Travels with George in Search of Ben Hur and Other Meanderings

By Paul Ruffin | Go to book overview

The Boy Who Spoke in Hymns

Not far from where I grew up, there lived a family named Simmons—a father, mother, and son. The boy, Buddy, was some three years behind me in school for a while, then five, then seven. He lost ground in the educational process as time rolled on.

Thaddyus (spelled wrong, yes, but applied in good faith by his parents long before he could do anything about it) and Rose Simmons knew almost from the get-go that something was a little wrong in the head with their son, Buddy. (This was not a nickname—Thaddyus knew how to spell Buddy, and it was the first name that came to him the minute the midwife had the red, puckered little thing slid out on a clean sheet and he saw the proper appendage. Bertha was poised on his tongue if said appendage had been missing.)

Buddy did not talk until he was almost four, and then he just made little bulldozer and airplane propeller sounds, which wasn’t exactly talk, but was closer to it than what he’d done before, which was mostly wailing.

“Bbbbbbbbbbbppppppppppppp,” he’d go.

Then came bird sounds, really good ones, maybe better than the ones made by real birds, only it was hard to tell. He could turn a flock of blackbirds hell-bent to the south in October or have cardinals clawing at the screens. Somehow he never managed to woo mockingbirds or crows, which might in some ways be smarter than other birds, but Thaddyus and Rose didn’t know about that for sure. They just saw that crows and mockingbirds wouldn’t even look at Buddy, even when he cawed and chirped till he was red in the face and breathless, and in fact they flew the other way, but then who knew what he might be saying in bird talk? “Hey, you ugly, noisy black bastard, how’d you like me to kick your ass?” or “How come you can’t you make up your own songs, you goofy bitch?”

Words finally came to him when he started picking up lines from hymns in church. They’d be driving back from prayer meeting or Sunday morning

-48-

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Travels with George in Search of Ben Hur and Other Meanderings
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • Acknowledgments xii
  • Things Literary, More or Less 1
  • Travels with George in Search of Ben Hur 3
  • The Mosquito 15
  • The Lady with the Quick Simile 19
  • Workshopping a Cowboy Poem 22
  • Was Emily Mad or Merely Angry? 28
  • On the Death of Edgar Allan Poe 31
  • Making Preparations for the Tour 34
  • The Girl in the Clean, Well-Lighted Place 37
  • Explaining a Poem to a Student 40
  • Some Rare and Unusual Books 43
  • Tales from Kentucky Lawyers 45
  • The Boy Who Spoke in Hymns 48
  • Making a Dam in Segovia 51
  • Just Thinking about Shit 54
  • To San Juan and Back 60
  • On Likker and Guns 81
  • Drinking 83
  • Rats! 100
  • The Bowhunter Asks for My Bladder 117
  • The Day the Sharpshooter Killed Something He Didn’t Intend to 120
  • Hi-Ho, Hi-Ho, off to the Gun Show We Go … 128
  • From "Growing Up in Mississippi Poor and White but Not Quite Trash" (an as-Yet-Unpublished Memoir) 135
  • Trains 137
  • Learning about Sex 143
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