James Brink Sr. was a very important person in the first two decades of my life. He passed away at age 92 on November 9, 2019. Thus, hang on folks- this is gonna be a long read.
Shortly after we moved into our home at 3324 Lexington Drive in Saginaw’s Sheridan park I was strolling down the sidewalk near our house and met a kid on a tricycle. It was the summer of 1964 and that little boy was named Jimmy Brink. He was about to start kindergarten and I was going into the second grade at Nelle Haley elementary school. We talked a bit, he turned around and rode home, went into his house and said to his dad, “There’s a new kid on the block, his name is Wes, he’s a Pollack… is it okay if I play with him?”
His dad, Jim Brink, laughed and said it was alright to go and play with the Pollack kid. Forever known to me as “Mr. Brink” that man would become a very important person in my growing up years. You see Jimmy and I soon became pretty much inseparable. People in our neighborhood knew that if they wanted to find Wes, they just looked for Jimmy and vice versa. Right up until I went away to college Jimmy and I were the best of friends- at one point we even dated sisters. Since Jimmy only had older sisters, I sort of became his brother and wherever the Brinks took Jimmy, I often was taken along. His dad became something of a second dad to me, because when Jimmy got into shit, so did I. Of course we never did any really “bad” stuff, just the basic boy’s stuff and Mr. Brink had to deal with us. Being a Saginaw police officer he knew well that there were far worse things than the little crap that we got into.
Once Jimmy, who was as fascinated with wildlife, fish and wild game as I was with things that fly, caught a large frog and had it in a paper cup. His mom wouldn’t let him bring it into the house, so he left it on the front porch and I kidnapped it- leaving a ransom note made of words cut out of Newsweek magazine. When Mr. Brink came home for lunch, Jimmy showed him the note and accused me as the culprit. Mr. Brink, in his police officer’s uniform came knocking at my door. My mom, not yet knowing who he was answered the door and was astonished when the cop asked for her seven-year-old son. He hand cuffed me, (the cuffs kept falling off of my scrawny wrists) and marched me over to their house where he cuffed me to the lamp post in the front yard and shot me with a squirt gun until I told him where the frog was.
He taught me many other life-lessons, some far more serious. His first was respect for his service revolver- NEVER touch it unless he handed it to me. Jimmy and I both learned how to fire both that and some of the other guns that his dad owned. When his ammunition got old he’d take us down by the Cass River and we’d shoot plastic bottles and stuff. Thus, his guns were not sexy, or forbidden, or glamorous they were simply his work tools. Eventually we got our own guns and we treated them with the same degree of common sense. From the time I was 16 I had a loaded .22 semi-auto rifle in my closet, just like Jimmy’s. He and I would take those up to their cottage at Windover Lake and shoot them out in the woods. We never considered ever firing or even aiming any of our guns at another person. That’s not what you did with guns- thus we were taught.
Some of the more important lessons that I would learn from Mr. Brink were the unwritten rules of law enforcement. Rule number one: People are stupid. Rule number two: Remember you’re a people too- thus you may do something stupid. A later rule was that there are some people who get up in the morning, look in the mirror and say, “Today I’m goin’ to jail.” So, when you put them there, you’re just making their fondest wish come true. In later years while I was working my way through college by busting shoplifters, I remembered that rule… all 372 times that I put someone in jail.
He showed Jimmy and I that it was way more fun to be on the right side of the law than on the wrong side. A good example of that took place on a summer day in the early 70s. One afternoon Jimmy called me said that his dad wanted me to come over and to bring my baseball mitt with me. Okay. Whenever Mr. Brink asked for something odd like that we just did it. I showed up at their house and in the living room was Detective Sergeant Brink and another detective. The other guy asked Jimmy and I if we knew what a marijuana leaf looked like? We said “yeah” because the Saginaw PD had come to our school and showed us in a demonstration. He told us that such was great and they had a problem that we could solve. There was a guy in Sheridan Park who was growing pot in his back yard like it was tomatoes. The neighbors were calling in complaints, but none were willing to sign a complaint- they didn’t wanna get involved. So, it just so happened that Jimmy and I were walking up the street, innocently tossing a baseball in a friendly game of catch until we got to the guy’s house and then… whoops, I tossed that darned ball right over the fence! Oh darn. Jimmy went over the fence effortlessly (keep in mind that we guys who grew up in Sheridan Park jumped every fence routinely, so this stockade fence was no problem). About 30 seconds later he came back over in a hustle. “Let’s get otta here!” he murmured. He hadn’t gotten a leaf… he had uprooted a whole plant! Holding it in his folded ball mitt, it was too long to fit completely into the glove. So, he kept shoving one end back in and the other end would come back out as we walked back toward his house. Just as we turned the corner, one of the neighbors, who was a deputy sheriff, cruised by on his way home. First we puckered and then we snickered at the fact that here we were carrying a whole pot plant in Jimmy’s ball glove and law enforcement drove right past us. Now being good citizens who just stumbled upon a huge pot grove, we decided to, of course, take it back and turn it over to his dad… who just happened to be a police officer… at home… with a narcotics officer. What a coincidence. Mr. Brink and the narcotics detective snickered too- not only at the fact that the sheriff had passed us, but mostly at the fact that Jimmy got a whole plant. What he didn’t get was his baseball. He just nabbed the plant and went back over the fence. Later that day the house was raided and that evening Mr. Brink came home from work and tossed Jimmy the baseball. It was recovered during the raid.
In another event Mr. Brink showed a fine example of cool. We were on Windover Lake water skiing and always the mischief-maker Mr. Brink spotted two pretty blonds who had just come out to sun on a nearby dock. Jimmy and I were just trading turns and as Jimmy got into the water his dad suggested that it might be fun to zoom in close and “Give ‘em a splash.” Off we went- Jimmy dropped one ski, zoomed in close and splashed the girls. They squealed and Jimmy made several more passes. Then it was my turn. I was still trying to do the one ski thing so I made a single pass with a lesser splash then dropped a ski and thus proceeded to spread myself across the surface of the lake in a spectacular crash. The boat recovered my ski and putted by so Jimmy could have the girls ask their folks’ permission to ride in the boat. A few minutes later the two blonds were in the boat and I was up on the skis again. I wrecked two or three more times trying to do the one-ski thing and provided sick comic relief. Finally the boat came along side and Jimmy said I was done for the day… my nose was bleeding. Apparently the last crash was harder than the rest. Climbing back aboard I met the oldest of the two sisters, Debbie. We were together from then until I went to college two years later. As Mr. Brink pulled the boat back to our dock an enraged neighbor came stomping down the hill. He was shouting out how reckless we were running the boat. When the angry idiot stopped to take a breath Mr. Brink just calmly said, “If you don’t like it, why don’t you call the sheriff.” Unable to contain himself the enraged oaf held up his chin and shouted, “I’m with the sheriff’s department!” With the utmost cool of moves Mr. Bring simply said, “You’re with the sheriff’s department? Let’s see your badge.” Not expecting that retort the dude stammered, “I… I… left it at home.” Mr. Brink then reached into his bathing suit pocket and pulled out his badge. Displaying it he said, “Well, I’m with the police department and in the state of Michigan all law enforcement officers are required to carry their badges on their person at all times. So, either you’re in violation of that policy or you’re impersonating a police officer, which is a crime. So I’d say you need to go back home and find your badge.” The enraged neighbor deflated and trudged back up the hill never to be seen again for the rest of the summer. Mr. Brink turned to us kids and said, “I think we’d better take it easy from now on.” That sort of cool-headed thinking in the face of an enraged person is a quality I have since always tried to hold in my own life. It works.
When I was in the 9th grade at Webber Jr. High school, Mr. Brink helped keep me from taking a very embarrassing ass kicking. I’d gotten a new girlfriend as the school year began. The only problem was that this sweet little auburn-haired 8th grader came with a string attached. It was a snot-nosed little 7th grade pipsqueak boy who had decided that somehow I’d stolen his girl. She’d made it clear that such was not the case, but still the little runt blamed me. Now, knowing full well that I’d shove a street hockey stick up his butt, he was not about to take me on himself. Instead he set his Neanderthal 8th grade half-sister upon me. She was a monster who could easily have pounded me into a pulp. Plus, I was raised that you never hit a female… even if she is a Neanderthal. My only choice was to let myself get beaten into a heap in the hallway at Webber. How embarrassing. After an increasing series of threats of my impending doom I sat down and talked to Mr. Brink… what am I gonna do? He was a detective in the juvenile division then and asked what the Neanderthal’s name was? When I told him he just nodded and smirked. “You know her?” I asked. “Oh yes,” He said. As it happened, the following day my family was leaving for a two week vacation in Florida. Mr. Brink told me to just go and enjoy myself and not to worry. I did as he advised and when I got back to school, the Neanderthal was gone! The rumor around school was that she’d been busted for drugs. Mr. Brink later told me that she’d been arrested on possession with intent to distribute, he also told me that I would not have to worry about her anymore.
On a very serious note, Mr. Brink saved all of us on the block from a notorious child molester. On the day that Bob Hughes moved in across the street from my house Mr. Brink called the five of us who hung out together in for a meeting. He told us in VERY serious terms that Bob Hughes was a child molester and a convicted felon and to never be coaxed into his house or find yourself alone with him. We were ordered to stay away from him and if Hughes made any advanced toward one of us we were to immediately go to Mr. Brink and report it. His level of seriousness scared the crap out of us and we indeed stayed away. Three years later I testified at the murder trial of Hughes’ wife and daughter wherein his homosexual lover was convicted on both counts. Since I was the last prosecution witness to be called, my mom sat in the courtroom through much of the trial while I waited outside. It came out in the hearing that Hughes had systematically molested a number of young boys in our neighborhood, then gave them model ship kits to buy their silence. A number of mothers were shocked to recall that their sons had come home with those models. Some of the few who were spared were the five of us in my gang of friends whom Mr. Brink had warned. By the way, don’t take my word for what a low life Hughes was- it’s all in the court records. He’s dead now- and burning in hell.
Mr. Brink was one of the very few people who had traits that I wanted to add to my own as I grew up. He never lost his temper at me and he never ridiculed me in spite of all of the shit that Jimmy and I got into as kids. One of the last times that I saw him was when he was doing arena security for the Saginaw PD at the Civic Center during a Gears game. I had a brand new camera and found him standing at the stop of a stairway watching the game. I focused on him and then said loudly, “Mr. Brink!” He turned around and I snapped his picture that is attached with this tale. I spoke to him on the phone back in March of 2009 after an old friend of Jimmy and I had passed away. I had to get Jimmy’s phone number so I could inform him. Mr. Brink and I had a long chat and caught up on many years.
This world is a lesser place with the passing of Mr. Brink. He was one of the very few truly good guys.