Bobby Becomes Bob
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by Bob Boan
Description: It was April 1974 and Bobby Padgett was in St. Umblers, North Carolina for first time since his forced departure five years earlier. His mind and heart raced as he struggled along Main Street. His mission was to reunite with the love of his life--Sam. Nothing else mattered.
eBook Publisher: Twilight Times Books, 2009
eBookwise Release Date: September 2009
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [418 KB]
Reading time: 279-391 min.
"Bob captures the essence of living in a small southern town. He portrays the characters with great fidelity. His story is simple, yet believable. His heroes are not too large."--R. M. "Reds" Helmey, author of The Lemon Dance
Bobby walked as fast as he could. He was emotionally conflicted, the anticipation of recapturing lost love propelling him forward, barely aware of his surroundings as the emotions roiled within him and left him wrestling with himself.
It was a few minutes before five on the afternoon of April 3, 1973. Bobby Padgett turned right from Market Street onto Main Street. His anticipation was opposed by apprehension over the possibility that Sam had either forgotten him or she belonged to someone else now.
This is crazy. What am I doing here? Sam has moved on with her life. Is there a chance we can recover what we once had? Maybe we never really lost it. Forget this nonsense. Go back to the hospital. Finish your treatments.
What if Sam has been anticipating this moment as much as I have? You've come this far, Bobby Padgett; now see it through.
He forced the negatives aside. Maybe he was being selfish, but he confirmed his earlier decision to go for the miracle ending.
It was a magnificent day on the Coastal Plain of North Carolina. Spring had always been his favorite time of the year, but he was so consumed with his mission that he was missing its grandeur. He didn't notice the new growth nor consciously smell the accompanying aromas.
He was relieved to have the sun out of his eyes as he moved along Main Street. It was as if he were outside his body watching himself struggle in slow motion to complete this journey. Of course, he was still clothed in his body. He had made this trek in his dreams almost every day during the nearly five years he had been away. Before he was forced to leave St. Umblers, he'd physically made the trip on a routine basis from the time he had almost turned nine until Sam left to attend college. He'd last made this trip on the day before he reluctantly departed.
He tried in vain to speed up in order to reach Sam more quickly, but his legs weren't able to produce the extra speed.
Why am I moving so slow? I always used to make it to Sam's much faster! A man of 28 should make the short trip in less than half the time I've needed just to hobble this far.
For 10 years, Bobby had lived just a short distance from the squatty little gray and yellow bus station from which he'd just come. Yet he was so driven to find Sam that he hadn't taken the time to detour by his former home to drop off his bags. He'd just left them sitting back at the bus station. They could wait. After all, who needed them? There was nothing in them that was important to his quest. They were just stuff, and stuff is easily replaced. He was on a life-altering mission.
As Bobby made his way along the street, his mind kept racing.
It's been over four and a half years since I've seen Sam yet I know she's as beautiful and caring as ever.
He and Sam had been virtually inseparable from that day in April of 1954 until his journey began in June of 1968. Now it was 1973, and those 19 years seemed like an eternity to him, yet he remembered it all as vividly as if it had happened only a second before. Here he was ready to renew the wonderful relationship Sam and he once had.
At least, he hoped it would work that way.
As he looked ahead, everything on that street appeared the same as it had in his dreams, which were playbacks of those trips to Sam's house during his youth. He was familiar with the saying that only two things are certain in life. He had decided that taxes was not one of them, as the adage had long claimed, but that the adage's proclamation about death had certainly proven true. The other truth he had found was that change is inevitable. That was the absolute he was resisting. Bobby was taking in the sleepy little haven against time, seeing it the way it had been, not the way it actually was.
The first thing that really caught his attention was the red and white spiral pole outside Jerry's barbershop. It sparked memories of happy days. The first smile of the day came across his face as he visualized Jerry Creech, the kindly gray-haired friend who had cut his hair from the time he was six.
He continued past Mr. Michael's Grocery Store on the left. Then there was Doug's Diner where he occasionally ate cheeseburgers with mayonnaise and slaw that dripped brown homemade chili. Other times he enjoyed chili dogs with slaw. And oh, those golden grilled cheese sandwiches that Doug used to make. Those had been among his favorite foods when he was a teenager.
He moved past Nelson's Clothing Store. He was certain he saw Mr. Nelson inside neatly folding a new white shirt as Bobby had often seen him do. Mr. Nelson had treated him as if he were rich instead of the poor boy he was. He considered stopping to say hello, but chose not to. He had no time. He had an important mission to complete--a lifelong destiny to fulfill.
After he passed Nelson's, Bobby realized that this trip was different from those of his recurring dreams. This trip was difficult. It was never difficult in those dreams when he always glided effortlessly up Main Street. Today, he was tired already.
Then in the distance, he saw a woman coming toward him. He had not expected to see Sam coming down the street.
This is a mature woman all filled out. She's not the 22-year-old I pictured every day. I'm just now realizing I didn't allow Sam to age in my dreams. I didn't know how to have her age. Or was it that I was afraid to let her age? I know how women change as they get older. Was I afraid she would take a different direction if she did? No, I had to hold on to her just the way she was. I had to; it was critical.
However, there was no doubt it was Sam. He would know her anywhere, any time. Though his vision was clearer in his dreams than it was now in real life, there was no mistake. That was Sam.
Then there were doubts.
My Sam? Am I her Bobby?
Despite her new bearing, Sam still had the tiny waist he remembered. She had those long beautiful legs and that energetic, playful step. The long jet-black hair still bounced in rhythm with her step. In fact, he watched her hair move in unison as she walked so that it looked like a sheet of the finest heavyweight charmeuse silk when the sun reflected off it. The scene was right out of his memories.
She was just over three blocks away, on her way to be with him again, as she had been in the past.
He tried to speed up, to run and embrace her. However, his body resisted.
Suddenly he paused.
How does she know? How does she know I'm home? Today? How is it possible? No one knows I'm home; how could they? No matter, the Fates found a way to alert her.
Although Sam and Bobby had started to drift apart in college, they came back together when he received the notice of his impending departure.
Is it possible that the old seemingly telepathic signals between us still work? If so, of course, she of all people would know of my return. She would even know that I'm marching up Main Street to find her at this minute. She would be here to meet me. She obviously hasn't seen me yet or she would be racing toward me, to hug and kiss me. To welcome me home.
They had been so close once; she had to know. After all, that would only be natural.
He moved a few steps further to the street corner. His nervousness forced him to question himself.
Will Sam have to rescue me again? Will I be that nervous? No! Absolutely not! I know how I am going to tell her for the first time that I--
His racing thoughts were interrupted by the rude blare of a car horn warning him that he was about to step out into oncoming traffic. He waited for the white Cadillac, a model unfamiliar to him, and the contrastingly small sky blue 1961 Vauxhall four door sedan to pass. The Vauxhall looked to him like a shoebox with a cockpit among the big cars on the streets of St. Umblers. He remembered having owned one once.
As he waited, Bobby noticed something seemingly out of place. Something so surprising that it rapidly sucked away his energy and left him dumbfounded. He looked at the street sign again. It should have said Elon Street. It didn't! Bobby looked once more to be sure. He read the words Bobby Padgett Street.
Why on Earth would there be a Bobby Padgett Street? He almost shouted the question out loud. This is Elon Street. Can I have forgotten something like that?
The greatest achievements of his mediocre athletic career had taken place on Elon Street. Yes, it was true that he had a few modest accomplishments in football, basketball and baseball at St. Umblers High School a mere three blocks away. He had run track as well.
I occasionally had modest moments on the playing fields; primarily as a pitcher on the baseball team before I hurt my arm. I was never even close to being a star in any sport. There's no reason to think that a street was named for me because of my athletic prowess. I was a fair student at St. Umblers. They don't name streets for students. Why do the letters on that sign spell my name? Why would anybody name that street, any street, for me? Or did they? It must be named for some other Bobby Padgett. Who could that be?
It seemed strange, but he had found that when faced with a fight or flight situation, one frequently revisits life's defining events while time appears to stand still. This was one of those moments. His accelerated pulse rate confirmed that. It was almost terrifying! This was absolutely a fight or flight situation if he had ever had one. And he had certainly been in some. More, in fact, than he cared to remember.
Standing on that street corner, he realized that he needed to do something to calm himself as he watched Sam approach because he was being emotionally crushed by the uncertainty of the outcome. He had learned to use visualization and imagery to make time pass as a means of survival. He adopted the idea of reviewing his life as a tool to relax.
In an instant, the memories of the poignant moments of his life from infancy onward flashed before his eyes.
* * * *
Bobby's Earliest Memory
Bobby's earliest memory was of playing in the front yard of his parents' small, rented clapboard house located on a remote state highway in the South Carolina sand hills. Much of the white paint was flaking off the little house, which was drafty and creaked every time someone moved or the wind blew.
Now Bobby didn't know the house was rented, although it wouldn't have mattered to an energetic four-year-old anyway. If Bobby was anything, he was energetic.
The Padgetts were poor! Actually, that was true of most of the people in tiny Matthews Township, which had a population of about 60. Bobby's neighbors were simple, unpretentious people who did not need much to live on. It was a good thing too because they did not have much and were unlikely to ever have much. The soil in the area was as poor with respect to farming as they were in life.
Bobby was too young to recognize the impact his neighbors were going to have on him later. However, the proud, humble ways he subconsciously observed his family and neighbors practice would influence him for life. No one in Matthews Township ever asked another family member, "Where are the car keys?" They were right there in the ignition of the car with the doors unlocked. The key to the house normally hung on the same key ring, even if nobody really had any idea they could find it there.
The people in Matthews Township were proud, hardworking, and always willing to give whatever they had to help another, but they were reluctant to take anything from anybody under any circumstances. If you insulted those people by offering them charity, they would fight you and your army no matter the odds. They called charity "handouts." They were proud, they were honest and they believed in taking care of their own. Those people were the soul of America. They and people like them made America great.
The house was the best the Padgetts could afford. As a happy, healthy four-year-old adventurer, Bobby didn't know rich from poor. More importantly, he didn't care. It wouldn't matter anyway. He was always looking for something to climb or some mud to play in.
That day in late June 1949, Bobby found something to climb. It was his uncle's truck. His uncle, his father's brother, was visiting on that Sunday afternoon. They had just finished their Sunday best lunch. Because the Padgetts had company, they had chicken and dumplings with speckled butterbeans, fresh homegrown juicy red tomatoes, cucumbers and fried squash blossoms. Bobby's father made the best chicken and dumplings in the world. His mother made the best fried squash blossoms to be had anywhere. Bobby was among the few people lucky enough to have ever tasted fried squash blossoms. What a delicacy! While Bobby did not appreciate the meal that day, it would become his favorite during his teenage years.
His uncle had a big, ugly truck equipped for hauling logs. It was a no-nonsense work vehicle typical of those in the area and it looked every bit the part. It was an old truck that had no doubt become banged up shortly after it was new in the mid-thirties. The doors were bent so much that they did not close completely. His uncle had repaired them enough to keep them from flying open when moving though they bounced and rattled at every bump or pothole.
His uncle and his father worked in the logging industry cutting down pine trees that the bigger, more profitable logging companies left in the swamps. They loaded the scrub trees onto the old truck and hauled them out of the swamp to market. Those trees were worth very little money, but at least Bobby's father and uncle had a job outdoors and they worked for themselves.
The truck looked the part it played in the business. It was probably white. Neither Bobby nor anyone else knew for sure. The old truck was caked with mud everywhere that it was not bent and mangled or rusty. There was even mud filling in a number of the dings and dents where trees had hit the body as they fell or as the truck slid in the muck and mire trying to pull logs out of the swamp.
So, on that day in June, four-year-old Bobby saw a chance to climb and play in mud at the same time. It was a shame the mud was dry. That took some the luster off that golden moment. Bobby was on a great adventure. He ran up the incline in the front yard to the truck--his upcoming conquest. In fact, he ran as fast as he could.
When he reached the crumpled chrome and rust front bumper, he stopped briefly to survey the challenge. He threw his hands over the top to anchor his fingers in the depression behind it. That allowed him to pull himself up immediately after he threw his left leg up onto the center of the bumper. He pulled hard and was able to quickly get his body onto the bumper. Then he balanced himself on his freshly dirtied knees. He reached up and easily put his small hands inside one of what seemed to him to be two incredibly large openings in the truck's grille. He pulled himself up onto his feet. He was standing on the truck's bumper high above the ground. That was his first conquest. What a fine conquest it was. Indeed! He was proud of himself and he had every right to be.
Soon, he had gloated enough. It was time for greater glory--a bigger challenge. It was time to scale the hood. He reached higher on the grille to find handholds. Once they were secured, he put his left foot on the right fender on a rare bright, shiny spot. Then he reached around the hood with his left hand to the two tan belting straps that kept the hood closed. Much more importantly to Bobby at that moment, they were there for him to pull himself up on. And pull himself up onto that fender he did. There he stood at a new plateau--The Conqueror of that prominent spot.
He easily stepped up onto the hood. The hood was only a little higher than the fender. It was no challenge at all for a climber as highly experienced and skillful as Bobby. As he surveyed his conquered domain, he knew he had a considerably more climbing to do. Oh, boy!
He made a quarter turn to his left. He saw every climber's ultimate goal--the pinnacle, the peak of the mountain. The pinnacle manifested itself as the roof of the dirty cab of the truck, where there were a few patches of white barely visible. Bobby took no time to notice those--after all, they were not his goal. His goal was the roof of that cab.
Without reservation or hesitation, Bobby bravely walked to the windshield. He started to climb it. What? Not possible for him to climb; he started up only to slide back down! It was slippery. It was as smooth as glass. Of course, it should be; it was glass. No problem, he was going to the top. He started again. Once more, he slid back to the hood. Still undaunted, he went forward with all his might. He would climb this mountain!
He threw his hands on to the top. Ooooh, there was nothing to grab, it too was slippery. This could not be! He was falling! Moreover, he was falling fast. First, onto the hood. Then out of control, onto the fender with a jolting THUMP! Then he was falling to the ground. He put out his hands to stop himself. He hit the ground hard. Oh, his arms hurt!
Bobby knew his mother was in the kitchen cleaning up after the fine lunch they had completed a little while earlier and getting ready for supper. Bobby screamed before she could look out the window to see what was happening. In response to Bobby's scream, she threw down the half-peeled red skin potato she was preparing for potato salad and ran out the door in a flash.
He had rolled over before she reached his crumpled little body. When she reached him, he was crying ferociously at the top of his voice. His tears were so thick that she couldn't see the brown of his eyes. His arms dangled beside him on the ground. He was perfectly still except for his chest heaving as he cried.
Bobby's father and uncle arrived a few seconds later.
The adults knew something was greatly amiss for an active, rambunctious four-year-old like Bobby to be lying still. That was particularly true of this high-energy fidget. He was lying still because moving hurt, sending sharp pains all through his body.
"Bobby what happened? Are you all right?" he heard his mother ask so rapidly that it sounded like one question. He didn't see the tears on her face but he heard their presence in her voice. He didn't answer. He continued his nonstop crying. Of course, he was not all right.
His father simply asked, "Bobby, can you get up?"
The sound of their voices made him realize he was still alive. What a relief. At that moment he didn't think death could hurt that much. Oh how he hurt!
He stopped crying for a moment. He looked at them hovering over him. Their presence reassured him. Their postures scared him a little. The combination diverted his attention from his pain.
Time for some attention, he realized. "Ouch! Ouch!" he shouted as he resumed crying and screaming as much for their benefit as from the pain. He started to reach out to put his arms around his mother. As a result, the pain shooting through him grew even stronger. The pain was so intense that he could not extend his arms. His crying became louder and more anxious.
"It's a wonder he didn't put his eye out playing on this old contraption," he heard his mother say, obviously relieved that he was injured but safe. She had just uttered one of the two great foreboding admonitions that Bobby would find commonplace in the vernacular of the older people of the area. He would not hear the other until he was somewhat older, but would hear both of them often in his lifetime. The "Be careful or you'll your put eye out" admonition was used often on adventuresome young boys and girls, especially boys. He would hear and ignore it many times as he grew.
His father knew something was terribly wrong with Bobby. "I'm a'gonna take him to Dr. Batten. His arms are hurt. They might be broke," Authur Padgett said in his slow, deliberate South Carolina drawl which Bobby found comforting at that moment. Bobby relaxed a little as his father picked him up as though he were no more than a few weeds in a burlap bag and headed for the car. Picking Bobby up caused his right arm to dangle which hurt and brought forth another loud wail.
Bobby's father, with his uncle's assistance, adjusted his hold on Bobby to capture his arms against his body. "You'd better stay with the other young'uns," he told Bobby's mother, "I'll be back directly."
Bobby had a 10-year-old sister, a nine-year-old brother, and a two-year-old brother. They would keep his mother plenty busy during his absence.
Dr. Batten's office was about six miles away in the town of Henry. It seemed to Bobby like going to another planet because of the pain. Henry was barely a town at all with a population of only about 200. It had come into existence as a train stop, but the train didn't stop there anymore. The sound of the train whistle had not been heard in Henry for years. As a result, Henry had dried up into a poor, crusty, hard little town. The people in and around Henry and in the surrounding sand hills were poor, but they never knew it because they had nothing else with which to compare.
The general store in Henry was where Bobby's family went to do their routine shopping. On special occasions, they went to Chesterfield, the county seat. Once in a rare while, they went all the way to Cheraw, the closest thing to a city in those parts.
Dr. Batten was the only physician in the town of Henry. He was the only one it needed. He was the only doctor the town had ever had. The slow pace of life in Henry fit Bill Batten just fine, thank you very much. There wasn't much need for a doctor in Henry. The local people had folk remedies for routine stuff. They only used a doctor when there was a serious problem. As far as Bobby was concerned, his was a serious problem. When there was a need for a doctor, it was frequently in the middle of the night. Dr. Batten mostly made house calls. He was always paid in full. When he received his pay, it frequently came in the form of fresh home-grown red tomatoes, sometimes green tomatoes, cucumbers, speckled butterbeans, Silver King corn, southern rattlesnake watermelons, etc. Now and then, he was even paid with money.
Bobby's father most often paid with firewood. It was uncommon to need a fire in Henry, but firewood was what Authur had. That allowed him to pay because he, like his neighbors, was a proud man--no charity for him or his family--no matter how poor he was. He could and would take care of his own. That was the way people in that area were--proud. They were much too proud for charity.
If Dr. Batten were fortunate, he could sell some of the goods obtained as payments for his services to the townspeople before they spoiled, as he was often paid in fresh foodstuffs. However, Dr. Batten claimed he was happy and that he had everything that he needed.
Dr. Batten was at home sitting under his oak shade tree when Bobby and his father arrived. He had the foresight to plant that beautiful tree upon his arrival in Henry so that he could now enjoy its cool shadow on hot days like that lazy Sunday. Its majestic green canopy was a sharp contrast to the narrow pines that were indigenous to the sand hills.
When Bobby looked at Dr. Batten, he saw a kindly old gentleman with thin gray hair that always looked unkempt. Dr. Batten knew everyone within 10 to 12 miles by name. He had been there when Bobby was born just as he was when Bobby's father was born. He was there as a young man recently out of medical school when Bobby's grandparents were born. The running joke was that he been on hand in Edgefield back in 1902 when that brash young politician, Strom Thurmond, was born, though no one knew for sure. They even kidded him about slapping the first cry from Jefferson Davis. Nobody knew how old Dr. Batten was. They didn't care either. They loved this kind old gentleman and he loved them back. Most of them were "his children" who he had brought into this life. Unfortunately, he had seen more than a few of them leave it as well. New people just did not move to Henry. Indeed, these were all Dr. Batten's children.
Bobby knew Dr. Batten's story well. He had heard it in pieces from his parents and neighbors on more than one occasion. Dr. Batten had arrived in Henry about a year after graduating from the University of South Carolina Medical School in Charleston. He was proud of the medical school's heritage as the oldest in the Deep South. After graduation, he had lived for a brief stint which seemed almost endless to him in Biggulp, Colorado. He found the soil in Biggulp unfamiliar so he didn't know how to grow and produce a garden. In addition, the harsh cold weather and snow were not to his liking. Therefore, after a miserable year, he packed up and moved to Henry to stay.
He was familiar with the leisurely style of life in Henry as he was originally from Fork Hill, a small community about the size of Matthews Township. Bobby heard the locals say "Fork Hill's way out past Chesterfield." It was even beyond Ruby and Pageland. Fork Hill was in Lancaster County about five to 10 miles southeast of Lancaster, the Red Rose City. Fork Hill had a very similar pace of life; it was quite laid-back. The people of Fork Hill had the same work ethic and mores as those in Henry.
He knew and understood the citizens of the Henry and the surrounding area. Dr. Batten would respond to those who asked why he stayed in a place with such a bleak future as that of Henry, "What more could anyone want from a hometown? This is living as God undoubtedly meant it to be done." Life there among the poor was as good as it could get unless you lived in Myrtle Beach, Charleston, or one of the lesser known and populated beachside communities along the coast of South Carolina. Life was slow, but it was just what Dr. Batten wanted.
Dr. Batten made it a practice never to bring up the topic of payment for his services. He had learned early on that these poor, proud people did not take handouts and they didn't take easily to owing anybody anything. These people knew what he charged and they paid with what they possessed without ever challenging or negotiating. Speaking of money sometimes could and often did embarrass the local people. They always offered to pay with whatever they had with any value. It was largely a barter system, though this one and that one would periodically have ready cash with which to pay. He knew that if a patient or the family had any money, they would always ask, "What do I owe you, Doc?" Otherwise, they just quietly and humbly paid when they had something with which to square their bill. Dr. Batten always graciously accepted the proffered payment. He felt that he was more often overpaid than underpaid. He never mentioned the potential of overpayment because he knew the fierce pride of the people would drive them to overpay if there was any mistake in the amount of payment offered. If they had any way to avoid doing so, they would never underpay.
The only people the citizens of Henry would ever consider owing money were Mr. Ryles at the Henry General Store or Mr. Parks at the bank. Both knew they would be paid as promised. There was never a need for a piece of paper between them. Most of the local people were poorly educated and could not read the paper anyway. Besides, the vast majority of them would not sign a paper even if they knew how to read. Asking them to sign a paper implied you didn't trust them. Their word was their bond and their word was always good, though it sometimes took a while to be honored. The people of Henry knew and understood this. A man's word was taken at face value without question. After being asked to sign a paper, they would have nothing to do with the person who had asked such an outrageous thing. The remainder of the community would back the dissenter as the asking was considered a derogatory statement about them as well.
They never missed a payment without working something out in advance. It was their word and that was all they had, other than their good character. Mr. Ryles and Mr. Parks were local people who made their living selling goods to or loaning money to their neighbors so it was all right to owe them money.
Bobby felt himself being gingerly lifted from the backseat. "Doc, Bobby fell off my brother's truck. I think he is hurt purdy bad Doc."
"Well, let's have a look." Dr. Batten led them into his little office. "Put him down there." Dr. Batten nodded toward the examination table.
Bobby was still crying but not nearly as vociferously as before because there was something calming about Dr. Batten.
"Bobby, you just lay right down here and tell me where hurts."
Bobby sensed the confidence behind that statement.
"My arms," Bobby managed to sob through his tears.
"Which arm Bobby?"
"Both of them."
Dr. Batten touched Bobby's right arm. Intense pain followed. "OUCH!" Dr. Batten touched his left arm. "OUCH!" Bobby was now writhing in pain.
"Both his arms are broken. I have to set them." He turned back to Bobby. "Bobby, this is important! Can you be real brave?" Without waiting for an answer, he told Bobby's father, "You have to hold him still while I set his arms. Let me get my instruments together."
After he had done that, he returned to the table and motioned with his head. Bobby felt his father's strong hands on his shoulders. Dr. Batten proceeded to set Bobby's arms.
In a few months Bobby's arms healed and he was back to climbing recklessly without any memory of the incident until now. Oh, the resilience of youth. That resilience and ability to rebound served Bobby well many times in the future.