TARBORO — An apartment fire days before the Christmas of 1979 left three children with third-degree burns and forever changed the way that Princeville native Milton Bullock and former member of the famed Platters, celebrates the holiday season. Bullock, 73, shared his story during an in-depth interview with The Daily Southerner.
"I was living in Newport News (Va.) at that time. Like everybody else, we were preparing for Christmas which was always delightful in the Bullock household. I can't recall anything special about that Christmas except getting the news that three children were severely burned in a fire. I was told that the mother was a drug addict who left her children home alone. The children found some matches — well you know what happened after that.
"They were babies. They didn't deserve that. What made it worse is that it happened days before Christmas. We're talking about children ages from 3 years old to 8 years old who were should have been getting ready to celebrate the most festive time of the year. But instead, they would spend time in a hospital with third degree burns.
"The minute that I got the news, it bothered me. I wanted to do something to help. So, I went around the neighborhood to collect goods for the children. That was hard in the beginning. What I found was the community had turned against the mother. They didn't want to help. I told them this wasn't the time for that. Those babies needed help. After pleading and begging, I was able to convince enough people that it wasn't about the mother, it was the children who we were trying to help. I picked up some clothes here and some toys there. Pretty soon I had well over enough for the children to enjoy the best Christmas that they could under the circumstances.
"By that time, news had spread all over the state about what I was doing. A group of white women from the Naval Officers Retirement Wives club got wind of it and they contacted with me. They too wanted to help. Of course I was ecstatic that an organization such as the esteem Naval Retirement Association women wanted to help little old me. I got in contact with one of the leaders and they gave me the instructions to pick up the items.
"After she reeled off all the goods that they were donating, I quickly realized that I had too much stuff. What was I going to do with all of it?, I asked myself. Then it hit me. There was a family with eight children nearby who actually lived in a bus. There father had fixed a stove and ran a pipe outside the bus. I really felt sorry for them. So I told the Naval Retirement Association leader that I would accept the toys.
"I was just as excited as I was on Christmas day as a child. My next thought was, "How would I get the toys from point A to point B?" Well, my dad had and old pickup truck but he was very peculiar about it. I knew it was going to be hard for me to get that truck from him. I beg and I plead but the answer stayed the same. "No." Then my mom intervened and told him to allow me to use it. He did with one condition, that he would tag along with me. That didn't bother me. It was a win win situation for everybody.
"We had the usual father and son talk as we traveled about 10 miles to pick up the toys. We also talked about the children who were burned and the family who lived in a bus. Daddy ears seemed to perk up more so when I talked about the family who lived in the bus compared to the children who were burned.
"After loading up the truck, our first stop would be at the bus family. They lived down a long dirt path. It was snowing. When we reached the bus, the man was standing outside. We told him why we were there and then walked over to the truck and uncovered the toys and clothes.
The man started crying, my dad started crying and I fought back tears. It seems like the snow began to fall a little heavier. To me that was a message from the Big Guy in the sky that let me know, my works were pleasing to his sight. That was one of the most memorable Christmases that I ever had.
"From that I started an organization, "Do It For The Kids." It is still in operation today.
"On that note, I hope that everybody instead of celebrating the season, let's remember to celebrate the reason. Merry Christmas to all.