I played freshman football in high school and I admit I wasn't very good at it. Fortunately, after one season of getting my head knocked off every afternoon on the practice field, I decided to join the swim team. But the football team went on without me and eventually went undefeated in my senior year.
Our best player was a monster of a kid named Robert Cline. I mean this guy was big in every sense of the word. Big legs, big arms, big torso... not fat mind you, but huge, and built like a combination of Andre the Giant and Shaquille O'Neal. He didn't leave anything in the locker room either.
On the field he played both defensive and offensive lineman. I can still remember his gutteral, blood curdling bellow as he came off the ball and leveled some unfortunate kid. He broke other player's bones more than once - no kidding.
Off the field it was a different story. If the only image of him you had was his face, you would have guessed him to be some kind of math wonk: big eyes behind thick, horn rim glasses, high forehead, short hair and flaired out ears. You know, the kind of kid who went around school with a slide ruler hooked to his belt like a Roman short sword.
Off the field he was gentle as spring rain - soft spoken and never, never came close to getting into a fight. I honestly don't think he would even have defended himself if somebody had hit him.
He and I were friends for quite awhile. One summer in particular I remember going over to his house up on 4th Street and then walking to the public library downtown. Man I loved that library Steve. It was everything you could ever want in a small town public library. Greek revival architecture, cool terrazzo floors, quiet reading rooms with long maple tables... and packed floor to ceiling with books.
Modern libraries don't do that any more Steve. They're constantly paring the collection down, like lions thinning out a herd of antelopes. Back when I was a kid I don't think they ever got rid of a book. Once they got hold of a book it was like a ray of light caught in a black hole. Some guy donates a 12 volume history of the Gas City Masonic Lodge? Don't worry, they'll find room. As the years went by the shelves just got higher and the aisles between them narrower.
Anyway, back to Robert Cline - the Incredible Hulk of high school freshman...
That first time we went to the library I wondered what kind of books Robert would look for. So I followed him up to the kid's section on the second floor. The kid's section Steve. You know, little, dinky first grade kids, with little dinky tables and chairs about a foot and a half high.
Well Robert went straight to one low shelf as if yanked towards it by a tractor beam, pulled out a "Freddy the Pig" book, gingerly sat his massive body down on one of those tiny chairs and began to read. You had to be there, but I hope I've told you enough about Robert and the library to visualize this amazingly touching scene.
Savor that for a moment.
Turns out there were 26 Freddy the Pig books and they were just about the only thing Robert liked to read. He checked them out, took them home, pored through them over and over, and came back for more.
Freddy the Pig was the creation of one Walter Brooks (1927-58). Freddy lived on The Bean Farm along with his friends, which included Henrietta the Hen, Jinx the Cat, Mrs. Wiggins the Cow and Charles the Rooster. There's even a "Friends of Freddy" society, and I'd like to think Robert is a member.
So here's to good friends (you're one, Steve), lovely libraries, the loss of innocence and the curative power of golden memories.