In a recent posting I outed a boy that lived next door to my house on Eleventh Street South. His name was Edward Earl but he responded to Tootie, a justifiable moniker that he could easily demonstrate—Edward Earl could, with little or no urging toot at will, hence the nickname Tootie.
Tootie and I were friends and we rambled together all over town and country, but I don’t remember whether he attended my school. There was another elementary school nearby and he may have been enrolled there. I say may have been, but in retrospect I suspect that he was not enrolled anywhere. I have no memories of walking to or from school with him—I usually walked with my sister, eighteen months older than I and one grade ahead of me. She constantly lorded over me in our elementary school because she was ahead, and I spend a lot of time dreaming and hoping and praying that she would fail at least one grade—two grades if the good Lord could manage it.
But I digress—back to Tootie and the watermelon party.
Early one sunny summer Saturday morning Tootie and I decided to go uptown to check out the flood waters of the Tombigbee River, a normally peaceful stream that was in flood mode at the time and was the subject of much conversation. We walked the eleven blocks east to First Street, then eleven blocks north to Main Street, a distance of some two miles—city blocks usually run about twelve blocks to the mile.
Most of the homes on First Street were, and I suppose still are, owned and occupied by the upper crust of Columbus—the wealthy, the near wealthy and a few wannabees. All the homes fronted First Street and backed up to the bluff overlooking the river. We checked out the flood waters from several backyards along the street, and at one point the water had risen so high that we were able to walk out over the flooded area on a limb of a huge tree near the bluff.
Our destination was the high bridge over the Tombigbee River. We traversed the length of the bridge, marveling at the flotsam and jetsam moving down the river, did the uptown thing, checked out the marques and the black-and-white lobby cards posted at the town’s three movie houses, rambled through Woolworth’s and McClellan’s Five and Dime stores—didn’t shoplift anything—and sometime in mid-afternoon we headed for home, primarily because we had no money and we were hungry—considerable time has passed since breakfast.
We made it home safely but not under our own power. Several blocks from home on Eleventh Street was an ice plant, a business that operated five and one-half days a week. The plant’s loading dock was near the street and as we drew near we noticed numerous watermelon halves on the dock and walked over to take a look. Apparently the workers had a watermelon party after their shift was over. The plant was silent, no vehicles or people anywhere in sight.
Evidently the workers had just left because the melons were still cold. In most of the melons only the heart, the part with no seeds, had been gouged out, so one can guess the rest of this story. Tootie and I feasted on cold watermelon, digging out melon bites with one hand, swatting flies with the other hand and competing to see how far we could spit seeds—for two tired and hungry little boys it was heavenly!
We were still enjoying our find when a city police cruiser, a black-and-white with two patrolmen, drew up and stopped at the loading dock. The driver asked us what we were doing and we told him the honest truth—we told him we were eating watermelon. He asked us for our names and we told the truth to that question also. He suggested that we hop into the rear seat so he could give us a ride home. Tootie said that it was not far and that we would rather walk, that we were going home and only stopped to eat some watermelon.
Both patrolmen exited the car and each opened a rear door. The same officer repeated his suggestion, but couched it in different terms and in a different tone—we scrambled off the dock and into the rear seat. As the doors closed Tootie whispered to me that yeah, they’re taking us home alright—home to jail. I made no response because I was so scared that I couldn’t even swallow, let alone talk.
When we got home we were met by some very relieved and very angry family members. Calls had been made to the city police around mid-morning and the search had been going on ever since. I don’t know what sort of system they had at the time—obviously there was no Amber Alert system in place. I imagine the search was simply a call to local law enforcement personnel to be on the lookout for two wayward boys, one named Mikey and one that was called Tootie.
I have every reason to believe that some sort of corporeal punishment was meted out to us. There was no doubt that we deserved it—we had earned it. However, I do not remember what transpired following our triumphant homecoming. My punishment may have been so severe and so traumatic that I blotted it from my memory. I may awaken some night screaming, drenched with perspiration, reeling from a whip lashing and recalling threats of being drawn and quartered, but I may have suffered nothing more than a few bear hugs and kisses.
At least seventy years have gone by since that day, and I have never had such dreams and what scars I have were earned in other places and in other ways. I have serious doubts that I will ever have such dreams, but hey, anything is possible. The punishment may be so deeply buried in my subconscious that nothing can bring it to the surface—I hope!
I am honest enough to admit the possibility that I may have—may have, mind you—embellished this story a tiny teeny weeny little bit along the way in my efforts and desire to enlighten and entertain those that may pass this way, but the story is true—honest! I can prove it by demonstrating that I can still eat watermelon with one hand and swat flies with the other hand.
It’s my story and I’m sticking to it.