The Kid and lived in town six months short of six years. It was all he knew or remembered at age six. Six months, six years, age six, 666, the Beast’s number, perhaps that was a sign.
He had gone to a private kindergarten in town, twice. He had started first grade at the East Ward Elementary School, right across the street from where he lived. There was no trouble there; he got along with his classmates and with Mrs. Warren, the hair-pulling disciplinarian. She never pulled his hair because he never misbehaved. He was a good reader and although Mrs. Warren made a point of showing that skill off, his classmates didn’t seem to resent it.
He had a lot of friends in the class; he had a lot of friends, period. They were all from his neighborhood. You didn’t wander far at age six. He never considered where these friends came from and he assumed they would always be companions as he grew. There was Tim and Billy, Denny and Gary, there were two Bobbys, there was Sandi and Iva and Toni and Judy, and others.
Although his father was away to war, he never felt loneliness. He lived with his mother and her parents and he had all those friends.
And then the war ended and his dad came home and moved The Kid out of town to a place between a swamp and a cow pasture. There it was lonely. It was void of others and isolated. His dad became a long-haul trucker and was home not much more than when he was in the Navy. The kid lived alone with his mother and his imagination. It may have been only two years, but perhaps two years that affected the remainder of his life.
After two years they moved back to town, back to the same house on the same street and back to East Ward School. It was a familiar land populated by familiar faces. What a shock when The Kid discovered he was a stranger there.
To be shunned, ignored and even bullied by those he had once played with was a new experience. It was hard to understand why his friends had morphed into antagonists in such a short time. True, some hadn’t become hostiles; they had simply moved elsewhere and disappeared from his world. Billy was in another town and Gary was on the West Ward side, which may as well been the dark-side of the moon, but most of the others remained. Iva was still his friend and playmate, but Iva was a girl. Eight-year-old boys have a hard time accepting a girl as there best friend.
In a way, this lack of friends was not a problem to The Kid. After two years of isolation he had come to be comfortable alone. He knew how to entertain himself, how to fill the hours without compatriots. Still, even a loner occasionally feels the need to talk with someone who is a peer.
The question for The Kid was how to make a friend. Those who had once been were more often now tormentors, laughing at his clothes, jeering at his lack of team sport experience, even picking on his hat.
In those days Philadelphia had two baseball teams. The Kid wore a Philadelphia Athletics cap, blue with an A on the front. The A’s had once been a great team led by the legendary manager-owner, Connie Mack. But the Kid moved back to town in 1950 and the A’s had fallen on tough times, while the Phillies were about to have a season that would take them to only their second World Series in their history.
So the taunting revolved around a silly cap. “Why ya wearing that hat? Don’tcha know the A’s stink? Why ain’tcha wearin’ a Phillie’s hat?”
The Kid begged his mother for a Phillies hat and he tossed away the blue cap for a red one, but nothing changed, they found a new target for teasing. It was an interesting insight into human nature. If you are the object of the ruling class’ scorn, you do not bend to appease them, for there is no appeasing them. What they tell you is the reason for their animosity toward you is only a convenient excuse. If you remove it, they only find another excuse and those excuses are only subterfuge to justify themselves. It is the deceits they play upon themselves to hide their insecurities and their own black hearts.
The Kid knew whatever he did, they were not going to let him play in their Reindeer games, and when they were forced to by the interference from adult authority, then The Kid would be chosen near the end of the choosing. So the ones to watch were those others also chosen near the end for he knew friends wouldn’t come from the in-crowd, but from his fellow outcasts.
What The Kid didn’t realize was a room back in the house in the swamp held the key to unlocking the door to his best friend to be.