Mr. Brisueno believed in city -- and showed it

February 09, 2003|By GREGORY KANE

THE KNOCK on the door came about 15 minutes before 10 on Tuesday night. I answered, and there stood Hannibal Brisueno.

Hannibal Brisueno was just one of the neighborhood teens when I moved to the 4900 block of Edgemere Ave. in 1986. He was grown now, with kids of his own, and had long since departed. His appearance at my door brought sad news.

"My father died about an hour ago," he said, knowing that I, and every soul on this block, would want to know.

Anibal Ayala Brisueno, retired Marine Corps master sergeant, community activist, anti-drug crusader and scold, and nemesis of every scofflaw and lowlife in our Pimlico neighborhood, died Tuesday. Readers are urged to get a copy of Friday's Sun and peruse Fred Rasmussen's superb obituary of Mr. Brisueno - as he was called by everybody in the neighborhood, even middle-age adults. Clip it out and save it. A man like this comes along only once in the proverbial blue moon.

Mr. Brisueno arrived on the block more than 20 years before I did, in a journey that took him from Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, to the Marines, with stops in Vietnam and Baltimore. He won several decorations during his tours in Vietnam, and his retirement found him fighting to preserve the dignity and sanctity of his neighborhood as ferociously as he fought Viet Cong guerrillas and North Vietnamese soldiers.

Not even a speeding car could put fear in Mr. Brisueno. My daughter remembers him seeing a car tearing up Edgemere Avenue. Mr. Brisueno stepped into the street, held up his hand and had the culprit slow down. This is a neighborhood you're driving in, not the Indy 500, Mr. Brisueno admonished the speeder.

I found that I knew Mr. Brisueno even before I met him. His daughter, Maria Brisueno-Burnett, and I worked at Sinai Hospital. Something about Brisueno-Burnett stood out right away, aside from the fact that she was drop-dead gorgeous. It was the elegance and poise she had, the confident and almost regal way she carried herself. It was after I met her dad that I said, "Ah, so that's where she gets it from."

The virtues of the father showed in the progeny. There was the teen-age Hannibal, working a stock clerk job at a nearby Giant store when other black males his age were kickin' it with the homeys on the corner. One day a group of kids were on my front porch, trying to convince me they knew how to play chess when it was obvious they had no clue.

One boy stood out. He said he knew how to play and then showed me he could.

"Who are you, kid?" I asked.

"Hannibal's son," he answered.

Yeah, he's a Brisueno, all right, I said to myself. The apples of Mr. Brisueno never fell far from the tree.

But Mr. Brisueno considered all neighborhood kids his responsibility. I got my closest insight into his noble character the day the two of us discussed my oldest grandson, one Kaine MacKenzie Cherry.

Kaine at the time was about five months' shy of his fourth birthday. He had been on a serious Star Wars kick since he was about 2 years old, when I sat him down, popped in the video and instructed him to watch and leave Granddad alone. His addiction had led him to going around the neighborhood telling folks, in all seriousness, that his name was Luke Skywalker. One of those so informed was Mr. Brisueno's wife, who told her husband.

We talked about the neighborhood kids and the drug dealing in the community.

"My concern," he said, "is about the safety of the children as the drug dealers try to take over the neighborhood." He pointed to the upper part of Edgemere Avenue, where the vacant houses that drug dealers used to stash their product proliferate. It was homeowners like Mr. Brisueno who dominated the lower part of Edgemere, who refused to surrender to the blight, the grime and the crime.

"Down here, I can protect Luke," Mr. Brisueno said, playing along with Kaine's fantasy. Pointing to the upper part of Edgemere, which runs into Garrison Avenue, and the drug corners where it intersects with Beaufort and Elmer avenues, he continued:

"I can't protect Luke if he goes up there."

He was talking about a kid who wasn't related to him at all, but here he was fretting about "Luke's" safety if he strayed too far from the protective cocoon of lower Edgemere. That was the essence, the life, the mission of Anibal Ayala Brisueno. He had his home-going celebration Friday, which was one day after this column was written. It would be fitting if someone said of him, in paraphrase, something similar to what was once said of slain civil rights giant Medgar Evers.

"Anibal Brisueno believed in his city. It now remains to see if his city believes in him."

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