The Junk Room and a treasured friend

By: Leon Smith - Contributing columnist

Author’s note: The story is true; the names are changed.

To my two younger sisters and me, Bo was a smiling, happy, taller, same-age-as-our-daddy kid. He made us a flute out of a piece of fishing pole, and put noting holes in it so we could play a tune. He read us the funny papers, and brought us milk from his goat. When my baby sister started crying at the preacher’s mention of the Holy Goat, Bo assured her that the preacher was talking about someone else entirely, and no one was going to hurt Nannie. Later he asked us, “What goes around a button?” We guessed button hole, but he said it wasn’t a button hole at all, it was just old Nannie bumping stuff with her head. He read my one comic book, always handling my treasure carefully and never bending the cover all the way back.

When he found out I loved, “The King of the Golden River,” Bo gave me my own Gluck mug. He also gave me his brass three-stage spyglass, and told me to look through the big end first. That made things smaller. Then the big end, which brought things close up.

When my sister fell in the branch behind Bo’s house, he lifted her out, then told us to stop yelling, she was all right. That a standing person could never drown in three inches of water. It was getting over toward night when he took us home, so he said he was going his house to listen to WCKY for a while. Maybe they played the song with the line, “I still think the good times outweigh the bad.” Bo could have written that.

Bo had some bad times. We heard Mamma say Bo weighed only two pounds when he was born and that he never was very strong. In spite of that fact, I never heard him complain. He was happy that he could do work that was not too strenuous, like keeping house for himself and Mr. Wagner, and cleaning up at the shirt factory after the workers left.

Bo did like stinky buttermilk with cornbread crumbled up in it, and he blew Pall Mall smoke up his nose through his pooched-out lower lip, but we just turned our noses up at the buttermilk and laughed at the way he exhaled the smoke. You can put up with a lot from someone who really loves you.

One day, Bo walked us across the street to look at mimosa blooms near the Ag Building. After a while, he said he had something to tell us: that he was going back to Raleigh. We did not know that Raleigh meant a hospital for drug addicts called Dix Hill, or that Bo had suffered addiction after his childhood doctor put him on narcotics. We just knew that Raleigh meant being without Bo. So we begged him to stay with us.

He promised not to leave us. Of course, Bo did go back to Raleigh, but each time he came back to Polkton, we were so happy to see him, my sisters made him mud pies.

Six years later, when I was 12, Daddy decided to move us from our happy little shotgun house across the street from Bo to the house next door where Daddy grew up. To get Grandpa’s house ready, we had to move all his stuff out of the front room where it had been locked up since 1931. In addition to lots of boxes, there was a hand-powered brain-stimulator, a 25-gallon flask of Dr. Lonnie Smith’s health tonic, some illustrated medical books, and a copy of “The Works of Josephus.” And there was Grandpa’s black leather doctor’s bag.

Bo was not there when we moved the boxes to the Junk Room. But the next Saturday, while Mamma and Daddy took my sisters to Wadesboro, I stayed home to check out the junk. I was just getting started when Bo called from the porch.

“I’m in the Junk Room,” I answered. “Come on in.”

Bo helped me explore. After a little bit, I saw him pull down Grandpa’s leather bag from the top of the wardrobe. I didn’t pay much attention to him at first, but when I heard bottles rattling I looked over to see what was going on.

“Bo?” I called. “What is it? …Bo? …Bo?”

He did not look at me, neither did he smile. Sweat dripped down his set jaw as he searched through the bottles.

“Bo… Bo… Stop!” I shouted. “You’re scaring me.”

But Bo did not stop; he did not hear me, neither did he see me. And he did not look like Bo, there was someone else, an enemy, staring at those brown bottles. With one quick glance, those eyes told me that I was on dangerous territory, and something bad would happen if I got in the way.

But as soon as he read the last label, and he discarded the last bottle, that enemy sighed and left. And Bo looked like himself again.

After that, I don’t remember a thing. I never saw what he was looking for, but knew that there was something bad in those brown bottles. Consumed with fear, I was deathly afraid to even think about what I had seen, much less speak to anyone about it. I was afraid for my safety, and for Bo’s, but I did not know what to do.

About two weeks later, I found out what Bo had been looking for. Daddy and I saw him leaning up against Fox and Lyon’s Drug Store in Wadesboro, talking to a man I did not know. After the man nodded, Bo gave him some money, and the man disappeared inside the store.

“He’s buying paregoric,” Daddy said, shaking his head.

“Paregoric?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“What’s that?”

“A solution of morphine and alcohol.”

“Is that dope?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“Is Bo a dope addict?” I asked.

“Yes, son, he is.

It may seem strange, but even after all this strain, Bo and I kept our friendship. We never talked about what I saw him do in the Junk Room, nor what I learned near Fox and Lyon’s. I guess we knew that sometimes remorse and regret can’t be soothed by talk. So at night he’d come down and we would listen to far-away voices on shortwave radio. Around bedtime, Bo would say goodnight, and walk up the hill home to listen to far-away music on WCKY.

About two years later, while I was away in college, Bo’s dear old paregoric-ravaged heart gave out. I did not get to say goodbye, because he was buried before I ever knew he was gone. If I had been there, I would have said that although our relationship was not a perfect one, Boaz Smith remains the best childhood friend I ever had. That I stand amazed at the lovingkindness he showed me, in spite of the addiction which terrified me, and enslaved and diminished him. That I think his made-up name suits him better than his real one, because his made-up one is the same as the Biblical Boaz, who showed such kindness to Ruth.

To many, Boaz Smith was a man of great limitation, small stature, and little account. But to me, he is one who purely radiated generous, intense and eternal good will. He could do that because, in spite of all the junk in the Junk Room—and all that in the streets— Bo Smith always found a way to make the good times outweigh the bad.

Leon Smith, a resident of Wingate who grew up in Polkton, believes the truth in stories and that his native Anson County is very near the center of the universe.

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Leon Smith

Contributing columnist