This week we have another entry from The Mt. Juliet Homecoming book which is printed in accordance with the event each fall. This story is titled “The Mechanics of Z.I. Brewer.” It was written by Iva Nell Smith as told by the Brewer family.
Born in 1925 to a farmer and painter, Z.I. Brewer was no stranger to hard work and honesty. They were qualities he inherited from his parents.World War II was in progress, so at 17-years-old he went into the Navy, thinking he would be chosen as a mechanic. He had to try out for typing. He was the fastest, even though he had never had a lesson and he was stationed in an office in Australia.
He came home and met Effie Poindexter, an all Nashville basketball star. They were married in 1946 while in their early 20s. Z.I. worked for DuPont and other jobs and then turned to mechanics. Macon Castleman taught him, with opera music in the background. He thought highly of Macon. He was his instructor, his friend and mentor.
Eventually, Z.I. and Effie, became the proud owners of their own garage, located on Lebanon Road. They lived in a house nearby.
They were blessed with two sons, Tommy and Mark. Tommy was born in January, so Z.I. called him January. When Mark came along, he became known as Number Two.
The garage opened for business at sunrise and closed when the customers stopped coming for the night. Long work hours were what pop thrived on, and taught his sons.
The boys worked in the shop at an early age. Before Mark was old enough to work, he went with Mom to Lebanon to buy supplies needed in the shop. They sometimes went three or four times a day. Sometimes Mom helped out in the shop also.
Z.I. sang instructions to the boys with an opera sound. They answered in the same way. He always said, “If you can’t sing good, sing loud.” And “It’s better to sing than cry.”
At the age of nine, Tommy started taking engines apart, cleaning and putting them back together. Sometimes, Pop knew he was making a mistake while putting the engine back together. He let him finish the job and then showed him his mistake. He then put it together correctly. He learned well by his method. At age of 13, Tommy did his first valve job with Pop checking it out and finding a nice job. Tommy said, “I always thought garage work was neat. I felt a sense of accomplishment when I completed a job and knew it was good work.” Tommy used his father’s techniques in the classroom at Mt. Juliet High School where he taught agriculture mechanics for 21 years. He said, “I also let my students take engines apart, clean and put them back together. I let them go ahead and make mistakes then show them so they can do it correctly. I love my work.” He seldom misses a day of work. In fact, he has 217 days of sick leave due to him. He also does mechanical work at home.
Mark lacked much of the enthusiasm his brother had for cars. He said he inherited the sweeping job and kept it until he graduated from school. Often, when the others were busy, he slipped off home, after a few minutes he would tell Mom, “Guess I’d better get back before they miss me.”
In 1976 Mark entered the field of nursing. His first job was at Donelson Hospital. He said, When I first went to work there, my schedule was Monday through Friday. I went into work on Saturday because I thought a person was supposed to work six days a week. “An assistant director said, ‘Why do you come in on Saturday?’ I innocently replied, ‘I thought I was supposed to.’” Mark, now an R.N., works in the operating room at St. Thomas Hospital. After awhile in nursing, Mark thought, “There’s got to be something else, too.” He also became a builder of houses. Now he has been involved in two demanding jobs for 11 years. Recently Mark had surgery but looked forward to going back to work, even with sick days remaining. He is a great imitator of animal sounds. Sounds he learned from Pop. He goes about his job singing and imitating animals, even in the operating room. He said, “Sometimes different sounds help the patient to wake up.” He does bird calls or whatever comes to mind. He is known at the hospital for these imitations as well as his excellent work.
Like their father, Mark and Tommy thrive on long hours of hard work and love it. Z.I. had a little .22 pistol. He was an excellent shot with it. Occasionally he fired a few rounds into a big overhead beam. Mark said, “I never knew why he did this. Maybe it was to get their attention. The first time people fell to the floor and took cover. He never discarded anything.”
Z.I. received his G.E.D. in later years. He said, “It took them that long to find books smart enough for me.” He sometimes gave boys graduation gifts of due bills for gasoline, writing on a scrap of brown paper bag.
Sunday morning found the family in Cloyd’s Cumberland Presbyterian Church, which they still attend. Effie said, “He went about work in ways to make it a fun thing.” “The boys didn’t tell him when they would be off from school. He always seemed to know it.” Tommy said, “He always took in extra jobs for those days.” Effie continued, “I don’t know of anyone who didn’t like him. Kids just love him.”