Every little Southern town has its characters. Well, at least they did back when I was growing up in the 1950s and 1960s. Odd sorts of folks who were really harmless and were tolerated as eccentrics gave a town some local color.
I remember several from my childhood days. One was an albino street preacher who wore overalls and set forth very loudly on the same busy corner every Saturday morning. Another was a Lurch-like giant from the highlands on the south end of town who feverishly rubbed his chin, mumbled incoherently, and followed after young women as they moved between stores in our busy little downtown. He stopped this nonsense after one of my friends knocked him senseless one Saturday morning to the cheers of all the old men sitting in front of the general store.
Yet another was one of Lurch’s younger kin who came to town one day with a real sword and a garbage can lid for a shield and proceeded to chase us around town after someone sling-shotted him in the head with a ball bearing. In a nearby town where my Mama grew up, there lived a middle-aged man who roamed the streets in a cowboy outfit and would gladly treat all the youngsters to a shootout, toy six guns blazing. And then there was the dear old deaf and dumb fellow who was a particular nemesis to my own Mama. I always had to protect her when we walked by his haunt in front of the Five & Dime Store. He was only trying to be friendly, I’d say, but she never believed me!
But perhaps the funniest character of all was a boy just a couple of years older than I. He was a large, boisterous fellow whom you always wanted on your good side. One day in eighth grade we all had to bring our science projects to class for demonstrations. This young fellow came into the classroom carrying a mysterious box-shaped object covered with a dingy cloth. In his other hand he carried a length of electrical wire with a plug on one end. But on the opposite end, the last few inches were separated into two naked branches. He sat it all down on the table with a smug grin and took his seat. We knew something was up!
When it came his turn, as fate would have it, someone knocked at the door and temporarily diverted everyone’s attention, including the teacher’s. By the time we turned back, our young scientist had unveiled his secret and was hurriedly wrapping the naked wires around the bars of a metal cage that contained a large rodent. Before Mrs. _____ had time to scream “No, don’t do it!” he pushed the plug into the wall outlet and his primitive electric chair did its gruesome work. That was the end of class that day. It took a while for the room to air out. I never knew what grade he got.