A Winter’s Tale of Two Boys (and Some Bad Behavior)   2 comments

William’s McLoughlin’s dad was hit by a car and died.  That’s all I had heard about Billy’s dad. 

Billy’s mom, became a widow with three young children.  We had moved into the neighborhood the previous fall and walking down the street one day, I saw that Billy had a new bike that he did not yet know how to ride.  I was all of 11 years of age and Billy had to be in first grade.  I did for him, what his dad could not do for him.  I ran behind him, as my own dad had done for me, steadying the bike as Billy peddled furiously in front of our modest houses Friendship Street, I let go and off he went.  A wobbly start, then crash bang skinned knee tears.  Helping him up, I counseled perseverance and a Band Aid, and off we went again.  In no time, he was on his own and I just watched– a self-satisfied smile on my face. 

I was a surrogate for him, though I did not know that word at that time.  And as my little surrogate brother, he looked up to me knowing I would protect him. 

Billy’s mom never forgot that small kindness.  And she let me know this every time I saw her.  After that, I wanted to do whatever I could to bring a smile to her face.  She would take me aside and let me know how much she appreciated that I had befriended William and taken him under my wing.  I guess I had a schoolboy crush on her– she was in fact quite beautiful, long dark brown hair framing a gentle face that did not betray the stresses of being a 30-something widow. 

Then one day, without warning, she sold the house and the family moved away.  At least this is the way that events from childhood are remembered.  There are no explanations.  Just a shift in the players in our lives– people come and go with no explanation, no rationale.  As we age, we piece the events together to make sense of events by filtering them through an imperfect adult lens. 

The new family that purchased the house had kids of their own.  But in my eyes, the bar had been set by the McLoughlin family.  Perhaps no one could live up to that standard.  And Michael, the new kid in the house, was so far below the standard, that I could not help but dislike him as much as I had liked Billy.  The house now symbolized change for the worse, having surrendered up  a good friend, a great kid and replacing him with this young idiot. 

Michael did not help himself either.  He was downright annoying– though younger than us, he was headstrong, unjustifiably confident and would use whining as a tactic to get his way.  Did I mention he had no self-awareness?  A unique blend of personality traits that was not going to make him any friends.  With these qualities, he attempted to take a leadership role in the clique of neighborhood kids.  That wasn’t going to happen.  And as it turned out I was not alone in my feelings. 

The pecking order had been set before he got there.  It wasn’t an official pecking order, but people knew where they stood in general terms.  The oldest kids ran the show, but we usually included the younger ones that we liked in our hijinks.  While not exactly Lord of the Flies, there were unwritten rules and Michael seemed to be oblivious or, worse, unconcerned with them all.

He was forever trying just a little too hard, and when we ignored him he did whatever he could to piss us off.  With sandy-hued curly hair, a goofy expression on his face and an air of superiority, after a while, it seemed like all the kids on the street had taken a dislike to him.  But as kids we never bothered to analyze the situation or even to discuss him let alone pay him much mind.  Still in those moments when he infiltrated our gatherings, one glance amongst us and we, each of us, knew that we did not like him.

During the Christmas break from school, on one of those short winter days, he emerged from his house, dressed head to toe in a red corduroy outfit that he had received for Christmas that year.  In this snappy sartorial splendor, he was a scarlet spectacle resembling a demented elf. 

And us?  We were just roaming the neighborhood that day looking for something to do on a cold Winter’s Day when we had no school and there was no snow on the ground with which we could play.   Naturally, Michael and his elfin attire joined us without being invited. 

Somehow, we found ourselves in a stand of woods behind my house.  There, at the edge of the woods was a small pond– not particularly deep.  Mosquito infested in the summer.  It was a theatre for war games, Lewis and Clark Explorations, nature walks, whatever our imaginations could conjure.  Here, in the Spring and Summer, we captured tadpoles, skipped stones and hunted/avoided snakes.  In the winter, though the pond froze over, none of ever dared to stroll across it as the ice always appeared a little too thin.

As Michael leaned over the edge of the pond, my best friend at the time, Reed, stole behind him and did what came naturally.  With the small encouragement that came from the slightest of shoves, Michael lost his balance on the slippery muddy edge of the pond.  At first I thought that he was going horizontal and would make a tremendous splash in the pond and perhaps drown– nah!  Yet somehow, he managed to capture his balance on his left foot, but tipping over, his right leg went into the pond up to his crotch.  The frigid water quickly drenched the scarlet fabric and filled his boot with cloudy liquid.

We all stood in stunned silence waiting to see how Michael would react.  His eyes widened, mouth agape, wanting to say something, but no sound coming out.  He stood there– a red statue.  We reciprocated in silent amazement.  The cocky airs that he had escaped from him.  He was the butt of a great practical joke.  And in that moment of devastating humiliation, he realized where his place was in the neighborhood pecking order.  He extracted his wet red corduroyed leg from the pond along with a goodly amount of the muddy muck from the pond’s bottom which covered his footwear and the pretty red pant leg up to his knee.  Turning to Reed, I said, “Look, he has humus on his leg!”  Not having wasted my education, humus, I had learned in school, is the decaying organic matter, found in forests underneath more fresh leaves.  But this was wet humus from the bottom of a stagnant pool of water.  It also smelled like you would expect wet decaying organic matter (leaves, frog skins, etc.) to smell– a magical combination of rotting leaves and kimchi with a touch of sewage. 

Reed, taking pride in his handiwork, stood there and blurted out a derisive  “Hah, he’s covered in Humus!”  Up to that moment, Michael wore the red suit as a badge of honor.  Perhaps it made him feel all superhero-like and invincible.  But that feeling of invincibility dissolved in the ether of laughter by the pond.  Tears welled up in his eyes, but to his credit we did not see him cry.  I almost felt sorry for him.  He went home and trudging into the house, what had been Billy’s House, brought the stink of the pond and a generous amount of mud inside with him.  I don’t know what happened after the front door closed.  Perhaps he was whipped for ruining such a lovely outfit or for tracking rotting mud and decayed leaves across the carpet.  We were kids, and those domestic housekeeping protocols did not concern us. 

But we knew after that day that the pecking order had been preserved.  And he never forgot that.  Henceforth, Michael became known as Humus.  And Humus is always found on the bottom.  Oh, and to my knowledge, the red suit never saw the light of day again. 

Now and again, I would walk by Humus’ House and think back on the fun times I had when it was Billy’s House, there on the somewhat ironically named Friendship Street.  But then I remembered that it was now Humus’ house and things had changed. 

I would have to take solace in thinking back on the day at the pond.

Over the years I have tried to track down Billy.  But no success yet.  When I do find him, I will tell him the tale of Humus and the fantastically filthy red suit.  If he doesn’t read it here first.

minervois fabasChateau Fabas Moural Minervois 2009 ($14).  From a great vintage, this aromatically gifted wine starts with earthy mineral syrah notes (no, that’s not humus, but then again…) pushing toward a black cherry perfume on the palate complemented by black olive notes.  A blend of Grenache 20%, Syrah 60% and Mouvedre 20% that finishes with soft and lingering tannins, this is worth searching out, though in the US, you are best off getting it directly from the importer, Cynthia Hurley.  Rated ***

Where and what is Minervois?  Minervois (pronounced MEE-ner-vwah) is an AOC in the Languedoc-Roussillon wine region. 

minervois2

For the uninitiated, AOC stands for appellation d’origine contrôlée, which translates as “controlled designation of origin”, and is the French certification granted to certain French geographical indications for wines and other agricultural products.  For the budget conscious (and who isn’t budget conscious?), the regions boasts some of the best values in French wines and is worth keeping on the radar.

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Posted December 29, 2012 by Sybarite Sauvage in Food-Wine-Love

2 responses to “A Winter’s Tale of Two Boys (and Some Bad Behavior)

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  1. SS, missed your brilliant writing, and I for one am glad you didn’t leave Friendship street.
    Oh, if you haven’t seen Surrogates with Bruce Willis, as a Si-Fi, I highly recommend.
    Happy New Year!
    Dennis

  2. Happy new year! Hope all is well with you!

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