It was my favorite kind of day: snowing heavily outside, a fire roaring away in the fireplace, a quiet evening - just sitting before the hearth and allowing my mind to be lulled by the beauty and awe of this the most beautiful time of year. And for some reason - I'm really not sure why--my thoughts drifted back to that period of my life when I must have been ten to twelve years of age.
There was a friend of mine then--actually more of an acquaintance of mine--whose name was Boonie. His real name, his full name was Burl Boone. Even then my friends and I knew that, somehow, Boonie was different. First of all he did not quite look right. In reality he was not "right." But Boonie could be seen all over town, any time of year, and any time of day riding his bicycle. Everyone knew Boonie's bike on sight. It might be seen leaning up against the YMCA building on Eighth Street or outside the Strand Theater on Market Street. And because of that, everyone always knew where Boonie was.
His father was a caretaker at our city park. He and Boonie lived together in a small frame house on the backside of the park. I was there once and Boonie introduced me to his father who was a much older man. White haired. Quick to smile. He was a good man, it was said; and he loved Boonie very much. He always took time to meet Boonie's friends. I don't believe that Boonie's mother was alive because I never saw her; Boonie never mentioned her and I never inquired.
In my twelfth year, I was a catcher for the Criss Concrete Little League team. That was a marvelous summer for me; and, I suppose the twelfth summer of every child's life is a meaningful and joyous time. It is the last summer of true childhood innocence before the explosion of adolescence and the teenage years. Boonie could be seen at all the Little League games standing behind the backstop screaming for a home run. I vaguely remember Boonie as being one of the older kids when I was six or eight years old. Now that I was twelve, he was my friend.
No one knew Boonie's real age but it was obvious that he was years beyond twelve. He was a short stocky guy with no neck. His head sat squarely on his shoulders. His lower jaw was muscular and protruded outward. His ears were somewhat large and stuck out like flaps from the sides of his head. His nose was flat and wide and his deep set eyes were shaded by a heavy glabella. All in all we all knew that Boonie more or less resembled a cave man. Almost neanderthal. He never went to school, as far as I know, but was always about town with two or three other kids from ten to twelve years of age.
In the late summer every year in Parkersburg, the Big Red High School Band would practice on the school's front campus. Everyone would come out to watch the band as it maneuvered up and down the huge campus. And there would be ol' Boonie with a toy drum major's baton goofing off in front of the band. As you might have guessed, Boonie caught his share of static from some of the older kids. They would tease him. Taunt him. Mock him. But--thank God--not too many of the kids were cruel to Boonie. Most kids felt kind of a protective and caring feeling for Boonie. For all of us, I'm sure, knew that Boonie held a deeper meaning for us at that age. I had heard the word "throw-back" when I was a kid and I wondered if that is what in reality Boonie was. A throw-back perhaps to a time early on in human evolution when the species carried his physical features.
By the time my friends and I had reached our teens, Boonie was gone. He had found a new set of friends. Those new kids who now held our old spot as the ten to twelve year olds. Boonie was comfortable with that age group. For teens began to think of cars and girls. And those things were beyond Boonie. As the youth of our town grew, Boonie passed through their lives for a year or two. He was the last friend we all made before the end of childhood. Somehow Boonie was true innocence. But he remained in touch with everyone for he could always be seen down at the YMCA. At the Little League games. In front of the band. And always with two or three other kids. He always spoke. Usually a nonchalantly raised hand and a "Hey!".
I do not know if Boonie is still alive for I never knew how old he was. As a kid I felt Boonie wouldn't live too long because he was so...different. I would hope, though, that if I am ever back in Parkersburg I would see him there. Riding his bike and yelling back and forth with two or three other kids - oh, probably ten or twelve years of age--zigzagging their way in and out of traffic. I am sure that if he saw me he would speak. Catching eyes for a split second. Then, gone. But a message would pass between us I'm sure. For Boonie must surely understand that he is not the same. That his is different. That he regardless of age is condemned to staying eleven or twelve. I always thought eternal youth was something to be desired! Yet, there was Boonie and somehow I know that deep inside he hurts.
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