Frankie Brockman has an appreciation of life that
may be rare in today's fast paced world, indeed, in
Thornton Wilder's 1930s play "Our Town", brings to
audiences' attention that most people go through life
oblivious to much of their surrounding experience,
even to those most dear to them, taking for granted
the measureless treasure of the inglorious events of
Eventually Emily, the main character, viewing her life
from the perspective of one for whom life has ended,
in tearful dismay asks, "Do any human beings ever
realize life while they live it? - every, every
"No. Saints and poets, maybe - they do some," answers
the voice of the wise.
And then there's Frankie, whose appreciation of
enduring relationships and simple pleasures puts him
heads and above those choosing to either sleepwalk or
race through life, seemingly unaware of its transient
He lives in McKenzie in an unassuming, clapboard home
on the old route to Huntingdon near the new highway,
it's well-manicured lawn dotted with a couple of
buckeye trees he planted some years ago that are now
bearing fruit and putting out new shoots in an oddity
of the species. Frankie gathers up the falling
buckeyes and gives them to friends to carry them in
their pockets like men of yesteryear who swore they
warded off the effects of rheumatism and today may
just be considered "good luck."
From his comfortable living room, uniquely decorated
with memorabilia reminiscent of restaurant nostalgia,
he recalls his life and times as well as the present,
which includes a well-balanced portion of industry and
"I like junk," he says, defining the décor that is
nevertheless neat as a pin, down to the International
Harvester replica tractors and the antique cream
separator in one corner that was once his family's
bread and butter. They sold the cream at a cream shop
in Trezevant from which cream was shipped by railcar
and sold eggs as well, putting chickens in the freezer
and raising their own pork.
On the walls, along with bygone political signs from
both parties ("I don't fool with politics," he says)
and a banner proclaiming, "Ruby Falls - See Rock
City", among other signs and posters, is a
Tennessee-shaped license plate from 1948, the year he
"I'm just an old country boy, I like stuff like that,"
Born in the Milan hospital on December 2, he was
raised on a farm just west of Trezevant, one of two
sons born to James and Flossy Brockman. His brother,
James Coy, 11 years Frankie's senior, still lives on
the family farm in Trezevant.
Frankie recalls emotionally the day Coy came into his
hospital room at Robertson's Clinic in Trezevant
(which later moved to McKenzie) with a get well gift
of the cast metal replica tractor that remains among
his treasures. At the age of 11, Frankie was having
his tonsils removed, a traumatic event softened by his
brother's sweet gesture. Conversely, he never let Dr.
Robertson live down the fact that he had plied him
before surgery with the promise of copious amounts of
ice cream upon his awakening from the procedure.
"Years after that I'd say, 'Doc, I ought to whup you
yet,'" laughs Frankie. "He knew I wouldn't want ice
Asked if he enjoyed school, he replies, leaning out of
his chair with an emphatic shake of his head, "No sir,
I didn't enjoy the first day and I didn't enjoy
graduation but I went through all the way."
Used to spending his days in the company of his father
as he worked on the farm, Frankie rebelled at the idea
of forced confinement in Trezevant's school. He
surveyed the doorways leading to the exit and
determined to sneak out when his teacher wasn't
looking. His plan was to cross the street to the Henry
I. Siegel factory, where he knew his mother was
working, and tell her he was going home.
"By noon I was done trying to get out the north end of
school," he relates, drawing his escape plan on the
palm of his hand. I came out the back door (of the
classroom, before reaching the exterior door) and
that's where I made my mistake."
As his teacher tried to convince him to stay,
classmate Joyce Walker, who lived down the road from
him said, "Well Frankie, I'm going to stay all day,
just stay." And he did.
"I wanted to play and ride them tractors, I wanted to
be with Dad," he says. "Now I look back and it was the
best time of my life, going to school with friends and
all. And I look forward to our reunions and seeing old
classmates. Every once in awhile I get the annuals
out, look at everyone in there and reminisce."
Living on a farm, Frankie's chores included the hard
work of picking cotton, hauling hay, and working in
Cotton pickers earned $2.50 to $3.00 per hundred
pounds and a good picker could bring in 100 to 150
pounds a day, Frankie says, recalling complaints about
his aching back that brought comments from his elders
that, "Awww, you don't know what a back is. Wait 'til
you get my age and have to bend over in the cotton
patch and drag a sack."
He saved his hard earned money and bought his first
car when he was 14 years old, a 1956 blue and white
"I laid six hundred-dollar bills down," he says in
pleased memory. "My family tried to teach me to save
and not borrow nothing and I'm still that way."
He looks back on the end of an era when, in the early
'60s, Johnny (Vernon) Rimmer brought in the cotton
picker that replaced hand picking on the farm: "I was
tickled to death when that cotton picker rolled in. I
was tickled, don't let nobody fool you," Frankie
declares. "That was so much better than that nine-foot
But he had the foresight to save his last cotton sack,
now tucked away for safe keeping.
In retrospect, Frankie says, "I enjoyed it. Now that I
look back on it, it wasn't no work to us and that's
the way I am now; I get up early, I like to stay busy
Upon graduation from high school in 1967, he turned
down his father's offer to help put him through
college and went to work at Milan Corey Foam for a
time before working at Gaines Furniture Company in
McKenzie for two years. About fall of 1969, however,
Frankie's father, who was a carpenter as well as a
farmer, fell into hard luck when his partner took ill
and had to abandon the half-done brickwork on a house
the two were constructing in Paris.
In former years Frankie had also spent time in the
afternoon and Saturdays painting and doing odd jobs in
his father's business.
"We decided maybe I needed to go to work with him and
help finish the brick," Frankie tells, "So Dad and I
started working together again and kept on up 'til
1984 or '85. He died in 1989."
The two were the authors of several businesses located
on what was then the edge of the McKenzie business
district. They built the current Fred's Dollar Store
and what was William's Fabric Center next door as well
as Horner's Discount Drugs and now houses the diner
next door to Chinese Kitchen, often working for Junior
Blackburn. They built as well the Little General store
across town and houses in Moore's subdivision, among
Aside from local towns, Frankie says, "Daddy and I
worked from Milan and Humboldt to Stewart County on
the other side of the Tennessee River at Paris
"I've worked for many, many people and still work for
some of them," he says. "I'm considered one of the
older carpenters that still uses a hammer instead of
air guns; I do it the old time way."
He counts among his comrades of "old carpenters"
Dennis and Leon Beal, Harry Toombs, Billy Smith and
Some of his most recent work has been for the Sonic
and Papa's Pizza to Go restaurants. He's undertaken as
well various projects at Nickey Joe and Diane
Stafford's home on Shiloh Road where he has built a
boathouse and cabin, not to mention the outhouse that
was a joke for Nickey Joe's 60th birthday.
This year in January he added a covered bridge to the
property and in May a new, four-stall horse barn.
"Little Ellie wanted a pony," he explains, referring
to the Stafford's granddaughter. "I've done lots for
them and they've been super nice."
Frankie's own family includes two children: David, a
"computer whiz" who lives in Chattanooga, and daughter
Dana, a University of Tennessee at Martin graduate who
was recently hired at the new Department of Human
Services center in McKenzie.
"She was the first baby born in Carroll County in
1977," Frankie says proudly.
His "close friend" for the past eight or nine years is
Patsy Burrough, who works for Dr. Pagoaga in McKenzie.
"We're real good friends," he says. "We do things
together; we eat and go places or I help her work on
her house and she helps me mow yards."
The two met through Frankie's neighbors, Duell and
Mardell McDearman, Patsy's uncle and aunt, after she
moved here from Wichita, Kansas some nine years ago.
"I like to go to toy shows, farm equipment shows, gas
engine and antique tractor shows, get out and
sight-see," says Frankie, "I like to go the back roads
and see what's changed in my lifetime."
His favorite getaway is to the Chattanooga area; he
doesn't care for the "hills and hollers" of East
"I love Chattanooga," he says, "The first time I went
was in 1967 and I've enjoyed going ever since."
Where once, however, he tried to go east every year in
the fall to see the leaves change, he now makes the
trip to visit his son two or three times a year.
He recalls former days in his childhood when trips
were not so easily made and an excursion to Jackson
might be planned weeks in advance. There, in downtown
Jackson, he was enthralled by the big Woolworth's
store that sported a sign proclaiming, "Air
"There wasn't no air conditioning in Trezevant," he
Thinking back on the building of the Fred's Dollar
Store building as he mixed mortar and his dad laid the
blocks, Frankie says, "I hope it stands a hundred
years like some of the stores downtown.
"I was so lucky to get to work with Dad and be close
to my parents. I feel like I've put a mark in this
town; I hope I've touched some people."