Grazina Smith: Bucko
When I pulled out my black dress from the back of the closet, I saw it would need ironing. Some people may feel they can go to a wake in jeans and a sweatshirt, but I know you have to wear a black dress.
There’s no way I’d skip the wake when I’ve lived next door to Bucko and his mother for years. Even though Minnie named him Derek, he was called Bucko since the day he was born. That’s the one thing his daddy did – nick-named him - then he flitted away, disappeared for good, leaving Minnie to raise that boy by herself.
God knows she tried but that boy needed a strong hand. Minnie’s a wispy woman, full of pleading and promises and soft requests. She reminds me of a weeping willow tree: shaking with every breeze, not too solidly anchored, her head drooping down toward the ground.
Bucko’s another matter. He was a strong, clever, willful boy with loads of charm but without that tick that most of us have to distinguish right from wrong. Even when he was small, I could see that. He’d take toys away from other kids, hit and push them and Minnie would stand there, wringing her hands, pleading that he play “like a good boy.”
As he got older, his charm saved him from punishment. Boys flocked to him, wanted to participate in mischief and usually wound up taking the blame. He was the planner; they were the doers. Often it was Timmy Coleman who got into the most trouble – thin, small, not-too-bright Timmy. Everyone remembers when he was nine, Timmy poured hot tar on the stray tabby cat, but no one ever wonders who stole the bucket of tar from the construction site and heated it.
Well, I was at the kitchen sink, looked out the window and saw Bucko heating that tar on their charcoal grill. When I yelled at him, he told me he wanted to use the tar to cover a leak in the garage roof. Later, he claimed he had no idea Timmy was going do that to the cat.
I work in the lunch room at Morris Community High School, and when Bucko got there, he blossomed in his wickedness. Even good boys at that age want to show off, defy authority, belong to a crowd. Most of them settle for smoking pilfered cigarettes and drinking beer, driving too fast and, maybe getting into a few fights.
But there’s the hard-core group that flirts with delinquency. Bucko was king of that crowd. Timmy was his chief gofer. By the time Bucko was a senior in high school, I think half the property damage, burglaries and car thefts in Morris were done by him or his gang.
I noticed him hanging around Betsy. She was only a sophomore, a thin, plain girl who wandered from class to class by herself. She seemed helpless and lost and, somehow, reminded me of Minnie. Her clothes were a little out of date, bought at the Salvation Army store, her mascara too thick, and her cheap lipstick often smeared her teeth.
Bucko had plenty of girlfriends, fast girls who knew their way around, and I couldn’t understand what he saw in Betsy. I had this feeling that it would lead to no good.
One Monday afternoon, I was going to the lunch room pantry to return a big can of peaches we hadn’t used, when the door swung open and out steped Bucko. The pantry was usually locked except during lunch hour. I checked his hands to see if he’d stolen anything but he grinned at me and tucked his shirt in his jeans. When I went into the small room, Betsy was in the corner with lipstick smeared all over her face. She was pulling her jeans over her skinny hips.
I wasn’t born yesterday; I knew what was going on. “Girl,” I said to her, “don’t you know Bucko’s nothing but trouble.” She pushed past me and bolted out of that door like a deer that heard a shotgun blast. I didn’t know what to do, but I made sure the pantry was kept locked from then on.
Later that week, on the way to the parking lot, I got a whiff of something sweet, like burning maple leaves, and knew Bucko and his gang were around. Before I could turn the corner, I heard him bragging how Betsy had done him and that she was a real whore eager to do all of them. They were braying and passing that reefer when I walked up to them and hollered. “You all ought to be ashamed of yourselves, acting like animals.”
The guys scattered as I yelled, but not Bucko. He looked me right in the eye and smiled. “That was a mighty fine lunch you had for us today Miz Johnson and I recon’ you didn’t have any cans left to bring back to the pantry.” I could’ve spit in his face.
Of course, the rumor about Betsy got around faster than measles, and it was a hard year for her. Bucko’s gang hooted and hollered every time they passed her in the hall, offering to meet her in the pantry. His girlfriends managed to whisper “whore” and “slut” when they went by.
It gave the rest of the kids something to gossip about. They murmured in each others ears, their hands covering their mouths. Betsy turned sixteen that summer and never did come back to high school even though Bucko and most of his crowd had graduated.
Bucko moved out of town after high school but Minnie kept me up to date on his doings. She’d lean over the back fence and tell me how he was kicked out of the army for no reason at all, what jobs he’d lost through no fault of his, which woman he was living with and the ones that kicked him out.
Eventually he moved back to Morris and I’d see him coming to Minnie’s house right around the time her social security check was due. Now how much pension could she be getting after working all her life making beds at the Rockwell Inn? And what son calls on his ma only once a month and then carries a shotgun?
I asked her often if everything was OK between them. Minnie said he just needed help every once in a while so she did what she could, like she had all her life. She also told me she’d begun to cut her medication in half so it would last twice as long and there’d be a little extra money to give Bucko. I warned her she’d better mention this to Doc Carver and she nodded her head.
Bucko couldn’t go far with the pittance he got from Minnie so he and Timmy Coleman tried to rob First Federal Savings. Of course, Bucko was in the car when Timmy went into the bank with a shotgun. After they were caught, Bucko claimed he had no idea what Timmy planned to do. So Timmy Coleman sits in the federal pen while Bucko got probation and a hundred hours of “community service” with the Natural Resources Department.
He was sitting in a tractor with two other parolees, planning something no good I’m sure, when a car hit the tractor and sent them flying out of the bucket seats. Bucko was the only one killed, and while the newspapers kept it quiet, the town was all abuzz. Minnie had hit that tractor on the way to Walmart. Doc Carver said she’d a heart attack and he couldn’t understand why she’d stopped taking her medication the way he’d prescribed.
Minnie’s in a coma and doesn’t know she killed her son. Doc says she probably won’t make it and, I guess, it’s just as well. She wouldn’t want to live realizing what she did to Bucko. Well, I’m her neighbor and probably know more about them then anyone in town and, I’ll say this, Bucko’s death disproves the old saying that only the good die young. DSS
Hummm... a bad boy with charm as a leader? A bully, too. If he had been born rich, well.... Keeping these good stories coming means donating here to Downstate Story.