I’ve heard it said that it takes a village to raise a child. I have no idea if that is true or not. We grew up out at the end of Stonewall Street. The blacktop ended up at the hill in front of Paul David Campbell’s house. You had to crunch the gravel beneath your feet to get on out to us.
This was eons before TV. We were about the last generation to get to make up our own pictures. Invent our own games. Enjoy the luxury of thinking for ourselves. And benefit from a slowness of life that allowed you to actually know your neighbor, not just shout howdy to him as you both hurried to work.
Mr. and Mrs. Brooks lived “just down the street.” They were old. And thrifty. And they worked all the time. They cut our hair and Mr. Brooks paid us to help him pick his cotton. He was nice and polite to us; but he didn’t put up with no foolishness. I said “yes sir” and “no sir” and stepped lively around them. They expected young boys to be proper young boys.
I tried so hard to measure up to their expectations.
Billy Webb lived across the street from the Brookses. He was tall and funny. And several years older than me. He was a lifeguard at the swimming pool even before Leon went to work there. Billy wasn’t just smiling when you saw him, he was laughing out loud! And he always had this look like he was up to something. You really wanted to hang around pretty close so you’d be there when he sprang “the big one.”
We’d lay on our backs and pick out the shapes of the clouds drifting by. I would spot one that looked just like a beaver. Of course, Leon thought it looked more like a coon hound baying up a gum tree. One of the Kennon girls would declare it to be a bear poking into a hollow log for honey. Billy would look at that same cloud and see a war going on between some fresh-landed Martians and the last of the Arapahoe Indians. He would launch into a blow-by-blow monologue as the fight unfolded that apparently only he could see. I realized at an early age Billy got more out of life than the average person. That’s the kind of fellow he was.
I learned from Billy Webb that life is fun. You could get bad headaches or the stomach gripes if you went though it wearing a frown.
Billy’s younger sister, Karen, was the prettiest girl in our village. She was in the same class as Leon. I can remember walking to school with them. Well, they were walking to the high school. I was tagging along as far as the elementary building. They would catch up on the latest gossip about Larry Byrd, Bobby C. Melton or Judy Seratte. I would be waving at the passing cars so they’d know me and Karen were walking to school together.
Karen, as pretty as she was and as busy as she was and as
much older than me as she was, would look right at me when I talked to her. And I was just a little runny-nosed kid! She seemed genuinely interested in what I was saying. She made me feel important!
I never forgot that lesson.
The Kennons lived a couple of lots back toward town from us. Terry and I were the same age and explored the big ditch together. I remember when Elvis first appeared on the Ed Sullivan show. They invited us down to watch it on their new television set.
I grew up understanding that neighbors shared.
Joe and Richard Gooch’s folks built a house right beside the Kennons. We had enough to play hide and go seek. And we were all close enough in age that we could fight, be friends, explore Archie Moore’s pond or just “hang out” on them nothing-to-do afternoons, and dream about getting old enough to escape this little place.
We learned to give and take. No one got to decide “what to do” every time. We worked most everything out eventually. Fairly peaceably! And with a minimum of blood-letting!
Aunt Jessie (who wasn’t nobody’s aunt that I know of) moved in down the Como road behind us. She was kinda small and wiry. Years and years of experience had turned her into a cookie making machine. And her popcorn was the absolute best! She also would come out to the ballgames and cheer along the third base line. Shoot, she had a keen eye and she’d jump right in there with us looking through the weeds for a foul ball. She’d umpire on the close calls. She had more fun than any of us. And I can hear her laughing till this day.
I realized that age didn’t make you old.
Mother said the Brookses asked about me long after I’d gone. I can still remember Billy Webb running with me in his arms the time I busted my head open behind the swimming pool. I reckon it was the only time I ever saw him not laughing. I measured a lot of girls against Karen when I began to date. I saw Terry at a class reunion a couple of years ago. We hugged and carried on like little kids. I haven’t heard from Joe or Richard Gooch in years. That doesn’t dim their memory one bit. Aunt Jessie is in a nursing home. And I am going to kick myself one day if I don’t get up to see her soon.
I’m not sure about that village thing. But 50 years later I can still recall each face, distinct mannerisms, gentle rebukes, encouraging words, helping hands and the abiding love that hovered around “down at the end of Stonewall.”
Didn’t none of it hurt my chances later on. And I am so much richer for it.