|Big shots: That's the business handshake.|
The photo above* was taken in 1967 in front of my house in the Kenilworth section of Asheville. We were both 20 and I was about to get married (for the first of many times). Bebe, who has been a nuclear power plant safety inspector for many years, always like to affect the aura of the business dude and I generally went along, though that was far, far from my wish list. At 20, I had been a sports writer for the daily Asheville Citizen-Times for two years already, so printer's ink was in my blood. We were both feeling like hotshots. I even had a car (behind us).
Bebe and I had a tenuous friendship. He used to beat the shit out of me about every other week, sometimes just for the exercise. He was stocky, thick and muscular and he liked to bully. He could also be kind and thoughtful, gentle and a good friend. When my father died in 1960 (I was 13), he was the first person at our door to offer condolences. He had a driver's license at the time (you could get a conditional license at 14 in South Carolina then) and took me away from the gloom of the house. I didn't know how to feel about dad until Bebe helped me discover it and I always appreciated that.
When he wasn't beating me up, he was bragging to others in our high school about me being smart, athletic and all kinds of stuff I wasn't. One of the photos he presented me yesterday had a gold plaque on it reading "South Carolina State Champions, 1961, North Augusta; Daniel E. Smith 'The Running Rebel,' Starting Running Back.'" In 1961, I was a sophomore back on the junior varsity (my brother Sandy was a star on the state champs) and Bebe was a starting varsity defensive end and backup halfback. My only athletic prowess was that of being Sandy's brother.
Bebe has always called me "Rebel," for reasons that escape me. When he reached me by phone yesterday, I knew immediately who it was. "Hey, Reb!" he bellowed. It was like we'd just talked an hour before and it's been, what, 10 years?
Bebe has this incredible laugh that is a combination of high-pitched screech, chuckle, and uncontrolled blast of air. The laugh itself remains as funny as anything he ever found humorous.
He promised to call on his way back from Three Mile Island, Pa., but I won't count on it. This trip left an indelible impression, though.
(*It is a constant source of amazement to me just how bad snapshot photography was as late as this photo was taken. It is grainy, dusty [the little white specks] out of focus and far too hot. The technology was there for photography to be better, but average people didn't want to pay the few extra dollars it cost.)