We were at the ball diamond watching the big kids practice when trouble came my way -- ignorant, mean, white trash trouble. Why me? I guess I looked like an easy target. Maybe it was because I had a relatively clean shirt and looked like I had taken a bath in the last 2 weeks and his shirt was filthy and he smelled like a polecat. I dunno, but the shit started. He was about a year older and bigger than me but not much bigger. Here it came -- the shove in the back, the taunts.
A couple of the teenagers took note and said: lookaheah, if ya'll gon' fight use these heah boxin' gloves. I had never seen boxing gloves before except for the pair displayed in the high school's trophy case. The gloves offered by the teens weren't exactly regulation. They were nothing more than cheap vinyl gloves with no padding, but they had drawstrings and one pair was blue and the other red and that was good enough for me and my opponent. We proudly put those gloves on. I wore the red ones.
More teens took notice and soon a crowd was around us. Somebody in the crowd suggested that the boxing match not be held at the ball diamond or the town marshal might catch us as he made his rounds. So we went across the highway and into the ville to the grounds of a church. It was the black side of town. Before you start to think we were being disrespectful, we knew the black kids well before integration and they viewed it as fine entertainment to watch two white boys go at it. And anyway the town marshal wasn't very vigilant about patrolling that part of town. It's just the way it was back then.
So now we're in the church yard and the crowd is bigger and more diverse. It was a hot, humid, dusty summer day. Even the dogs knew better than to get out from under the shade. I mean it was so hot the chickens didn't give a cluck. There was an old hand-pump water pipe nearby and boys were taking turns pumping and drinking and dousing their heads.
There was a lot of good-natured anticipation of the bloodletting that was about to begin. Somebody suggested that somebody else should ring the church bell to mark the beginning and end of each round. Somebody else said it'd be a good idea if each boxer had a coach.
And that's when a couple of the really older teens stepped forward and volunteered and that's when I first met Bobo, my first boxing coach. (By the way, the guy who coached the cretin was named Booger. Even then I thought that was a fitting name for my opponent's coach). I don't remember the exact advice Bobo gave me before the start of the first and only round. I just remember it was good advice and it made me a little less nervous as I looked across the way at my snaggle-tooth, scarface opponent.
That church bell rang and out of our "corners" we came. Dancing and shuffling and generally not throwing any punches. The crowd was hootin' and hollerin' and laughin' and basically encouraging us to get it on. Somebody hollered: sissies! Well damn, neither me or the moron was gonna have any part of that and we came at each other at the same time. And I hit him square in the mouth. I'm glad he didn't have many teeth because it hurt like hell and if he'd had all his teeth, it would've hurt worse -- I mean my fist hurt from hitting him. But damn did the blood flow! It was crowd-pleasing to be sure.
And then the gloves came off. His anyway. I started to rip mine off, but Bobo advised me to keep them on -- that it didn't really matter one way or the other because the gloves didn't have any padding. Just about the time I turned to make eye contact with Bobo to make sure he really meant it, that bloody bitch kicked me between the legs and I went down. He tried to kick me again, but Bobo stopped him, picked me up and declared me champion. You know what else Bobo did? He took his belt off and whipped that boy for cheating. And nobody, not Booger and not the boy's older brothers, got in Bobo's way.
Not long after that, Bobo went to Vietnam. I don't remember him leaving or really remember him being away, but I do remember when he came home.
Bobo's little sister, Sue, and I were the same age. Sue was a quiet, shy, cute, tiny girl with olive skin, black hair and big brown eyes. When she spoke it was almost a whisper. We were in class when Bobo showed up at the door, in uniform (I later came to know that the uniform that Bobo was wearing identified him as an Army paratrooper). The door was one of those that had a window in the top half. I don't know how long he had stood there looking in at his little sister, but eventually kids started taking notice and then Sue looked up and saw him. Her face lit up and she flew from that desk toward her brother and when Bobo opened the door, she leapt into his arms.
I will never ever forget that scene. I carry it with me. It is medicine for the soul. It has always made me smile even in the darkest times. And yeah, I get choked up when I think about it.
Years go by and you lose contact with people you grew up with -- especially if you're away making a career in the Army. It's hard to get home sometimes. I'd see Bobo every once in awhile. After he came home from Vietnam, he went about living life, working hard -- hard, hard work. I probably saw Sue once or twice, but essentially I had no contact.
Last week, I learned Sue died about 3 years ago. She died without me ever telling her what that scene has meant to me. I also learned that Bobo is fighting an enemy that he wasn't ever trained to fight. Bobo is fighting cancer and cancer is winning. There are mason jars around our hometown asking for contributions. They have Bobo's picture on them. I don't know if I'll be able to tell Bobo what he means to me, but maybe he'll hear me through my prayers.
One thing I do know: Sue is waiting for Bobo -- waiting to leap into his arms once again.