Boo Radly invades the neighborhood

Published 6:36 pm Friday, June 18, 2010

Got a Boo Radley in your neighborhood? As a kid, was there a mysterious neighbor who invaded your youthful imagination, made you think terrible things?

As kids, they tells us, there was always a certain someone in the neighborhood—mysterious, spooky, unconventional, scary. Adults usually paid youthful ghost stories with it little mind.

Kids always did have greater imaginations.

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There was a Boo Radley in my neighborhood, and he was very mysterious.

Yet who is or was a Boo Radley?

He was a minor but significant character in the book, To Kill A Mockingbird, which this year celebrates its 60th year of publication. The book, written by Harper Lee in 1960, depicts childhood events in a mythical and mystical sleepy southern town, somewhere in central Alabama during the Depression

The book has since become an American literary classic, its author receiving a Pulitzer Prize for literature in 1961, and then its film version receiving Academy Awards.

In the book, Boo Radley is a neighbor on their street, mysterious and illusive, rarely if ever seen from his home. It is the quest of the neighborhood children of the book to attempt at all costs to lure him outside by whatever means necessary, perilous at times. They pass in front of the spooky house with great trepidation, running to keep from being devoured by its mysterious inhabitant.

At the end of the book, it is the hermit-like and mysterious Boo Radley who saves the children from great bodily harm, possibly even murder, and who carries the final chapter of the book as they finally see him out of his house for the first time, and he becomes a very human person.

My Boo Radley was named “Elzie.”

Elzie lived at the end of our street, at the end of the sidewalk, at the edge of the woods, next to our house. He lived alone, in a large well-made shack or cabin that he probably constructed himself, its architectural splendor far distant from other homes along Catherine Street.

Elzie had no car. In his shack, or cabin as some may describe it, he had no telephone, no electricity or running water. Any evening light from within glowed warmly from antique kerosene lamps.

His acre lot was always neat, clean, mowed, absent of trash or cluttered debris. He had one of the largest lots in the neighborhood, from which he had an extensive summer garden and other structures for grape vines and similar growing garden edibles.

We neighborhood kids must have been the biggest pests any adult could encounter. Yet he never complained about us, never admonished us or to our parents as we trampled through his property, rarely said anything to adult neighbors, and to my knowledge never complained about anything.

He basically felled trees to earn a living. In the fall, a mysterious putt-putt sound could be heard from the rear of his cabin.

Elzie made apple cider, probably the best of vintages. When ready, a steady stream of cars and customers came to the end of our street to Elzie’s place to purchase his famous apple cider.

As I said, we kids were pests. We played on his property, climbed and swung from ropes in his trees, peeked into his windows, knocked on his back door asking him to make us slingshots so we could pepper pesky squirrels. (A slingshot from Elzie was a rare device, a work of primitive art).

We tromped through his garden, climbed shaky poles that held grape vines, and did just about everything annoying a bunch of rude kids could do.

Yet, Elzie never complained. Elzie never came out of his cabin, except if he were walking down the street heading out to fix somebody’s tree, or whatever odd job they asked him to do. When he walked by, we said nothing, kept a safe non-disturbing distance

If Elzie spoke, it was always in a hushed shy monotone, with as few words as possible.

His dress consisted of heavy boots, denim pants and long-sleeved flannel shirts, always clean and pressed.

Returning to this neighborhood many years later, the street no longer ended at Elzie’s place, but now had been extended through the woods connecting to another thoroughfare.

Elzie’s cabin was gone, and his whereabouts unknown. A chapter in childhood memories concluded.

Those of us in the neighborhood with our youthful days with Elzie probably experienced the same emotions as those depicted in To Kill A Mockingbird—kindness and cruelty, love and hatred, humor and pathos, plus every imaginable story a youthful mind could compose.

To Kill a Mockingbird is a story of universal appeal. One wonders is it because we all have had a Boo Radley in our past and can relate it to so many other truly human events captured by this great American literary classic.