Gen­tle gi­ant

The Covington News - - Opinion -

The first time I ever saw him was in a pic­ture. It­was a photo of my cousin’s el­e­men­tary school class. All of the lit­tle kids in the photo looked to be on their best be­hav­ior — hair combed, shirts tucked in, hands stiffly on their sides. But those kids were merely back­ground. The ob­ject that dom­i­nated the pic­ture and im­me­di­ately caught your at­ten­tion was this huge kid on the back row. Not only was he twice as big as any­one else in the class, but his tongue was also hap­pily hang­ing out of his mouth — and his tongue was twice as big as his class­mate’s nog­gin in front of him.

That ob­ject­was Suan “Boo Boo” Gor­don.

I later ended up go­ing to high school with Boo Boo. Boo Boowas big — real big. He was prob­a­bly around 5-11 and his weight wan­dered be­tween 300 and 600 pounds over the last 25 years.

His size, es­pe­cially when he was younger, of­ten drew gawks and stares, and even snide re­marks from those that didn’t knowhim.

If the un­wanted at­ten­tion and cru­elty both­eredBooBoo, he never let it show. He had one mood— happy.

Boo Boo sto­ries are leg­end in th­ese parts— how he could fold up a large pizza into a sand­wich and eat it in three bites; how they got ev­ery weight in the high school weight room and put it on the squat ma­chine and he pressed it with ease; how he was the first one on the court when the lo­cal high school bas­ket­ball team won the 1987 state cham­pi­onship, lift­ing his cousin, Kingston Clark, high into the air af­ter Kingston’s game-win­ning shot – an im­age vividly frozen in my mind.

My fa­vorite mo­ment with Boo Boo was when some of us went bowl­ing to­gether in Val­dosta. Boo Boo was first to bowl, and the en­tire bowlin­gal­leystopped­whatthey­were doin­gan­drub­ber­neckedin rapt at­ten­tion to see howthis huge man­would fare. You could hear a pin drop when he chucked that ball down the lane, and in chain re­ac­tion, his pants fell to the floor. We started howl­ing. Boo Boo pulled up his pants, looked at us with his eyes as big as saucers, and started howl­ing too. He had the type of laugh that made you laugh more. It took us at least 10 min­utes to con­tain our­selves.

I would have liked to laugh with him one more time.

Satur­day, I at­tended Boo Boo’s funeral. He died the pre­vi­ous Mon­day in a four-wheeler ac­ci­dent. He was 39.

“Ican’tthinko­fany­onewhoknew BooBoowho­ever said any­thing bad about him, and I never heard Boo Boo say any­thing bad about any­one ei­ther,” said one of his class­mates, Re­nee Har­ris, at the funeral. True in­deed. It’s hard for joy to make en­e­mies. The funeral crowd spoke vol­umes aboutBooBoo. There were peo­ple of all creeds and col­ors, class­mates who hadn’t seen him in two decades, and co-work­ers who were vis­i­bly up­set to lose a friend.

“Boo Boo taught us that color doesn’t mat­ter,” said an­other class­mate, Tanya O’Berry. “He also taught us that out­ward ap­pear­ances don’t mat­ter.”

Boo Boo didn’t seem to no­tice that he was the only per­son of color at my bach­e­lor party, or any­where else for that mat­ter. He treated peo­ple the way he wanted to be treated — not by the shell out­side, but the per­son inside. That wasn’t a les­son he spoke of, but rather lived, and those who en­coun­tered him learned sub­con­sciously.

Af­ter the funeral, still dressed in my­suit, I en­coun­tered a gen­tle­man at a con­ve­nience store. He asked why I was dressed up. I told him I had been to a funeral. “Oh, for that guy who was in the band in high school who was real smart?” (The sec­ond time I heard Boo Boo de­scribed that way). Yes, I replied. “That’s a shame,” he said. “I heard hewas a good guy, but I didn’t know him. I’m sorry for you.” As I walked away, I didn’t feel sorry for me or those who knewBoo Boo. I felt sorry for those who didn’t.

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