WillieFrom Dimmitt to Dude, Melvin to Marlene, Fairfield had its share of unique characters, some of whom were just plain old to us kids and some of whom were just plain strange to everybody. Of those who have walked out of the fog of my past, none looms larger than Willie Luke.
Willie loomed large. He was big. Real big.
It seems I was in the third or fourth grade when I got my first impression of Willie Luke, though not my final impression. It was one of those days on the playground when the rest of the kids decided to gang up on me. I’d probably done something in class that annoyed them. Kids are kids. They needed no good reason. Through the course of the challenge, one of the boys decided to take me down and give me my deserved wuppin’. (Most kids took turns getting a wuppin’ so I’d just come around on the carousel of life that day.)
I was down, pretty much beaten when this large boy came up, pulled my assailant away and said, “Leave him alone.”
As I said, Willie was big, even by a kid’s standards.
I had made a friend for life, though I suspect Willie never really wanted to have anything much to do with me after that. He lived on the far north end of town, up by the Sims Cemetery and he came from an odd family.
His father, or so I recall, took a shortcut off the side of the Southgate Hill on the other side of Cedar Grove, losing his life. Southgate Hill has its own reputation for those who remember it. It’s another story and doesn’t belong to Fairfield. You can’t experience it anymore, so it doesn’t matter.
I don’t recall much more about Willie during those days, though I did meet up with him a few years later. I was a young reporter for the Richmond Palladium-Item and was sent to Cambridge City to write about a strike going on at one of the plants.
This behemoth man stood larger than even I had remembered. He was pretty much at the low end of the social pole and even had a bottle of whiskey in his hip pocket. He was walking a picket. We chatted. I never saw him again.(Well, yes I did ... at a couple of reunions in later years. He's gone now, but not forgotten.)
Willie had kin whose names around town were well known. Frank and George Luke, perhaps brothers or uncles, owned a pair of draft horses. To watch these men work their horses through a tobacco patch was unforgettable. Gee, haw, gee haw. They had an invalid mother who none of us ever saw. George took care of Mom and Frank took care of the farm.
One summer day in 1965, Frank bought a new pickup and had begun to impress brother George with its many features.
“If you push this lever down,” George told my brother and me, “the dashboard goes click click click.”
IndianNed and Ella Parker owned a house on Main Street a hundred feet from where we lived. It pays to note that almost EVERY-body lived within a few hundred feet of somebody else. Except for the Meltons, who lived somewhere out of town. And Olivene Cox, who never told us where she lived.
I digress. Ned was quiet, sat on his front porch most of the time listening to Ella, who was also quiet. They may have known something. Behind the Parkers’ house was another small house where resided the cool, even quieter, mysterious George Maharey.
George was an Indian. American Indian. Native American. Or so he claimed.
He looked like one to us. His role in the Parkers’ life was never clear to any of us and we never really thought to ask. He was perhaps a hired hand, not an uncommon occurrence in those days.
He’d walk from the house downtown, past the old Preston house, up by old Doc Preston’s office, boarded up and eerie-looking, and he’d sit on the steps. We’d all gather around and George would draw Indian symbols in the dirt, explaining what each meant. Then he’d laugh. Big old toothless grin.
Pictures of the sun, the clouds and other little squares and triangles and lines, all meaning something. Indian writing. One day George went away.
WhittlerComing into town from the south, you could turn right at the parsonage, which has its own history I’ll discuss later, and follow a short street that rounded around and formed the eastern boundary of the town. There, on that rounded corner sat an old weatherbeaten house with faded curtains, cracked concrete and rotted old window sills.
Scott Carey lived there. Alone.
Scott Carey may or may not have been a million years old. His hair was snow white and he kept to himself for the most part. We didn’t have much to say to the old guy and that seemed to be all right with him. But at times, he’d come uptown to the grocery and sit on a bench in the town park and whittle.
He made some fairly nice wooden animals out of bits of lumber.
Sometimes, he’d give them to us.
BigfootJerry Cornelius was a year older than I and he was tall for his age. His brother Eldon had been a basketball star both at Fairfield and later at Brookville. Jerry wasn’t much good at the game, owing to his incredibly large feet.
We called him Bigfoot.
Jerry was a wannabe tough guy and didn’t put much effort into his schoolwork. He pretended to be a hoodlum and wore heeltaps on his boots. We could hear him coming. Junior Baker, Larry Ford and I devised a scheme to stack his locker at the high school. Every day. EVERY day. We’d sit in study hall and hear him coming, tap tap tap … then he’d open his locker and all the books would come tumbling down. He’d grumble about it, pick them up, put them back and go about his business.
Next day, same result.
Next day, again.
This went on for a year.
Bigfoot would meet us at the bus at the end of the day and smile and never mention it. He wasn’t a hoodlum and he knew it.
Jerry died on S.R. 101 when his car went over a hillside. We couldn’t afford to lose him.
PaulPaul Klein was older than we were, I think. He didn’t go to school much because he was what we called a “blue baby” and was susceptible to an assortment of injuries that could have killed him.
But we’d go to his house for parties. His birthdays were always special.
He didn’t have enough of them.