This Easter, the four-year-old Hamlet boy will follow his grandfather, Chalmers Lawrence Bruce III, to Pee Dee Baptist Church in the same Sunday outfit Bruce’s own grandfather bought for Chalmers 50 Easters ago.
Chalmers L. Bruce, Sr. gave Lawrence the suit back when he was Smith’s age — back when the term ‘Sunday best’ meant just what it says. After putting the suit away for 46 years, Lawrence’s mother, Ruby Bruce of Hamlet, found it and took it to her son and his wife Wanda.
According to Lawrence, the suit was just one of the ways his “Papa” helped raise him right.
“We spent a lot of time together,” said Lawrence. “Every two weeks he’d pick me up and go pay for me to get a hair cut; Or he’d take me to buy candy and we’d ride in his old Chevrolet truck.”
These days, it costs more for a grandfather and grandson to have that kind of day.
“I remember when you could get a Pepsi for 15 cents and a bag of skins for 10 cents. If you returned the bottle you got three cents back,” said Lawrence.
“Back then, a young’un could get a whole big bag of candy for a nickel. You can’t get anything for a nickel now.”
As it turns out, some nickels are worth holding on to. The suit didn’t fit their grandson, then only three years old, when Lawrence and Wanda first had him try it on - but he was still growing and they knew it wouldn’t be long.
One day, Lawrence was showing the heirloom to his daughter and her husband when he reached in the pocket - and pulled out a nickel from 1947.
“He thinks he probably forgot to put it in (the collection plate) at Sunday school,” said Wanda. “Lawrence will put a nickel in the plate (at church this Sunday) since he found on in the coat pocket; he feels it should have been placed in the plate 50 years ago.
“I’m sure glad the Lord didn’t charge him interest!” she laughed.
When Lawrence was eight years old, the man who taught him the importance of a good suit, then 52 years old, died of a heart attack. But not before instilling in his grandson the same kind of family values that Lawrence himself hopes to pass down.
“I learned that you work for what you get out of life,” said Lawrence. “And you take a young’un to church.”
After surviving two heart attacks himself at that same age - 52 - Lawrence said he feels that God has blessed him with his life.
“He hopes all of his grandkids will have special memories with him,” said Wanda.
Her smile turned to tears of joy as she described how through death, divorce and remarriage she and Lawrence have a total of five children and 11 grandchildren between them.
The boy who will wear Lawrence’s old suit this Sunday may not his biological grandson, but he is his grandson. According to Wanda, that’s just the way it has always been.
“When I met Lawrence, I knew he would understand that my kids mean a lot to me,” she said. “I went through a divorced home, and I knew how hard it was for them. And his kids had to share their Daddy.”
Lawrence hopes to one day share the suit with his other grandson, 2-year-old Trent “Butterbean” Mabe; He just has to grow from the small size that earned him that nickname. He has to get about Smith’s size, about the size their grandfather once was.
On the label inside Smith’s jacket, directly underneath the Esskay brand name, a finely embroidered slogan reads “Clothing for a Lads, to Look Like Dad’s.” It looks like they really meant that. And 50 years, five children and 11 grandchildren later, Lawrence Bruce would probably be willing to bet you a 1947 nickel that it’s still true.