A boy needs a leader when looking for trouble.
My friend Jonathan and I knew Bobby. We would see him with his dog, Poochie, going by on the sidewalk or walking to school. He seemed much older. I guess he was. He was in third grade when we were in kindergarten. That was the only year we were in the same school.
Bobby was the youngest of seven children, a different family experience than mine. My mother was just a little older than his eldest sibling. I might never have known them, if left to myself. But they were near neighbors to my grandmother. My grandparents had lived briefly in the house where they lived. So we went “calling“ from time to time.
Across the back yards of Main Street, Bobby’s house was close to Jonathan’s. That is why Jonathan got to know him first. I couldn’t go as far as Bobby’s house alone, but he stopped at Jonathan’s sometimes when he got bored at home.
Bobby was a “big boy” to Jonathan and me. So he automatically had our respect. And he could do amazing things. He could do a wheelie with his bike. He could make his dog do tricks. And he could ride his bike downtown all by himself!
One of the first things we learned from Bobby is that we could put our bikes up against a tree to help us reach the first branch and climb up. That was against my mother’s rule for tree climbing (that I could climb any tree that I could get into unaided), but Bobby did it, so it must be okay.
Another thing we learned from Bobby was how to tease the bees. Our back yards had apple trees and with fallen apples come yellow jackets. He liked to throw things at them or hit them with sticks. It was an exciting game, but it never seemed to be Bobby who got stung.
One time we had the clever idea of following the bees back to their nest. We found a nest of yellow jackets in a hole by the roots of an old tree. Bobby got a big clump of dirt from the cornfield and bravely ran up and plugged their hole. That was the day we learned that ground hornets always have a back door.
When they swarmed out of the dead tree, Jonathan was the first to get stung. Then Poochie. Then Bobby said, “Run!” We all ran in different directions. I only got stung once that time. Jonathan got hit three times. Bobby got away, scot free. Again.
But he didn’t always luck out. We picked on the wasps in Jonathan’s garage once. One stung Bobby on the neck and it swelled up like an egg. I don’t remember playing tease the bees after that. Another time Bobby used Jonathan’s mother’s bike to get up into a tree. He got stuck in the crotch of the big limb, about eight feet off the ground. Jonathan and I laughed. I took pictures. By the time he got down, we had run away. Bobby’s sense of humor didn’t extend to laughing at himself.
One of the last escapades we had with Bobby was a trip downtown. We had picked raspberries and sold them to the neighbors. That gave us money to burn and, being young boys, that meant a trip to the store of penny candy. It was a hard sell, but we convinced our mothers that Bobby could chaperone us to town. He promised we would walk our bike across Main Street at the crosswalk and that he would keep us close to him.
Can you imagine the excitement of two seven-year-old boys going to get candy with their curly top, ten-year-old leader and his yellow dog? I don’t know what we looked like, but I felt like a Hell’s Angel riding with the pack. We shopped at Patrick’s store for what seemed like an hour, optimizing our candy haul. Then we went back to my house and laid out our stash of candy on the cover of my grandmother’s well and scarfed down sweets until we were sick of them.
Not long after that adventure, our little gang began to fall a part. Jonathan moved to Clinton that summer. I moved across town just before Christmas. I saw Bobby a few times in the next several years, but we never did things together again. I even lived on Main Street again in my teens, but Bobby was mostly away, working or in college.
My last encounter with Bobby was almost tragic, but only to a teenager. I met a girl who made my heart sing, and I thought she liked me, too. But then I learned that she had a crush on a guy named Bob. Yes, the same person. I could never compete with Bobby when we were kids, and I felt like that little kid again. Maybe that’s why I was childish about the situation. He always was a trouble-maker.