I’m going to miss him

By Joe Rector

Today is May 23. I just received a telephone call to inform me that my cousin had passed. Right at this moment, I don’t feel much of anything. In fact, it’s hard to believe that the man is gone.

Charles (Charlie) Quinton Balch might have been the smartest person I’ve ever known. As a child, he drew pictures that were far more detailed than anything other young’uns created. He drew all sorts of cars and trucks. Some were standard vehicles, but some were developed in his mind and then came to life on paper. Those cars were sleek, futuristic autos that had a variety of gadgets, many of which became standard equipment on future vehicles.

He began his first job at Mercer’s TV Shop. The owner realized how intelligent Charlie was and knew that some male attention would do the boy good. His parents had tough times, and Charlie could escape some of the drama by spending Saturdays at the shop. He learned to fix televisions and radios. He put his skills to work by fixing sets and radios for friends and family.

My uncle asked Mother if Charlie could live with us for a time. Mother already had two boys in high school, but she said “yes,” and Charlie moved in for the next year. He fit in perfectly, just like another brother. He and I both were grounded for bad grades; neither of us had a girlfriend; and our lives were spent sitting at home with nothing to do since the television and stereo were both off limits during our terms of confinement.

Charlie and I spent weekends together after finally achieving freedom. We ran the roads between the Copper Kettle on Western Avenue and other drive-in restaurants in Knoxville. It was at that point that we also began drinking some beer. Charlie had taken classes in printing at Fulton before coming to our house, and he mastered the art of making fake driver’s licenses. We pooled money, although Charlie’s job gave him more than I had, and bought the suds that we drank. Most of the time, we went to a drive-in movie, and while the windows of other vehicles fogged from passionate necking, ours stayed down as we listened to the sound of empty beer cans clinking on the gravel.

After high school, Charlie and I went in different directions. I made my way to Cookeville for college, and he stayed in Knoxville and worked for a local printing company. It was during that time that I received a call one evening with news that Charlie had been in an accident. His car left the road and slammed through a wooden fence. Charlie lost an eye and suffered several fractures to his facial bones. He never let on to it, but I suspect that the wreck was the beginning of a downward spiral. He didn’t much care to associate with me when I was home, and his love of beer grew. I suppose he was an alcoholic, but I never once saw him incapacitated by his beer consumption.

In the last few years, I rarely heard from Charlie and saw him even less. I kept up with him via Facebook. After putting in some time at a marble quarry, he’d become the maintenance man for a site in Townsend. That place closed according to one of his posts, and he became a “jack-of-all-trades.” Customers loved him and found him to be one of the funniest people in their lives. The man had a knack for ingratiating himself to whomever he was associating.

Charlie Balch is gone. That harsh fact is difficult to accept, even though we haven’t been close in years. I know he could have been considered a brilliant person according to I.Q. and other assessment tests. The truth is that Charlie was a modern-day Henry David Thoreau. He chose to live a life of simplicity and freedom. He lived his life on his own terms as an adult. Perhaps he once again showed the rest of us just how smart he was. I wish Charlie would have had just a little more time to enjoy retirement and to settle into his old age. I’m going to miss him.