The first time I met him, I was catching crawdads from a culvert a few blocks from my house. Merely five years old, and a master of the art of gathering mudbugs from small creeks around town. Carrying my old empty Yuban coffee can, a few small strips of bologna, and an old Boy Scout of America tab burner cook kit in my pack, I would feast on the ditch dwellers daily. The morning I met him, would change my childhood.
This particular day, my brother and I were awoken before daylight and told to go to my aunt’s house down the street. Nothing unusual for a summer in the 1980’s. We spent a good amount of time at our aunt’s house. As usual, I grabbed my pack and my bicycle, and my brother and I set out on the half-mile journey through the neighborhood. Except, that for some weird reason on this morning, I had an overwhelming urge to check my traps in one of the spots where I collected crawdads.
Explaining to my older brother of my urge, he just nodded his head, pointed his Huffy towards my aunt’s and took off. He was still half asleep. The sun at this point had not even hit the sky. Going in the opposite direction, riding behind our house, and using the path through the small thicket of woods, I emerged at my destination. Started checking my traps, which were not very efficient or sturdy, and found a few big crawdads. Being excited, I retrieved them, and prepped them for breakfast. That is when I heard footsteps coming from the wooded area.
Turning my head towards the thicket, I saw a kid emerge about my age. I did not recognize him, as it was a small town, and I knew all kids my age, especially around the neighborhood. I was a bit alarmed as he came right up to me and squatted down beside me.
“Do you eat them?”, he said.
“Yea, they taste kind of like shrimp”, I replied.
He watched me prep them and remove their torsos from their tails. I had not had any training on how to cook, prepare, or even eat them. I just did. What came natural somehow. He watched intently as I took items from my pack. Questioning everything. Just being who I was, I showed him the whole process, from starting the tab burner to throwing the tails in the old coffee can I used as a pot, to enjoying them. Thing was, he did not care to try them. Oh well, I guess they are not for everyone.
As I packed up my stuff, we talked about boy stuff. What toys we had, what toys we wanted, how fast we could run, and our names. Telling him my favorite TV and newspaper cartoons, we walked for some time, just like we had been friends forever.
His name was Kevin.
About the time I noticed the sun had crept a quarter way into the sky, also hearing a distant high pitch whistle. I recognized that whistle. It was the whistle of a small feisty Mexican lady. It was the whistle of my aunt. My brother and I were accustomed to that sound. When we would roam the neighborhood and surrounding areas with my cousins, that whistle would mean time to come to the house. Typically for a meal. Either way, that whistle could travel for miles.
Looking at Kevin, I asked him if he wanted to come eat at my aunt’s.
“No, thank you. I am not hungry”, he said smiling very warmly.
His smile and mannerisms were strange. He was very happy, very curious, and constantly stared at me with a grin. I know from school and around the neighborhood, kids are not this happy all the time. What gives?
I assumed my crawdad feasting had put off his appetite, as it wasn’t what other kids did. I was still hungry, so I told him I would come get him later. Asking where he lived, he pointed to the cul-de-sac at the edge of the neighborhood. This cul-de-sac is where five very old, small, dilapidated houses stood. My cousins, brother, and few other friends, steered clear of that area. All kinds of stories floated around, and the area just looked abandoned and scary to a kid. Knowing only one of the homes were occupied, I was confused, as the man and woman were pretty old. Wayne, the neighborhood mouth, said that the old man and woman eats children. Kevin lives in that house?
At this point, my mind is racing, but not being one to over-react, I took my pack off my handlebars and slung my arms through the straps. Looking around to tell Kevin I would catch up with him later, he was gone. My stomach dropped. Telling Kevin how fast I ran, I have a feeling he was trying to show me up!
To be continued….