Monday, November 16, 2009

Bruce, down the street

Until I was almost seven, Bruce lived just down the street. At that time there were precious few people in my world who supplied as many "firsts" as did Bruce, this the domain of my very early years, when I had first awakened to the unwritten life, such as it was. Firsts were aplenty: The climb to his bedroom was the first stairway I ever explored, and his mother, Rosemary (another first - I'd never met a Rosemary or knew any other child who addressed his parents by their first name) was also the first woman, besides my own mother, I ever kissed goodnight. The first brown bat I saw (not on television) came flapping out of Bruce's brick chimney, and together we built our first coast car, in his empty garage. To a boy under six, this is a landmark list.

His home was a white, two story affair, and next to it grew a tall, peculiar apple tree. Plain by most standards, it had the distinction of being the first apple tree I ever recall seeing, and grew the first apple I ever tasted: green and sour - the way I still prefer them. Far more significantly at the time, anchored up at its shoulders with a pound or so of rusted nails, stood the first tree house I would ever lay eyes on. It was not a complex or fanciful structure, even by a five-year-old's estimation - hardly more than a platform pieced together from a few scraps of plywood, cedar fencing and 2x4s - but the very idea of such a thing was in itself a revelation. With its frail rope ladder dangling from the trap door entrance, I confess that any tree fort I have imagined or seen since is still compared to it in one way or another.

Bruce himself was, in the parlance of that era, a tow head. That meaning his five year old head was a mop of silken hair and as white as fresh meringue. If I picture him then, it is beneath that white mop, with him stretched out in a lawn chair in front of his house selling Kool-Aid for a penny a cup. The other image would be him lined up in front of my sandbox with the other neighborhood hombres - but this is a photograph more than an actual memory, for I am there, too.

In those days Jameson Street, unlike many of the other side streets in Woolley, was paved, although it would not boast an actual curb for ten more years. Asphalt was still a decade away at that time, so cement was it, flat, plain and gray.

On the best summer days I could squat low over that street and pull the heated black tar out from between the cement slabs like it was hot bubble gum, only better. It was a delight indulged in without a lick of shame or single ounce of presumption, only because it was there and impulse demanded me to do so, that simple.

As for Bruce, we picked up our friendship some years later, when I had finally moved back again to Woolley, my Mom having re-married not once, but twice more in the process. The day I re-entered Junior High, Bruce would be waiting for me, although being one year younger we never actually shared what was then called a "home room".

Surprisingly enough, at school Bruce was bestowed a robust popularity usually reserved for the athletic or handsome - neither being a rank he could honestly qualify for. But he did possess a certain spirit, it being a singular and unique quality I am still at a loss to fully explain or grasp, except to describe it as being a quick and unusually sarcastic wit, well beyond his years. This, and much more, certified Bruce at a very early age as being both extremely bright and a child whose precocious, mischievous nature had little or no respect for the law, including those of gravity, chemistry and common sense.

I must stop to observe that while the details of these ancient events continue to fade, their colors persist, and vividly so. As does Bruce.

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