A wonderful, scary and sweet, story of childhood in Adair County. How an imagination of Stephen King proportions provided inspiration to escape the challenges of a young city gang and to begin a lifetime friendship with two misunderstood people. Be prepared to drop everything if you click on the headline to read this absorbing, ready-for-the-movies classic. By Rob Collins
"Get him!" I can't remember who said it. But, it was one of them. I was too busy peddling my bicycle as fast as a nine year old could. It was a typical summer afternoon routine. For the last two years that my family lived in the subdivision, a group of 11 to 13 year old boys had made a sport of chasing me through the neighborhood.
In retrospect, I understand why I was an easy target. I didn't play sports. I was a goofy kid with locks of unnaturally curly hair and I was just plain weird. Instead of playing baseball, I was busy watching episodes of Star Trek and Lost in Space. My imagination was off the chain and it wasn't unusual for me to spend hours of time pretending to be a super hero, alien or a sleestack from Land of the Lost. My future as a band geek was already secure.
As I neared our house, I surprised the juvenile posse, by making an abrupt turn into the field, that was across the street. Approximately sixty yards on the other side, stood an old white farm house that was built long before the subdivision was constructed. Even before the age of social media, kids of the 1970's were skilled at sharing urban legends.
The story of the day about that old white house, went like this: It's residents included a one-legged man who had allegedly murdered many people and buried them in his back yard. He lived with his ancient mother, who was reportedly a witch. Even at a young age, I thought the stories were ludicrous, but I was willing to take my chances.
It worked! The boys stopped at the edge of the field and I just kept on going, getting ever close to the old house. They began to jaunt me and told me that I would probably be the next victim of the lunatic and the witch.
When I pulled into the back yard, I looked cautiously around and then began to mentally plot an exit strategy. Before I could place my right foot into the bike's pedal, I heard the sound of the door opening, at the rear of the house.
Sure enough, a man with one leg hobbled out the back door on a pair of ancient crutches that were duck taped in places. I literally stopped breathing. Then the old man said, "What do you want, boy?" I replied, "...those kids are chasing me."
He carefully navigated over to where I was and glanced across the field, toward my house. He looked down and smiled and said, "Well, I don't reckon they'll be following you over here."
At that point, the back door opened again and an older lady stepped outside. Assuming she was the witch, I watched her with cautious anticipation. Instead of carrying a broomstick, she held an old mop. "Hello, sweetie", she said and also smiled.
That afternoon, I chatted with the man and his mother and discovered that they knew my parents and I was slowly convinced that they were actually kind, but misunderstood people. Over the course of the next year, I would visit them everyday, after I got off the school bus. The neighborhood kids were now absolutely convinced that I'd completely lost my mind and they were now certain that I was potentially involved with the evil that occurred on that property.
Of course, I made the situation work for me. One of my first childhood friends had temporarily abandoned me to form an alliance with the bicycle kids. Looking back, it was a fairly smart choice on his part. Otherwise, he would have been beaten up, by his association with me. However, he played the role of liaison between the other boys and me.
So, naturally I made up a sting of scary stories to help give fuel to the urban legends and rumors and convinced the other kids that all of the horrific stories about this couple, were absolutely valid. This gave me a potential platform for being brave and cool, while guaranteeing me that I would always have a safe place to retreat from the mean boys.
During the months that followed, I would develop a genuine love for the older lady and her son. Eventually, I told them about what the other kids believed and they laughed, hysterically. In turn, the old man told me the truth about how he actually lost his leg, while accidentally discharging his shotgun, while attempting to clean it.
When I visited the old house, they always offered me food and the sweet lady always had jars full of peppermint candy, which increased as I became a frequent visitor.
At some point, the mother of one of the neighborhood kids called my mother and expressed concern that she would allow me to visit that residence. My mother wasn't concerned in the least. In fact, she would often help the couple deliver their bills to the post office, and would read their mail, since both of them suffered from poor eyesight. The highlight of my experience was asking my mother to cook a meal for them at Thanksgiving time. Mom helped me compile a sampling of our leftovers and I can still remember the joy of taking it across the filed and delivering it to my new friends.
A year later, my father purchased a farm with rolling acres and plenty of timber in Adair County. We moved therer as I was going into the fourth grade. Pavement was exchanged for gravel driveways, cows, dogs, cats and my sister's horse. I became friends with all of the country kids that lived on our road and never really looked back on the challenging experiences I endured from the the city kids.
I am carefully omitting a number of actual terrible things that they did to me because it doesn't serve any purpose to drag up those old feelings. But, I was a kid. And they were kids. Mistakes were made and I have forgiven each of them. Many of them grew up to be very respectful men with a variety of impressive careers.
Plus, I'm kind of indebted to each of them. For better or worse, they helped me become the person that I am, today. Moving to the farm was the official launch of what would be the best years of my childhood. It was the place where I explored woods, walked creek banks, captured wild animals, stayed up all night with my cousins, constructed forts in barns and learned to love every aspect of nature that is such a part of who I am, today.
Each of us have chapters of our childhoods that weren't as pleasant as they could be. But, those are the experiences that shape us and enable us to become wise to the ways of the world.
One afternoon, while I was at Eastern Kentucky University, my mother called me with news that my friend with one leg had passed away. His mother had died several years, earlier. I remember taking a walk across campus and yes, I actually cried. Tears of sadness and embarrassment for not staying in touch with the old man. And, a few tears of joy for having had such a wonderful friend, at a time when I really needed one.
This story was posted on 2018-01-29 19:47:17
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