Colorful Names, Colorful Characters

Across the Street from our house there lived Junior Charles, (J.C.) Rose Marie, Velma Lee, Edward Charles, Vera Frances, Mary Ann, Shelia Ann, Robin Elaine, Linda Marie and Richard. They were the Robinson’s when we first came and their mother, whom we fondly referred to later as “Mrs.B” (Buckner) after she re-married. 

Up the Street there was Junebug, Winkie, Fish and a kid we called Man. Molene was our next-door neighbor and there was Mr. Jack too, with his offset walk resulting from his one short leg.  Later on Billy T became a fixture too, and who can forget Earl Westbrook riding his bicycle drunk as a skunk with his dry cleaning hanging from his collar down his back?  There was also a real tall guy named Blue that played the guitar - a blue Fender Mustang.

Country lived at the apartment downstairs from Mama LeBeaux’s, he was a transplant from the south and he always said he was the best “wrastler” you’d ever seen. He was the friendliest dude you’d ever meet with his southern drawl, and he was so very meticulous about making a bed. Took him a half an hour to do it!

Down the street there was Ivory, LeVette and the Tookas family and Peto and Benito, the only other Filipinos on the street besides us. Mr. Holmes used to sit on his stoop each day watching the world go by and dispense wisdom to anyone who asked for advice, and in the summertime he would listen to the Dodgers on the radio, not the Giants.

Crazy Willie used to sit up in his window yelling at the world, he was this very big scary guy who wore these really thick glasses, and we never knew how old he actually was but he was the closest thing we had to a lunatic. He had some serious mental problems and sometimes the kids would make fun of him and run away.

There was Hank the Boxer with his cauliflower ear and one good eye stumbling up and down the street. Hank was kind of messed up from his boxing days and he used to drink a lot of whiskey, but when he was sober he was a real good guy. Sometimes he’d mention the story of the glory but it was all in the past.

Joe and Mary Lou, our other next-door neighbors were really great people, friendly and kind folks. They never forgot their southern roots either, Joe used to sit on his front porch and spit his tobacco into an old coffee can at his feet and Mary Lou did the same thing in the backyard as she watered the greens she grew there except there was no can out back. Dad really liked Joe, and was sad when they moved back to the south.

Most of these folks all had real names, but their nicknames stamped the identity of the personality that lay underneath. What would life be like without that? Less interesting perhaps, yet it certainly does account for colorful names and colorful characters. For in the denizens of Downey Street there lived a viable and real place: Home…

Junebug’s name was Charles, Winkie was Carl Sr., Man was Carl Jr., and Fish’s name was Alphonso. Country’s name was Donald and Peto was Norberto. And to this day I can still hear Mrs.B outside the house calling them all to come home for dinner: “Velma Lee! Edward Charles! Vera Frances! Mary Ann! Sheila Ann! Robin Elaine! Linda Marie!”

We are all glad we moved there back then.