Saturday, September 5, 2009

The Older Boys of Summer

Every year here lately, when the shades start getting pulled on summer and a school bell rings, I wonder where they all are.

We spent the summers young. We weren't really a band of brothers. Just a band of boys. I think most of them are still in Carolina. I might have been the only one who moved more than a state away.

Hard intelligence is not easy to come by from my small town. The friends I was a boy with aren't so much moving targets as they are stealthy ones. They always were low-profile types.

Michael had the most formal name of us all. He was also the smartest, by a country mile. He won the school spelling bee — smoking yours truly — and he studied even though he didn't have to. But he was a loner, something that's hard to be in a small town like mine. I'm sad that he was. He's the only one of the boys who's now dead. Suicide. I'm not sure we knew what suicide was back in those special summertimes.

The last time I saw him, Glenn was working at Gaddy's Texaco. We talked about the Southeastern Conference and the ACC and school days and the price of premium unleaded. Same ol' Glenn. Smart as a whip. Red hair and freckles, all the way into adulthood. Once during lunch he bent my little finger back so far I screamed and everyone in the cafeteria got quiet. I miss Glenn.

Boyd was running a Burger King in Aynor, but that was years ago. I once completed a slant pass to him against the Mullins Baby Auctioneers, a moment in time that perfectly captures how one man's treasure is another man's trash. I celebrated a rare completed pass, he was tackled immediately and missed the rest of the season with a knee that looked like it was pregnant. I miss Boyd.

Jay Calhoun was the best pool player I'd ever seen and was, for most stretches of time, my best friend and a natural shortstop, smooth as creek water over rocks. One Fourth of July he had a firecracker explode in his hand, so his mom put butter on it, told him not to pop any more firecrackers, and he didn't. Not with that hand. He just used his other one. He substitute teaches some, they tell me, and still shoots pool. Once he was in the newspaper for his pool shooting, and on television too. I miss him.

Bobby Stubbs' daddy was a hog farmer, and once it was our job to help on castration day. We picked up and placed in an old insecticide bucket what was castrated and poured motor oil on the wounded areas. It was dirty work but even at that innocent age, we knew things could be a lot worse. I mean "» think about it. Bobby lives in the county seat now. Last year, he sold his daddy's hog farm. As any of Mr. Stubbs' hogs could have told you, the world can be dicey sometimes. Bobby's a good guy.

I'm not sure where the Fowler twins are, Jerry and Terry. But I remember the day Mrs. Alice spanked all three of us for sliding down the sliding board with our legs hanging off the sides, even after she'd told us not to. In the second grade, Mrs. Alice ran a tight ship. I miss the Fowler twins. I miss Mrs. Alice, too.

The list goes on, but not for long. There weren't many of us. David Collins has a yard business now and I still remember the day he got bit by all those yellow jackets. His head swelled up like Boyd Flowers' knee after the Mullins game. Hunter Griffin lives in Columbia, last we talked. He gave me "Super Bowl!" by NFL Books, for Christmas, 1972. Signed it and everything. Had all five Super Bowls to date in it. I still have it.

Jerome King is a preacher, I think. Either he is or Charles Tart is. That's what I heard. I think it's Jerome, because the day I fell out of the hay loft in Charles Tart's daddy's barn when I was 8 or 9, Jerome was there and he prayed for me, on the spot. Charles just stared. I tried to breathe. Don't fall out of a hay loft if you can help it, but if you do, make sure Jerome King's nearby. I wish he were now, at least for a day or two. I wish they all were.

-- The Times, Aug. 30, 2009