been three fire trucks in their driveway.
I don't think my parents ever knew I was as much responsible for the mess as the Broyles boys, but I knew Mrs. Broyles knew it and kept it to herself. We kind of had that secret all these years.
I do know that Mrs. Broyles ran that house and raised that family. Coach Broyles ran the athletic department, but she ran the house. I saw that when she administered the discipline. And I've known it all my life.
I always looked forward to seeing her, and listening to the stories she had about my mother — my real mother — institutionalized the last 32 years after a stroke felled her at age 47. Most forgot about my mother, but not Mrs. Broyles.
"How is Carolyn?" she would always ask. Then she'd remind about the time at this bowl game or that bowl game of the fun shared between them.
Then she'd ask about my brothers and their families. She'd remember all of that the next time I'd see her and ask follow-up questions on the details from the last visit. These visits might be years apart, but she always had the details right.
I hurt for the Broyles family. The disease that took their mother/grandmother/wife robbed her of an ability to remember those details over the last few years. I know what that's like. I've dealt with it the last 32 years since the stroke erased my mother's mind. She hasn't known any of us since.
Mrs. Broyles realized that. We talked about that on many visits. I think that is why she always asked about my mother and told stories about her. I think that was something she did with special care and thought. It was the way she handled all things, with special care and thought.
State of the Hogs: Barbara Broyles
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