My Friendship with Bob The Hunchback

I met Bob when I was four years old. He was taller than I was, but not much taller. More of Bob in a moment.

Where I lived, kids would get together and play kickball. It was in Huntington Park, California.

There was Kathy, who lived with her parents, in the condo over a three car garage. She was older than I was. She was a friend, but on occasion she would get mad at me. Her parents were quiet people who seemed to always be dressed in beige colored cloths. They all had light hair that matched their clothing. Her father had a receding hairline. I never heard a cross word come from their condo. Kathy’s dad usually wore a fedora when he took out the trash.

There was Larry, the Mexican boy, who lived with his parents in a cellar apartment catty corner to the condo. He was one year older than I was. He was nice. His mother was an attractive woman, who had jet black hair, pulled back. Her name was Isabelle. She always wore earrings, and her blouses came down and hung just below her shoulders. She wore heavy red lipstick. She was soft spoken like Larry. Larry’s dad was muscular with a mustache. He often wore an a-shirt. His hair was black too, but wavy, trimmed nicely and combed back. His slacks were well pressed. His shoes were always polished. He and Isabelle and Larry were very attractive people. But Larry’s dad had a temper, and if Larry didn’t do exactly what his dad said, Larry would be whipped outside where everyone could see it taking place.

There was this bald guy who hung out over the balcony of his apartment in his a-shirt and navy underwire, smoking and watching us play. His apartment was directly over Larry’s apartment.

Beyond the two apartments and condo and our kick ball area was a big incinerator, which was used to burn everyone’s trash. I was strictly forbidden to go anywhere near it. I didn’t want to. It was always kind of messy with in burnt trash hanging. And way over away from everything else was an old shed. It was always locked, but when opened didn’t contain anything very interesting – rakes, a lawn mower, and junk. Its wall served as a natural barrier that balls would bounce off of if the balls we kicked out of bounds.

And, far off in front of the kickball area, the condo, apartments, incinerator, and shed was a white stucco Spanish styled home. That’s where I lived with my mother, and eventually my stepfather, and my newly born sister. But, before my mother married my stepfather, it was just my mother and I who lived in that house.

There were other apartments on the property but they didn’t surround the kickball field.

Bob would always pick me to be on his team. He had a big hump on the left side of his back. His left shoulder blade stuck way out. He hunched over when he walked, and when he ran to catch a fly ball, money always jingled in his pocket. He taught me how to catch a fly ball. Larry and kathy always seemed to be kicking the ball, and Bob and I always seems to be trying to catch the ball.

Bob was Kathy’s uncle, so he was around quite a bit. I don’t know how old he was, but he was an adult. He had black hair, combed back. His hairline receded at the temples. He never got mad. And if there was a ball that either one of us could catch, he always let me catch it. Bob was dressed in nice street cloths. He always wore a clean white dress shirt with the sleeves rolled up to the mid point of his forearm. He wore nice brown leather street shoes, and dress slacks. The games were always dusty, because the kick ball court was all dirt. I always felt bad that Bob would get his cloths dusty after playing.

Of all the people around the kickball area, I felt most comfortable with Bob. I never asked why he was so little, or why he had a hump back, or why he wore his good cloths to play kickball.

I thought all these people payed my mother to take out the trash and burn it, and clean all the apartment rooms when people moved out. She was like the maid in the Laurel and Hardy movies.

On day I told my mom I wanted her to get married, so she didn’t have to clean rooms and be in charge of the incinerator. She told me not to worry, that she owned all the apartments and buildings on the property. I didn’t know what she meant when she said she owned the buildings. Absolutely no idea.

My mother also cooked meals for one of the renters, who was permanently confined to his bed. On occasion, I was asked to take his meal to him. I can remember talking to him, but I can’t recall what we said. I remember my mother talking on the phone about him. One day an ambulance arrived and took him away. My mother told me he was going back to his home in Texas, where his parents could take care of him. Oddly enough, I had an idea what Texas was. It was cowboy land. I knew that from watching Hopalong Cassidy, Roy Rogers, and Range Buster movies.

All of this occurred in the years immediately following following World War 2.

From what I can piece together, It must have been around 1947 to 1948 that I started remembering things like this. I was born in December of 1944. In 1947, my mother would have been 37 years old. When you think about it, my mother was very young to have owned outright all that property and buildings. She was single, divorced, with one young child.

Not until much later in life did I realize that my mother made it possible for all those people I described to be there. Those were some of the first images my brain was able to remember as it was in the process of developing. Truth be known, It was probably only one time that we played kickball. The game probably lasted less than an half an hour, but it seemed like a lot of times, over an extended period of time. When you become conscious and your brain is developing the ability to remember events, such events seem bigger the first time you experience them. I was witnessing my birth as a functioning human being. When your brain is first unfolding, it’s virtually impossible to know, for example, how many times I took a meal to the sick man who was confined to his bed. After all, at that phase of development, I didn’t even know how to count.

Morale of the story? Don’t take your experiences too literally when you were very young. If you think they were sad, maybe they weren’t that sad. Maybe, If you feel guilty over something you did, maybe it wasn’t such a bad thing you did. Interpreting my mother’s status in life from watching a Laurel and Hardy movie is a bizarre and surrealistic means of understanding who is what in life. And who knows how big the hump was on Bob’s back. During that time I thought everything that stuck out was big – for example, I thought adult noses were as big as clown noses. Go lightly on those primal impressions.