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Billy Joe, Where Are You?

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By David Chittenden*

I want to tell you today about my friend BJ.  His name was really Billy Joe, but we called him BJ, or just Beegee.  Now BJ was a fat little boy, but this was at a time when it was OK to be fat, and it could be argued that if the Lord God had decided that you were to be fat, then who were you to argue with the decision of the Lord?

Then there is the spinning Earth argument.  Here you are – a fat person on one side of the Earth.  You perhaps don’t realize that the Lord God has placed another fat person on the other side of the Earth to balance you off.  (I realize that you have probably been wondering what was the purpose of all those people on the other side of the Earth.  I am glad to be able to fill you in on that.)  Now you decide to become thin. You’re going to unbalance the Earth!  I would not want to be responsible for that!

BJ’s parents really loved him, and they wanted him to be close to them.  Therefore BJ was not allowed to leave his yard.  He could go to school all right, but other times he was supposed to be either in the house or in his yard.  And if he were not in his yard, then you would hear the call, “Billy Joe, where are you?”  You could hear it all over the neighborhood; in fact, you could hear it four blocks away.  If BJ were with us, he would start to run home saying, “I’m gonna get a whopping now.”

But Billy Joe’s yard was nice; we liked to play there.  For example, it had big shade trees that you could climb.  It had such dark shade that was never really hot in Billy Joe’s yard.  You could do things at BJ’s that you couldn’t do other places.  This was because BJ did not have a monocultural lawn like the rest of us.  Billy Joe just had a broad collection of native plants that liked to grow in the shade.

So you could dig your hole to China anywhere you wanted.  Well, I shouldn’t have said just anywhere.  Because when the sewer came down our street, it was free, but you had to pay to be connected to it.  Billy Joe’s parents never felt it was worthwhile to pay, for they still had the outhouse there behind the house, and it was working fine.   There was a well-worn path from the back door of the house and to the outhouse.  Naturally you couldn’t dig a hole to China on the path, or you couldn’t place any obstructions on the path in case someone had go in a hurry.

When we did dig the hole to China, we got down about two feet.  Then we found there was tough clay down there.  It was tan, and had blue streaks in it.  But it was tough, and we didn’t have the equipment for penetrating that clay easily.  Also when we were in the bottom of the hole it seemed rather hot down there.  We had heard that the center of the earth was very hot and we were little concerned that we might be getting to close to the center.  However, the hole to China was never filled in.  After all the labor of digging it, what would be the use of filling it in?  Besides we might later get new technology that would allow us to dig further.

And another thing that Billy Joe had that really attracted us was the fireworks.  Now we had fireworks sometimes, but it was only around the Fourth of July.  Billy Joe would have fireworks anytime his father brought them home. There were none of those sparklers, pinwheels or those awful gray snakes that burned along the ground.  Billy Joe had cherry bombs, and we certainly wanted to use them when we could.  I can’t imagine why anyone’s father would bring home fireworks that they didn’t expect would be used.  What good would that be?

Another thing that Billy Joe had first on our block was television.  It was a 10-inch diameter screen that showed movin’ pitchers in beautiful black and white.  We would go over on Saturday night to Billy Joe’s house to watch wrestling and I want to tell you about what happened one Saturday night when we were there.

Of course, we thought the wrestling was real.  We would do some wrestling ourselves on the floor at Billy Joe’s living room.  We were all careful not to really hurt each other.  But we must have been too noisy.  Billy Joe’s dad came out of the downstairs bedroom, and shouted, “Out, out, out in the yard!”  He was trying to sleep.  Billy Joe’s dad worked for the railroad, and he had rather irregular hours.  Now was the time for him to sleep.

So we went out into Billy Joe’s yard and it was getting very dark now.  So it was just the time to hunt for night crawlers.  We took the hose and saturated the ground with water.  This made the night crawlers come out of their holes to see what was going on.  You had your flashlight and flashed around in the weeds there until you saw a night crawler.  Then you grabbed him quick, but usually he got back into the hole before you could catch him.  And if you did catch him, then he would throw out his anchor, so you couldn’t pull him out. Earthworms have anchors.  But sometimes you got one, and then when you pulled the worm you could see it get thinner and thinner in the middle.  Then it broke, and you had two worms.  That didn’t bother us because we heard that they can regenerate themselves from pieces.  We just considered that we were taking an important part in their reproductive process.

After we had worked on night crawlers for a while and tired of that, we decided to test out the cherry bombs.  We had heard that if you put the cherry bombs in tin can, and crush the can around it just leaving a little space for the wick, you can make a bigger bang with that device.  We wanted to test it.  We got our cherry bomb into the can, and crushed it down leaving a spot for the wick, and then lit that wick.  We then threw the device into the hole to China.  This must have been the beginning of what we now know as underground testing.

Then something happened that we were not prepared for.  The back door of the house opened, and BJ’s father came out running.  Running down the path to the outhouse.  I had never known that big people could run that fast.  He was really making time.  Also I didn’t know that big people sometimes slept in their long johns.

Billy Joe’s father was really fast until he came that muddy spot on the path, that got muddy from our earthworm activity.  Billy Joe’s dad hit that spot, and then flew into the air and he was waving his arms so fast that I thought he was gaining altitude for a while.

That is when the cherry bomb went off in the underground testing hole to China. POW!!  The next thing I heard was another POW! when Billy Joe’s dad hit the path — flat on his back.

I can say, however, that as I ran for home just as fast as I could, I heard that familiar call, “Billy Joe, where are you?”


*David Chittenden was trained as a chemical engineer, but he enjoys telling stories more. He has been co-President of the South Coast Storytellers Guild. This is his second story for TYTT. His first was Climbing the Mesa.



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