Friday, May 6, 2016

© By Jack Bogut

            The first time I ever saw Butchie, my wife and I were having lunch at a cafe in Conneaut Lake, Pa. (breakfast at noon, one of my favorite meals: eggs over easy, hash browns with onions, stiff bacon, an English Muffin, some ever present grape jelly and a bottomless cup of coffee).
            When Butchie came in he was blowing his breath out, huffing and puffing loudly like a steam engine. 
            "Whooof, whooof, whooof, whooof."
It was obvious he was busy. 
            Butchie was wearing fireman’s boots, red suspenders holding up his beltless jeans, a T-shirt that said “Conneaut Lake Fire Department” on it and a large, plastic fireman’s helmet (you know, the kind with the long tail that keeps water from going down your neck and lets it run down the back of your pants instead). He had a squawking, two-way radio strapped on his left hip, looked like he weighed about 275 pounds, stood about 5’8 and was somewhere between 15 and 55 years old.  He was diagnosed as “mentally challenged” early in his life, and that may have been true, but his wisdom and worth as a human being was unquestioned.
            Butchie came in with a rush that day and straddled a stool at the counter.  Everybody in the Cafe that lived in the area spoke to him.
            "Hey, Butch, how ya doin'?"
            "Good, good, good," Butchie replied and then let out more steam. Busy day.
            He'd just been somewhere fighting a fire or thinking about fighting a fire or fighting an imaginary fire.  More than likely it was helping somebody do some heavy work or just rushing to the restaurant that had him out of breath.  So he ordered two cheeseburgers with lettuce and onion, ketchup and tomato, just a FEW french fries (his doctor told him to cut down) and a diet coke. The waitress told Butchie he'd have to put his own ketchup on the burger; the bottle was on the counter; and he said, "Okay."   He never took his fire hat off, just pushed it up and back on his head.
            People didn't pay any extra attention to Butchie, no more than to anyone else they knew in the cafe because he belonged there.  It was obvious they liked him.  It was also apparent that Butchie felt the same way about them, but it was no big deal.  It was just normal. 
            He talked to the waitresses, then to the person next to him.  He hollered at somebody way down the counter, and they answered giving him a good natured hard time, and he gave it back to them in his own friendly way.
            The noontime crowd ate their food, drank their coffee and when it was time to go they left.  When it was time for Butchie to go he got up and left too.  It was all so ordinary.
            I was talking to the town curmudgeon (curmudgeon in his case is someone who knows everything that happens in a small town, has an opinion on everything and everybody and has a rather cynical view of human frailty), and he said, "Lemme tell you about Butchie."
            "Butchie almost owns this town.  He is the only guy in Conneaut Lake who can walk into the bank, go behind the counter, wander into the vault, look at the money, kiss all the women, shake hands with the manager, get a lollipop from a teller, walk out the door and leave everybody smiling affectionately and shaking their heads.
            “One time I told him, ‘Butchie, I need some carpeting to put on the docks at the Marina.  If you ever have some old carpeting left over at the Furniture Store, lemme know will ya?"
            My friend said that the very next day he saw Butchie about two blocks away with a huge roll of old carpeting on his shoulder, headed for the Marina.  He was having some difficulty.
            Because Butchie greets everybody, he would turn to say "hi" to people on the street as he passed and the heavy roll of carpet on his shoulder would sweep around like something out of a Keystone Kops movie.  People jumped off  the sidewalk or backed away or ducked in between cars to get away, all of them laughing and calling to him as he unintentionally cleared his way down the street.
            "How far ya goin’ with that Butchie? Wanna drop it at my house?"
            "Not this one.  This is for the marina," he replied, huffing and puffing.
            Some wise guy asked, "Hey Butch, gotta match?"
            Butchie tried to reach in his pocket while he balanced the roll of carpet and almost tipped over.  Then he realized his chain was being jerked so he just smiled and kept going.
            "You'd be good at crowd control, Butchie," someone said as they ducked under the rug.
            A lady called from the pay phone across the street next to the Donut Shop, "Is that a magic carpet Butch?"
             Butchie grinned, and his eyes sparkled.
            People called from passing cars, open doorways, across the street. They all smiled too.
            "I brought your carpet," Butchie hollered at my friend, the curmudgeon, as he dropped the roll off his shoulder onto the ground with a thud.  They said it took three men to pick it up and move it in the building.
            "Thanks Butch," they called, but he was already off to another destination, huffing and puffing.  Another busy day.
            It used to be that we hid special people like Butchie away in a back room or a dark place or behind a closed door when company came because we were ashamed or felt uncomfortable.  Look at what the world lost all those years. If we let them, people like Butchie bring out the best in the rest of us.  They allow us to care about someone without complication. 
Even though Butchie could have wiped out a neighborhood if someone made him mad, he never raised his fist or his voice in anger.  My friend told me that someone had pushed him around one time, and Butchie, instead of pushing back, just looked hurt and confused.  The local people almost ran the guy out of town.
Butchie was everyone's relative; a cousin, a nephew, a brother, a son.  Certainly a friend.

            One day Butchie went to see the doctor and found out that he had cancer.  The word spread like wildfire.  Everybody was sad about it.  Everybody but Butchie.  He just kept making his rounds.  Huffing and puffing.  Maybe he just didn’t understand.  And then again, maybe he did.  Maybe he was just too busy taking care of his friends to let it bother him.

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