Johnny Bill Boggs
ow does write a story about a ‘best friend’ that shared nearly every experience, good and bad, as we grew up? This is especially tough when a considerable amount of time has passed since our last meeting so long ago. The last time I saw him, he was in college, working toward becoming an engineer. After that I heard rumors he may have gone to someplace in Ohio. At reunions there was no news about him and a part of my heart ached. Those hurts are brought under control by reason of finding him through the electronic media. I finally was able to contact him and was able to have him preview an article I was to have published pertaining to his dad. I was to hear afterward that his family was blessed by the short story I considered about his farther, a man I considered a top role model and hero. There will always be more to say, but time and circumstance has not allowed further tales of Eddie Boggs. Besides, I bring to the table one simple point of view and he was much more than that to a lot of people. Today, I turn my attention to that rascal that made my younger years a kind of Heaven that protected us from at least some of the realities of life.
I really don’t recall when I first met him, but I know it had to be prior to grade school. Likely we were babes in our mother’s arms and met when our respective strollers passed on a sidewalk near our homes. We were born three days apart (he is the older). He lived on Perry Street next to the railroad while Billy Elkins and I had neighboring apartments across the tracks in the Louisa Inn. Certainly we were at several community affairs while infants on our mother’s hips. I do, however, remember in the first grade that he, Billy Elkins and I were fast friends and have remained so these many years.
We were in Mrs. Armstrong’s first grade class just trying to settle into the idea of maintaining our attention on whatever subject or instructions we were to learn. We were sitting together at a long table with many of the boys I would soon come to know and love. Johnny Bill sat across from me, where before we were called to order we were sharing our excitement of being in school.
Poor Mrs. Armstrong had to call us to order more than once because we lacked either the temperament or desire to be quiet. Finally, she went on to talk about something that has been lost these many years, when I looked over at Johnny Bill. Our eyes met and undoubtedly shined in mischievous thought. It turned out that he had an ability that was beyond many of my peers. With a straight face he wiggled his ears! I had never seen such a thing, so I broke out in a giggle. The teacher asked me what was so funny and I protected Johnny by saying ‘nothing.’ “Then remain quiet,” she replied. She had no more than turned her back and walked away when I saw those ears wagging again. I tried my best to hold it in but in the end, I exploded. As a result, horrors upon horrors, I was moved from the boy’s table and made to sit with the girls. It would be years before I would see any value in that.
At recess, or playing after school and on weekends, we were fast friends. We walked around town as we grew older and visited stores like Curt Young’s Grocery on Clay Street and Pike Street and entertained ourselves by developing our skills at tossing and catching baseballs and footballs. We learned to ride bicycles and played along on the railroad tracks, in older abandoned buildings, lumber yards, and on Town Hill. We played choose up games whenever we could and tried to be on the same team. In the beginning since I was taller and perhaps an ounce heavier, I would tuck a football in my arms and run head-long at Johnny Bill. It must have been a site with my long-skinny arms and legs flying about, but in those days, he couldn’t bring me down. Later, in high school after he went out for the bulldogs, his coach taught him a thing or two about tackling and I was thereafter consistently thrown to the ground. He learned well.
Johnny Bill played in the LHS band and when it was time to consider whether football or band would rule in his life he was stubborn and said, “both.” He was taking on a big political battle that would become threatening as coaches and band directors fought over which was more important. He, and I think Herbie Rice, stood their ground and played on the team and in the band. During half-time while still wearing the football gear, they would join the band with its program and then try to rush to the locker room with the rest of the bulldogs. In late summer I guess they got to go to football camp and band camp, too.
Johnny was too light to compete well against some really big fellows, but he, like Harry Richard, more than made up in stamina and determination. Several of our other friends would throw their heavier bodies to protect my friend. He earned his place and made me proud. He was good at sports, including ‘choose-up’ football and baseball, so I didn’t think he got little playing time, but I never heard him complain. He took it in good stride, demonstrating again his character.
Here’s what Johnny had to say about his football career:
“As soon as I could, I went out for football. I was 105 pounds, soaking wet. I went out in order to impress the girls and win a “Letter”. Harry Richard Cyrus and I were the smallest male students in our grade. Every practice, the fullback Maynard twin (Wayne or Joe?) would have a 10 yard running start, and I then got to tackle him. I would hit him as hard as I could and he would trip over my body after stepping on me for at least another 10 yards. I did get to play in the last 3 minutes of the games, if Louisa was losing badly. A few times, I ran very well, and the coach would say “you’re going to start next week. Coach never did start me. I only needed to get in one more time in any quarter to get my “Letter”. Coach refused!”
He may have been smaller and shorter, but I think all the girls thought he was handsome, smart, and humble, always thinking of others. Because of this he was well-respected because he was a person of character. He lived by unspoken rules that were more than just good manners, but he had a true nature toward protecting others and standing his grounds. I’m sure that came from Eddie, his father, but somehow he forged his own standards. Oh, he was human enough, but he was still a solid, trustworthy friend. I never heard him talk negatively about another person and he would not stand for slander. It earned him a lot of respect.
During the summer Johnny Bill and I played on organized baseball teams. Once I was drafted to a competitive different team and was disappointed I would not be playing with my friends. When I had to go out of town for a few weeks, I came back to find out that I had been traded to my dream team that had Eddie Boggs as coach, and Johnny Bill, Billy Elkins, and the gang team as members. I was delighted to be with my old friends again. We also played on the ‘Smokey Valley’ team that traveled on Sunday afternoons. We went from Lomansville to Buchannan, High Bottom to Carter’s Bridge, Fort Gay and other fields. Jim Ray Rose was our main pitcher with a really good curve ball and Billy Elkins, a lefty, played first base, too. Stanley Brown and Johnny Bill were infielders and other town boys filled the other positions.
Johnny Bill was able to borrow his dad’s Oldsmobile for dates in high school. We would often ‘double-date’ and had the best times. He saw to it that Louisa saw that car up and down nearly every road on the weekends. While he dated around, I don’t recall him going really steady with any of them. He did date one or two more often, but he was a handsome young fellow and could easily find someone on his arm with little effort. Still, he was a gentleman, always being careful not to offend any.
I’ve mentioned a couple of exploits we were involved in. The first was the ride to Fallsburg on our bicycles only to be hauled in on the return trip by Eddie. I still remember the sting of the sermon. The other main one was the fishing trip down river to the mouth of the Blaine and the after dark, scary return. Eddie and others on Pete Armstrong’s dock saved us by the sweeping the river’s surface with their flashlights that helped us see the locks and avoid hitting one of the pillars. Otherwise, we might not have survived that night.
Over the years we played a lot together and later added rougher games such as ‘track,’ which involved one group of boys heading up town hill and into the woods and the other following a half hour or hour later. The second group had to track the first by reading signs such as bent grass, moved rocks, bent tree limbs or some other disturbance that told us the group passed going a certain direction. The idea was to finally catch them. I recall breaking out on top of a hill and seeing the other group down in the bottom crossing a creek. We ran helter-skelter down the hill. I found myself going so fast that I knew I couldn’t stop. Even trying to slow would only make me fall and I knew the pain of rolling and hitting the rocks and trees would not be fun. I briefly saw a small tree right in my path and there was nothing I could do to avoid it. I simply ran over it leaving it behind as I continued to run and hop to the bottom of the hill. Once there, we had accomplished our goal and caught the other group. Someone remarked that I had blood streaming down my face and I realized the tree had given me a reminder to plan my path of decent better. It was only a scratch, but a prize for tracking ‘well-done.’
I’m not certain, but it was likely that Johnny Bill was with me when shooting rats at the dump on some Sunday afternoons. That area later became a shopping center. I’ve wondered if part of my legacy is buried somewhere under all that pavement. We practiced shooting arrows, throwing tomahawks, and other kinds of marksmanship. We always remembered the cautions that we were given and respected lessons on handling the weapons, but we were pretty good at hitting targets.
We were pretty much three musketeers, Johnny Bill, Billy Elkins, and me. We laughed together, sometimes cried together, and often worried together. We tried to be each other’s strength, someone to share with while knowing all confidence would be kept. Johnny Bill always honored that ideal and I appreciate that about him to this day.
I know he has a wonderful understanding today of what is really important in life. He loves the Lord, loves his family and is content to embrace those things in his heart. Just as I surely loved his dad, I have a brotherly love toward him that can never fail. I so enjoy hearing about his family and his love for living a good life when he writes me a note. I continue to wish him God’s grace and blessings.