My younger brother
Below are some of Uncle Bob’s recollections about his younger brother, Zach Davis Cox, Sr.
When we were small boys living in Calypso, Zach and I shared a double bed. When we moved to a larger house in Mt. Olive, we still shared a room, but now we had twin beds across the room from each other. As bed-mates and roommates Zach and I got along fine. But when we moved to Mt. Olive in the spring of 1930, I as a worldly thirteen year-old had no use for a tag-a-long eleven year-old younger brother. At those ages, two years represents an awful lot of development, so I easily had an advantage over him in the wrastling (no hitting allowed) matches in which all young boys engage. However, I started to notice that the older we got, the less advantage the two-year age differential gave me. Apparently, Zach started to notice this too because one day when he felt like he could finally take my measure, I barely managed to beat him. This was more than Zach, always known for his temper, could stand. As soon as I let him up, he immediately got an axe and came after me. Fortunately, my two-year age advantage still gave me an edge in speed, so I was able to outrun him. But I learned a valuable lesson - baby brothers can be pushed just so far. I never wrastled Zach again, not because I was afraid he might win, but because I was afraid that I might win.
Humble pie never tastes good, but sometimes you need to take a bite
One of the chief differences between Zach and me was that while Zach had excellent eyesight, I had such poor eyesight that I couldn’t get into any branch of the military during World War II.
Once, before the War and after Zach finished his officer’s candidate school in Quantico, VA, Zach and two of his Marine buddies came up from Camp Lejeune to Mt. Olive for a weekend visit. Zach and his two friends were all freshly minted second lieutenants and like every new second lieutenant in the entire world, they were just as proud as peacocks. By happenstance, I was also home that weekend from my teaching job in Winston-Salem. At one point during the weekend, a suggestion was made to engage in a little target shooting in the backyard with my father’s, R. L. Cox, Sr., .32 caliber Smith and Weston revolver.
The three magnificent Marine lieutenants let me, a school teacher with thick glasses, tag along just for fun. A target was set up and I, thick glasses and all, out shot all three of the lieutenants. Zach has told me that from that point on, he always made sure that he carried a rifle when in combat.
Zach has also told me how the other two lieutenants were classmates of his at Quantico. Quantico is within an afternoon’s drive of dozens of civil war battles. Zach tells how he and his friends at Quantico would drive out to these battlefields every Sunday afternoon. They would walk the grounds and sagely comment on how it was here that General Lee or General Grant or some other Civil War luminary had made some monumental error. Then, despite having never heard a shot fired in anger, but backed up with all the wisdom they had accumulated during their long weeks at Quantico, they would offer up what these immortal generals of the Civil War should have done. Zach tells me that more than once during World War II, the memories of his Sunday afternoon critiques of these great generals flashed back to him as he was desperately searching for even the smallest clue as to what was happening around him.
Klu Klux Klan
As mentioned in the previous story, my father, R. L. Cox, Sr., owned a .32 caliber Smith and Weston revolver. One day when I was still a boy, I was rummaging around my parents bedroom for reasons I can’t recall now. While engaged in this activity, I noticed something under my father’s pillow. It was the Smith and Weston revolver. Years later, I asked my father why he kept a pistol under his pillow and he told me the following story.
During the 1920's the Klu Klux Klan had a revival in America posing itself as a civic organization concerned with the betterment of the nation. Thinking that the Klan was little different from the Rotary or Lions Clubs, my father thought it might be good for business to join. And join he did. However, at the first meeting, the Klan showed its true colors. Its only interest was in promoting and perpetuating discrimination and violence against Blacks, Jews, and Catholics. Learning of its true agenda, my father told them at the end of that first meeting that he was resigning. He was then told he couldn’t resign. My father replied, “I can and I am.” Threats followed. My father then purchased the S&W pistol for protection and kept it under his pillow.
My wife, Gerie, tells me that her father slept with a pistol under his pillow all his adult life, so I guess this wasn’t as shocking of a practice as it might seem today.
Sometime before we moved to Mt. Olive in 1930, the Klan staged a publicized march through downtown Mt. Olive in full regalia, complete with bed sheets, hoods, and masks. As we watched, my father was easily able to identify at least half the marchers from their size, shoes, or manner of walk. Dad always enjoyed telling this story, laughing all the while. Even Gerie remembers hearing it.
My workshop and Zach’s penthouse
One of the great advantages of our new home in Mt. Olive, to which we moved in 1930, was that it had a magnificently large two car garage for that day. On the west side of the garage was a long room which had the south end closed off as a cured ham storage room. (My father was always big on cured hams.) The rest of this long room was originally intended for and eventually became a storage room for my father’s garden supplies. But I prevailed upon my father to let me use it as a workshop. And use it I did. I messed around with everything, even building a one-tube radio on which I once picked up a radio station in London. Zach, being like every younger brother in the world, was always wanting to see what I was up to. I, being like every older brother in the world, didn’t want a younger brother underfoot and messing around with all my important stuff. I was adamant about not sharing my workshop with Zach.
Once Zach became convinced that he was never going to wheedle me into sharing my workshop, he noticed that there was a closed area above the workshop and under the garage roof. Inside the garage, he cut a hole into this previously closed off attic area and built a ladder up to the hole. Then he built a door for the hole and fixed it so he could lock it from the inside. Then he painted in large letters on the outside of his penthouse words like “Keep Out” and “Private.” He didn’t add “This means you, Bob,” but I got the message. Once when Zach wasn’t around, I climbed up the ladder and peeked inside, but saw nothing remarkable. So I was content to let Zach and I each have our private rooms.
Before Zach was married and just after he graduated from officers candidate school in Quantico, VA, he purchased, for less than $900, a brand new Chevrolet deluxe sedan in Washington, D.C. (This is the sedan that served Zach’s family so well for so many years and pulled his Reynolds “Ben Hur” trailer for so many miles.) A few months after graduation, Zach was assigned to duty at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. He couldn’t take his car to Cuba, so he left it with me. For a few months until Zach returned to the United States and got married, I had the use of an almost new car. At this time I was finishing up at degree in science education at UNC-Chapel Hill and was looking for a job. I used Zach’s car in the job hunt and ended up teaching math and science at Reynolds High School in Winston Salem, NC. I was there on December 7, 1941. Toward the end of the school year, I applied to the Glenn Martin Company, was accepted, and moved to Baltimore in May of 1942.
As befitted my red hair--an indication of my Scottish ancestry--I was much slower to purchase a car than Zach had been. In addition, by the time I got ready to buy, World War II had already started and cars were in short supply. I didn’t buy a car until 1944, when I was married and already had one child. Even then, I purchased a used 1936 Ford convertible that only had an add-on heater in the car. Because gasoline was rationed, I hardly every drove the car, saving my ration books for infrequent trips to Raleigh or Mt. Olive to visit our parents. Anti-freeze was also rationed (and costly), so I decided to just drain the water from the radiator when very cold weather was predicted. When I refilled the coolant system with water, I noticed a rather large leak from the add-on heater. I repaired that heater twice before I figured out that the lower part of the heater could not be drained from the radiator. Some years later I sold that car for $200.00
Born to be wild
As indicated in the previous story, I didn’t purchase my first car until 1944 when I was nearly twenty-seven years old. However, many years earlier I purchased a motorized means of transportation. In my mid-teens I purchased an Indian motorcycle for $5.00. Before you start to think that $5.00 really went a long ways back then, let me add that this “motorcycle” was in about a thousand different pieces sitting on the dirt floor of a barn. I think the owner sold it to me for $5.00 because it would have cost him $6.00 to hire a junk man to come and pick it up. But always one intrigued by a challenge, I collected the pieces and transported them back to my workshop at home. Fortunately, the Indian Company was still in business so I could order the pieces that were either broken or missing. Gradually I put it back together and when finished and, while not a thing of beauty and its two-cylinder “V” engine rumbled erratically, it was mine!
Unfortunately, by the time I got the Indian running I was only a few weeks from going off to college at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
I left my beloved Indian motorcycle at home with strict instructions for everyone, especially Zach, to leave it alone. The first time I came home from college, at Thanksgiving, I discovered that Zach had not left it alone and the engine was shot. But I wasn’t about to give up on my Indian. A friend of mine, Elwyn Troutman, helped me install a four-cylinder in-line Henderson engine that I had acquired. It was a tight squeeze, but Elwyn and I managed to fit the four cylinder engine where the two-cylinder engine previously resided. We only had to remove one support bar. I then had the thrill of riding the souped-up Indian only once before it was time to return to college. Having learned my lesson, this time I left my modified Indian with Elwyn. I never saw it again.
My fascination with motorcycles actually started years before. My parents subscribed to many magazines and newspapers and in one magazine there was an advertisement for Harley Davidson Motorcycles. This advertisement contained an address where you could write if you wanted a Harley delivered to your door for a demonstration and possible sale.
A few weeks later, two Harley salesmen from Raleigh, each on their own motorcycles, stopped in front of our house in Mt. Olive on a Friday afternoon, while on the way to the beach. They knocked on the front door and told my mother they wanted to speak with Robert L. Cox. When my mother explained that Robert L. Cox wasn’t home, they replied they had come in response to his request for a demonstration of a Harley Davidson Motorcycle. For just a moment my mother thought that this must be some mistake, and then with a look of realization coming across her face, she started calling, “Bob, Bob!” But I, along with Zach and every other boy in the neighborhood, were clustered around the two Harleys, gazing at them as if they were the most beautiful things in the world. My mother and the Harley salesmen came down to the street and I was made to apologize to the salesmen. Mother also made Zach apologize too because she was sure that Zach, if not a participant, had at least encouraged me. The salesmen said there was no need to apologize, this “sales call” had given them the perfect excuse to leave work early for a weekend trip to the beach and they had started planning the trip the day my request arrived.
Robert Leighton Cox, Jr.