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James R. Stout

Bo-Bo's Mom: Keeper of the Flame

            It was late 1964 and we had been living in our house for just over a year. We had become acquainted with the neighbors and the neighborhood cliques. On our street there were two families that were related. The fathers of each family were brothers. One of the fathers was an ambitious man, Catholic by way of his wife, and father of six kids. The other father possessed little in the way of ambition and was distinctly an unpleasant man to deal with. Then there was another family who had lived in the neighborhood the longest and were treated by the other neighbors as though they were royalty. They could do no wrong so far as the neighbors were concerned. On the night we moved into our house the King and Queen came to introduce themselves. Mom put on some coffee and was at first glad for a friendly visit. That lasted until the Queen stated that they mainly just wanted to come over and let my parents know how things were done in the neighborhood. In other words, they wanted to lay down the rules. All hell the Queen!

            Then there were the quiet neighbors. Looking back on it now, I believe they were just trying to avoid the neighborhood junta. Smart move. On the street to the west of our street I only knew one family. It was the family of a friend of mine. Thomas’ mother was a housewife and always nice to me. I didn’t know Thomas’ father well as he seemed to work all the time. He was an insurance salesman. Thomas was in my second and fourth grade classes during elementary school and we were good friends, but not as close as me and my friend Eddie.

            There were a couple of interesting and rather odd households on the street behind our street. First, there was the house with the two teenage girls. They were older teens than my sister Barbara. They were also considered to be as wild as they come. The evidence for this reputation was mainly seen in their summertime escapades. Their parents both worked, and the girls were left to their own devices during the day. They would often dawn swimming suits (bikini’s no less!), climb on top of the roof of the house to sunbathe, and thereby cause a traffic jam of teenage boys driving by to catch the show. Music would pour forth from a transistor radio and at times they would provide a dance review for the neighborhood. They were proficient at “The Jerk”, “The Fly”, “The Watusi”, “The Swim”, and especially “The Twist”. My mother would sarcastically refer to their house as “The Honey Hole” because it would draw the boys like bees to honey.

            Of all these fine neighbors, perhaps one of the more interesting to observe was a family of three living three doors down from us on the street behind us. There were vacant lots behind us and beside us, so the rather strange behavior of this family was hard to miss. The only child, whose nickname was “Bo-Bo”, was a grade younger than I was. He was decidedly lacking in social graces and would generally do the dumb thing in a given situation despite the smart thing flashing in neon lights with a carnival barker yelling in his megaphone, “This is the right thing. Do This.” If the sign said, “Turn right”, then he immediately turned left. Bo-Bo’s mom was apparently not much smarter. This is where I tell you about that fateful day late in 1964 when the clothes dryer and Bo-Bo’s mom had a rather unfortunate altercation.

            I was outside playing sandlot baseball in the vacant lot next to the King and Queen’s house and directly in front of the Bo-Bo house. Several of us were playing. The Prince, me, two of the ambitious brother’s sons, Thomas and his brother Charles, and a kid named Lester were having a good time. Bo-Bo was there too and was up to bat. I was playing centerfield and therefore I was closest to the Bo-Bo house.

            Most families in those days couldn’t afford a clothes dryer. Most moms still used clothes lines in the backyard for the most part. But somehow or other Bo-Bo’s father, a wrecker-driver that I would later be reminded of when watching “Tow-Mater” in the Disney Movie “Cars”, had purchased his wife a clothes dryer. After this incident I was reticent about using a clothes dryer for several years to come. But, to be honest, I still have no idea how what happened came about.

            There I was standing in centerfield waiting on Bo-Bo to bat when all the sudden I heard a blood curdling scream come from behind me. It was obviously a woman in great distress. We all turned around to see what was going on and bursting through the back door of the house Bo-Bo’s mother came running and screaming. I can understand why she would be screaming given her hair was on fire. No joke. It really was. She was running wildly in circles and slapping herself on the head and at one point dropped to the ground, bent over, and started to pound the top of her head into the dirt. Meanwhile, another neighbor lady who was outside grabbed a bucket, filled it with water from the spicket on the side of the house, and then doused Bo-Bo’s mom’s head with the water. Bo-Bo came running and screaming after watching the whole thing at which time his mother passed smooth out on the now muddy ground behind their house.

            The other lady told all of us to go home, but to be honest this was a show none of us could afford to miss. Someone called an ambulance and before it could arrive, Bo-Bo’s father showed up having heard the call go out on his shortwave radio in the wrecker. He wrapped his wife’s head in a towel and was consoling her when the ambulance showed-up. The good news was that she wasn’t really hurt at all. No burns to her actual head. Her hair was not so fortunate though. It took a few months for her to start looking normal again. Bo-Bo’s father was later seen manhandling the electric dryer out the back door where he then loaded it on the back of the wrecker, tied it down, and drove away. It was never to be seen again.

            The whole thing was at first neighborhood folklore, but within 18 months or so it was relegated to a mere passing description of the people living in that house. A new kid would move into the neighborhood and as you explained to him who lived where and so forth, you would give a brief explanation that would encapsulate the important things that you needed to know about the family living there.

            For instance, “A veterinarian lives in that house and he mows his yard at night”. Or, “They have six kids and their father has one brown eye and one blue eye. Very strange.” But nothing quite topped, “The mom in that house caught her hair on fire and the dad drives a wrecker and sometimes the kid, “Bo-Bo”, wears one of his mother’s wigs.” That one always got a “wow” and a nod that seemed to say, “Impressive.” The house itself also earned a nickname after the incident. It became known as “The Boo-Boo House”.

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