Chapter Two -
My Brother Herman and Sister Juanita

Herman & Jimmie Mae's children
Herman & Jimmie Maes's Children

My brother was Herman Henry Bowerman and my Sister was Juanita
Bowerman. We were stereotyped as "poor white trash" when we were young,
always living on what was termed as the "wrong side of the Tracks",
which used to mean the same side the Blacks lived on.

	Herman was born in Harriman, Tennessee in 1916 and was 6 years
older than me and 3 years older than my Sister. Herman had asthma from
the day he was born.

	As far as I know, Herman only had one White friend; the rest of
his friends were Black. We always lived in areas that were prejudiced
towards Black people. They were referred to as niggers, nigras, coons
and apes. Herman never understood that prejudice and preferred to be
with them. He saw no difference between Black and White other than he
felt more comfortable with Blacks.

	Our Mother always had twenty or more boarders, usually around
24. Herman lived with the boarders. Most were alcoholics and by the time
Herman was 11 years old he was also an alcoholic. He left home the first
time at 11, with a boarder named Perrin Pressley. They left on a freight
train. They got off the train somewhere around Chicago to bum something
to eat. When another train came through Perrin told Herman to grab a
ladder as the train went by and he would make sure Herman was okay and
get on the next car. Herman made it all right and looked back to see if
Perrin was okay. He did not see Perrin so he jumped off and walked back.
He found Perrin laying beside the track. One leg was cut almost off,
just dangling by a small piece of skin. Perrin told Herman to reach in
his pocket and get his knife and cut the leg off. Herman reached in the
pocket and it was full of thick blood. He could not do it. Perrin
reached in the pocket and got the knife, finished cutting the leg off
and picked it up and threw it in a ditch. He did get Herman to find a
stick and took his shirt off and made a tourniquet to stop the bleeding.
Herman found someone and told them about Perrin and an ambulance came
for him. The railroad paid for Perrin's medical expenses and a peg leg
but told Herman he would have to get home the best way he could. They
were trespassers and the railroad had no obligation to either of them.

	Herman called home and asked for money for bus fare and Daddy
sent it to him by Western Union. When Herman got home he said he would
never ride a freight train again. He left town on another freight train
two weeks later. He came and went as he pleased and nothing Mother and
Father could say to him made any difference.

	My Mother would drive or walk Herman to school and watch him go
in the door and still get reports he was absent. She found he was going
in the front door and dropping his books on the floor and going out the
back door. The principal decided to whip Herman one day and called him
in and locked the door and got his paddle. Herman took the paddle away
from him and whipped him. Herman said the principal was clawing in his
pocket for the key to the door. Herman was expelled. That was in the
eighth grade and Herman never went back.

	Herman was not a bad person. I could not have found a better
brother. He was always doing something for me. He built me a miniature
golf course so I could play "Putt Putt" golf in my own back yard. He
bought me a pair of shoes once when I had no shoes for several
months. All I had to do was mention I needed or wanted something.

	When Herman was sober he was scrupulously honest but when he was
drinking he would steal anything. We had been out of food for a week
once and Herman came in with a bag of groceries in each arm. My Mother
asked him what it was and he said he got a little job and bought some
groceries with his first pay check. He set the bags on the table and
Mother started unloading them. He had two bags of nothing but dog food.
He then admitted he had seen a lady putting them in her car and when she
went back inside he stole them. Mother started looking around and found
a black leather doctor's bag. She took it to the doctor in Southside and
asked him to try to find out who it belonged to and return it. It was

	When we were in Smackover once my Grandmother heard a truck and
then a lot of noise. She looked under the house the next morning and
there were 20 to 25 shovels under there. Herman had stolen a WPA truck
and put the shovels in the back of it under the house. All of them had
WPA burned into the handles. My Grandmother was so afraid he would be
arrested that she cut them up and threw them in the outdoor toilet. She
had three houses she rented out and when one was vacant Herman  would
steal everything in them and sell it, including the sink and wood stove.
Grandma would try to find out where he sold the stuff and buy it back if
she could.

	Herman was always getting hurt when he was drunk. He walked
across Jensen Drive in Houston, Texas and was hit by seven different
cars. It was easier to count the bones that were not broken than those
that were. Herman was in casts almost from head to foot and barely able
to move. In less than a week he walked out of the hospital when no one
was watching and went back to work. His boss did not want to let him
work but finally decided to put him on piece work. Herman made less than
a dollar the first day but in a week or so was making more than he had

	A bus driver spotted Herman laying by the side of the road in
Houston and picked him up and drove him to the hospital. He had been
stabbed and the doctor said he did not have enough blood left to fill a
fountain pen. He was given many pints of blood and he walked out of the
hospital without telling them he was leaving two days later. It
developed that his wife had stabbed him.

	Herman was very dark skinned and had coal black hair and never
weighed more than 145 pounds. He was very strong though and I have seen
him handle my Daddy when Daddy weighed around 250 pounds. Herman could
work around the clock and never take a break or slow down. He never had
a cold or a headache in his life. Asthma was the only affliction he had
and he never had it in Houston, only in Mississippi or Alabama.

	Herman went to sleep drunk in a hobo camp on a cold night, next
to a barrel full of burning cross ties. The barrel turned over during
the night and the cross ties fell across his chest. He suffered terrible
burns. Daddy found out about it and got him out of the hospital and put
him on a freight train to come to stay with my Mother and me. Daddy
bought him a new overcoat but when he got there he had on a nasty, dirty
jacket. I asked him about the overcoat and he said there was a poor old
colored boy on the train about to freeze and since the cold never
bothered him he just swapped with him.

	Herman and Jimmy Mae had five children and after he healed from
his burns we bought him some clothes and took him to the freight yard to
catch a train back to Houston. We knew if we bought him a ticket he
would cash it in and spend the money for whiskey or bay rum or anything
to drink. He blinded a passenger train (rode on the outside between the
cars) and left for New Orleans, on the way to Houston. After he left I
found a tablet he had been writing in and he had written over and over,
"My children are calling another man daddy." Herman fell off the train
in New Orleans and was run over by five trains before they found him.
Identification was made by his social security number tattooed on one
arm. My Mother was making a set of slip covers when the telegram came
from the coroner in New Orleans and I read it to her. My Mother was a
very unemotional person and she just said, "I'm not surprised." and kept
on sewing. His wife refused to come to the funeral and said she was glad
he was dead and hoped he went to hell. I would have thought she would
want him to go to a different location so she would never have to see
him again.

Juanita was born in Hope, Arkansas, three years after Herman was born and three years before I was born. She died from Leukemia in Montgomery, Alabama and part of me died with her. I loved Juanita so very much and she was such a wonderful sister and person. I cried at Juanita's funeral, the second time I cried in my life. The only other time I ever cried was when I learned that Charlie, a programmer at Anniston Army Depot, whom I had treated better than any of my four sons, had plotted behind my back and convinced my boss to oust me and give him my job. But that is another story, one much harder to write. I think maybe when your life is a succession of town after town, school after school, church after church, very short term friendships, an alcoholic parent, living in what people decide is the wrong side of all the towns, often hungry of body, always hungry of soul, seeking the answers to unknown questions, brothers and sisters are very close and seek comfort from one another. Herman was more like a second Father and Juanita and I clung to one another spiritually. If anyone had ever hurt my Sister I would have killed them without even thinking about it. She represented all that was good in life to me. I knew I was weak and subject to temptation but Juanita was the stalwart, the weak yet strong one. I still miss her so much. I have had less desire to live since Juanita died. When we were in high school Juanita had one more year to go to graduate. My Mother was making five dollars a week making slip covers for H L Kincaid. We rented a one room apartment from Mrs. Kincaid for $3.75 per week and the $1.25 per week left after paying rent was all we had. It became obvious that one of us had to quit school and try to get a job and I decided to quit. Juanita would have no part of that. She told me she planned to get married and her education was not as important and she was quitting and I was going to finish. Mother felt the same way and Juanita quit and went to work in a downtown department store. Juanita met Harry Simon Berman, Jr. and when Harry went in the Army in World War II Juanita went to Louisiana and they were married there. She stayed with Harry until he went overseas to the China, Burma, India theater of operations. If I had conducted a nation wide search and selected a husband for Juanita, it would have been Harry. Harry was the greatest guy I ever knew and he was more of a brother than a brother-in-law. I loved Harry Berman and when he died I cried for the third time in my life. I always knew that as long as Harry Berman was alive nothing really bad could happen to me as Harry would not allow it. Then suddenly Juanita died, a short time later Harry died and then a short time later my Mother died. Harry understood my inability to handle personal finances and told me he was going to put me in his will and if he had anything left I would get enough to pay my debts and he wanted me to stay current. He never got around to it but I know he intended to. He died unexpectedly after what should have been routine surgery. Wherever Juanita is now, the angels there have more cause to sing and I know she is happy and the angels there are happy. I miss my sister and the sadness will linger as long as I am here. The sadness is much greater because I realize I have not led the type life necessary to be able to join her. I am the weak one. I will be found lacking on the judgment day. I derive what satisfaction I can from the knowledge she and Harry will be there with my Mother. God bless them both.

Return to Fireclay Menu
To Chapter Three

Back to
Chapter One