Foolboy's Madness

by Damon L. Fordham

One Saturday afternoon, Lucas had finished his homework the previous day. All of the cartoons that he usually enjoyed on television on Saturday mornings were off for the day and his mother had gone shopping, so he took his house key and went for a ride on his bicycle.

He rode for several blocks enjoying the wind against his face and the speed at which he traveled. The section of town where he lived was small and few cars occupied the streets there in those days, so children on bicycles had little reason to fear oncoming traffic. This gave Lucas the opportunity to indulge in some tricks that would amuse his father while he was alive, but horrified his mother today, such as riding without his hands on the handles, standing on the central bar while holding on to the handle bars, and "wheelies" where he would ride while the front wheel lifted up in the air. Lucas happily imagined himself doing these tricks in a circus to the applause of the crowd that appeared in the eyes of his mind.

After a half hour or so of these hijinks, Lucas decided to ride over to the drugstore and enjoy a cola and a grilled cheese sandwich. After reaching in his pocket to get change to pay for the meal, he decided to indulge in another favorite activity, reading the comic books that were on the nearby news stand. Of course, he had to do this with caution. The proprietor, Dr. Zellner, did not want the children to damage the comic books by reading them before purchase. Lucas thought he would be careful by not losing himself so deeply into his imagination and the comics without keeping his eye on the lookout for Dr. Zellner, who was usually elsewhere in the drugstore filling out prescriptions for the adults.

Within minutes after seeing if Dr. Zellner was still busy, Lucas focused on a comic book about pirates. He remembered hearing that pirates were once plentiful in nearby Charleston, so he read the book with relish as the swashbuckling tale caused his mind to soar. Not only did he dream of what it was like to have such adventures, but he wondered what it would be like to one day write a comic book such as this.

Unfortunately at that moment, Gunther Yates and a few of his associates entered the drug store, Lucas immediately turned his head and began to hide behind the counter, but it was too late.

"Look at fool boy," smirked Gunther as he and the other boys approached with wicked grins.

"My name is Lucas, Gunther."

Gunther laughed, "Boy please, you ain't nothin' but ugly old fool boy to me."

"Well," stammered Lucas without really knowing what to say, "I guess it's like they say, beauty is in the eye of the beholder."

The boys laughed heavily at this, "I told you he was a fool. Listen to the stupid stuff that comes out of that damn dumb mouth. My aunt was right about you."

Gunther and the boys moved closer to Lucas when he suddenly said, "Hey Dr. Zellner."

As Gunther and the other bullies turned around to look for the doctor, Lucas ran out of the drugstore, and jumped on to his bike. He began to pedal quickly and chose not to look back, lest he let Gunther and his cohorts know that he was fleeing from them. As he pedaled he narrowly missed being hit by passing cars, but he was single-minded in his desire to head home, or perhaps to Mr. Potts' house, where he could relax in safety without being humiliated. Pretty soon, Lucas parked the bicycle in his back yard, reached for his key, and went inside to turn on the television. He was relieved that his mother was not yet home, as he did not want to have to explain the day's events to her. By the time she arrived, he would not be breathing so hard, and he would be relaxed as if nothing happened. It turned out that there was nothing of interest on television and he had nothing new to read, so he decided to write his mother a note to let her know that he was gone to visit Mr. Potts. He knew that the route he would take to walk would not likely be the same one that Gunther and the other bullies would use, as they lived in the opposite direction of Mr. Potts' house.

While Lucas was on his way to see Mr. Potts, the old man was in the midst of one of his storytelling sessions with his friends when their subject of discussion turned to a different topic than usual.

"Say Ernie," said Hank Skinner, "Do you remember the first story you ever heard?"

"Sure do," began Mr. Potts. "One of the few stories my dad told me before he drowned in a fishing boat when I was real little was the one about Old John Henry."

"John Henry who?" asked Hank.

"John Henry, the steel driving man."

"Oh yeah," said Charles Jones. "I seem to remember a song about that."

"That's right," said Mr. Potts. "He was a big strong colored man driving steel on the railroad tracks when the foreman came by and told him that his friends that they were gonna lose their jobs, because they had a new steel driving machine. John Henry said that dog wasn't gonna hunt! He said he'd prove a man could drive faster than any machine and before he and his friends lost their jobs and couldn't feed their families, he'd race the machine to prove his point and save their jobs."

"So the word went out far and wide that John Henry was going ot race that steel driving machine and folks came from miles around to see that race. The machine pounded while John Henry took that sledgehammer and bam bam bam! He beat the machine and saved his friend's jobs, but his heart gave out in the effort. You know what the good book says about a man laying down his life for his friends? That was John Henry. That story really inspired me when I was a child."

"Speaking of children," asked Hank. "How's things going with you minding that Moore boy these days?"

"Oh pretty good," answered Mr. Potts. "You know at first, I figured he'd get in the way of our little afternoon sessions here in the tool shed and when I wanted to relax, but I like the little fella.

He's got a good mind and with the right folks looking after him, he's going to grow up and be somebody."

Charles Jones, Frank Little, and Hank Skinner gave each other doubtful looks. Frank added, "I don't know about that Ernie."

"What do y'all mean?" asked Mr. Potts.

Charles Jones added, "Lots of folks say that Moore boy is a little on the fool side."

Hank Skinner agreed. "Yeah, he might be a little crazy. Reading all them books and saying a lot of strange things. He might grow up in the crazy house up on Bull Street in Columbia."

Frank Little nodded his head at this. "I hear about how he is in regular school and Sunday school. The boy is kind of weird you have to admit."

"How so?" asked Mr. Potts.

"Well for one thing, he don't talk like a child. He talks like somebody way older, and about strange things that don't make a lot of sense. He don't seem to get along too well with other kids neither. Oh, I see him riding his bike every now and then, but he always seems to have his nose in a book. That ain't normal for a boy. All that reading just might send him to the fool house in Columbia where they'll put him in a straightjacket and give him shock treatment."

"Or he might just grow up to be the village idiot," said Charles Jones, "Nothing but a walking joke that's good for a laugh. Only thing is that folks will laugh at him and not with him. Besides, I understand the boy's adopted. You never know, his real parents might not have had all their sense."

Mr. Potts somehow listened to all this with patience and then let out with a heavy sigh. "Let me ask y'all fellows this."

The men leaned forward to listen.

"Let's suppose," began Mr. Potts, "that we were all sitting here some forty or so years ago. Just take y'all minds back to that time and imagine how y'all would react of I was to tell y'all that each of us in this room would one day see radios with pictures as well as sound, men walking on the moon, and white and Negro children going to school together?"

Each of the men was silent for a few minutes. Charles Jones then spoke up and said, "We would have said you were crazy!"

"That's right," answered Ernie, "You see, normal people are always considered sane and sensible, but its people who don't think like everybody else that goes on to make things that everybody else thinks is impossible turn out to be possible."

The men looked confused until Mr. Potts explained further.

"Y'all need to stop talking about how fool and strange and crazy that boy is. Just because he likes to read and daydream a lot doesn't mean something's wrong with him. He says thing like that not because he's weird, but because he's not old enough to find the right words to say what he's thinking. Instead of putting him down, y'all need to build him up so when he grows up, he'll use his smarts for good and not for evil."

After this lecture, Mr. Potts got up to go into his house and use the bathroom. However, he opened the door and to his surprise, saw Lucas listening through the door. The boy shook nervously as Mr. Potts stared at him with a stern expression.

"Look here boy, you got better sense than to listen in on grown folks' conversations. I done told you about that before."

Lucas looked terrified as if he were about to be lectured more sternly and punished accordingly.

"How long were you listening?"

"Oh," stammered Lucas anxiously, "about ten or so moments."

"So you heard what I just had to tell those fellows?"

"Yes sir."

Mr. Potts maintained his stern expression, but thought for a moment and said, "Well, once again I don't go for you or any other child listening in on grown folks' talking because sometimes y'all end up hearing things y'all don't need to hear. But since I was just about to tell you the same thing I just finished telling those men in there about you anyway and I hope you listened good to how I answered them, then this time I'll let that slide.

Foolboy's Madness by Damon L. Fordham Excerpted from the upcoming novel American Storyteller-A Novel of Folklore.

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