Bottle Rocket Cousins

Special days with the Purvis boys

By Bill Fields

A couple of times a year there would be a letter or a phone call, and the countdown would begin. When the arrival was imminent, antsy with anticipation, I would scout our street for a well-waxed sedan turning into the driveway.

There were few things in childhood better than a visit from the Purvis boys.

Sidney, Bob and Phil were my cousins from Martin County, the sons of Uncle Whit and Aunt Blyn. Sid was closer in age to my mother, his aunt, than to me. Bob and Phil were contemporaries of my two older sisters, who for their many redeeming qualities never pored over box scores, fantasized about driving Richard Petty’s Plymouth in the Southern 500 or saved up for a Zebco 33.

My cousins, on the other hand, couldn’t get their fill of sports, cars and the outdoors. Plus, they liked to arm wrestle.

I didn’t lack boys on the block to play with — between the Hursts and the McNeills there were plenty — but the Purvises were kin and I didn’t get to see them often. The latter reality made their visits special, and it didn’t hurt that they never tired of hitting their little cousin fungoes or playing endless games of “21” on our backyard hoop. For a kid whose pyrotechnics were limited to lighting a sparkler or two on July Fourth, it seemed beyond daring to see my cousins set off firecrackers in tin cans or fire a bottle rocket.

Bob and Phil went to college in Tennessee, staying there to raise families and for long careers in state government. They would stop in the Sandhills on their long drive home to northeastern North Carolina, where they played ball against the Perry brothers, future major leaguers Jim and Gaylord. When UCLA and Houston played the basketball “Game of the Century” in the Astrodome in January 1968, the younger Purvises watched with Dad and me.

Once, when Phil was in town he went squirrel hunting. He brought me two of the tails, which I attached to my bike handles with electrical tape. I then proudly rode around the neighborhood until some neighbor dogs caught the scent and chased me to the curb.

Sometimes they would lodge at the Charlton Motel. Bob was floating in the deep end of the pool one summer weekend and dared me to jump in. I couldn’t swim yet but figured he would catch me. He didn’t, but scooped me up before I became a story for the next edition of The Pilot, and we laughed about the moment for a long time.

My cousins were push-up and sit-up strong. Phil, especially, was a heck of an athlete, becoming a martial arts black belt and playing on high-level softball teams for many years after he got out of college. We were visiting him outside Nashville and went out to eat at an Italian joint before one of his games. Most of the table enjoyed pizza. “I’m just going to get something light,” Phil said, ordering a sandwich. The grinder that arrived at the table remains the largest I’ve seen outside a sub catered for a Super Bowl party, and I can still hear the howls when the waitress came with Phil’s meal.

All three of them had their culinary favorites when they came to visit, whether a meat-and-three lunch at Blake’s Restaurant in Candor, a Dairy Queen chocolate shake, fish supper at Russell’s or fresh peaches from the Auman orchard.

Sid settled in eastern North Carolina, solving engineering problems for the telephone company. He had a passion for ham radio, and I remember being amazed at the amount of equipment that involved. He developed a love of aviation too, earning his pilot’s license. On a Sunday, Sid flew from New Bern to Southern Pines to go to church and have lunch with Mom. One of his prized cars was a yellow Corvette.

In retirement, his wife gave him a present of a day at the Richard Petty Driving Experience at Charlotte Motor Speedway. To hear him describe those speedy spins on a high-banked track, it was as exciting as those long, ago visits by the Purvis boys to our home.

Sid passed away in 2015 at age 77. His brothers survive, along with lots of good memories.  PS

Southern Pines native Bill Fields, who writes about golf and other things, moved north in 1986 but hasn’t lost his accent.

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