ALL ABOARD: The James brothers revisited: A bank full of laughs

Excuse me if it seems like I am shaking, but I am.

I’m not nervous. Just excited.

After waiting over 30 years, I finally did it.

I finally took the time. I finally sacrificed that precious commodity called procrastination and picked up the phone to call my old friend.

James Allen Brooks, now 85 years young, still living in the same house on Gallatin Street in Liberty, Mo., site of the first daytime bank robbery by the James Boys.

Coincidentally, I am also named James and allegedly distantly related to those cowboy criminals of yesteryear.

Aren’t we all?

Today James works in the same bank that his daddy Gene worked in when I worked with James in the ’60s.

Back when we were the James Boys.

Back when we would try to convince our cohorts Gus, Gail and Skeeter that we were actually brothers.

What difference did it make if James 1 was black and James 2 was white?

The joke to James was my last name.

“Ace” he used to call me; “Ace, if you weren’t so rich and white I’d want to have your baby.”

I never told that one to my parents.

Just like in the Marines, you have to be tough to work in a furniture store.

Particularly one that is the exclusive dealer of Ethan Allen Fine Furnishings, or at least they seemed fine to us.

I know James and I never found any empty bottles of sacramental altar wine while unloading Ethan Allen double dressers like we did unpacking some of those Lane cedar chests.

Sarcasm was the language, and the best use thereof the survival mode at George Bedinger’s Liberty House.

Gus was from Amsterdam. He was the guy with the cool accent that made our furniture dings look like old-world craftsmanship.

Gail was a combination Dom DeLuise/Rush Limbaugh who, when he wasn’t talking about fishing, was talking about hunting.

What else would you talk about with three daughters and a wife who never stopped jawing?

James was the religious family man, the funny man, the black man.

I just got off the phone after talking to James.

I’m still laughing. I’m still shaking.

“James, how are you doing?”

“Ace, I’m fit as a fiddle, but not tight as a drum. Watch out baby, here I come.”

We laughed and laughed. James told stories while I listened attentively, taking notes as fast as he talked.

It was like being back in law school, only this was fun.

“Ace, I swear Ace, if I was there right now, I don’t care, I’d hug you and kiss you. I don’t care if you’re rich and white.”

And then James laughed his laugh, the same laugh that made me laugh over 40 years ago.

And still does.

Thank you, James.

And as you taught me, James, it’s because of friends like you that we are rich, not because of that bank we never robbed.

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