Looking for the Devil Boys
“Some of the time going home, I go blind and can’t find it.”
That line opens James Dickey’s poem, “Looking For The Buckhead Boys,” a dirge for those who move away but upon returning home hope to see old friends. When I go home, I hope to see just one old football teammate. I almost never do. They hide in their home, another town, or a cemetery. I might as well be blind.
Dickey describes the yearning. “You come to a hometown like Buckhead years and years later, you remember what it was like. Then you wonder if any of the same fellows are still around. To some people like myself, it becomes obsessive to you that you find one person that you knew, just one who would recognize you. Otherwise you’re just going around like a ghost.”
I go around like a ghost. “The house I lived in growing up and out the doors of high school is torn down and cleared way for further development, but that does not stop me.” My home still stands but is devoid of life these days, a ghost itself.
Dickey’s hometown changed while he was away. The old pool hall is a shoe store. The old familiar drug store is “full of women wearing cosmetics.” He decides to seek out an old hardware man because “Hardware and hardware merchants never die and they have on hand everything there is to know.” Sure enough, Mr. Hamby is still alive, “as old as ever.” Dickey asks Mr. Hamby about his football teammates.
“Mr. Hamby, where is Mont Black?”
“Paralyzed, doctors can’t do nothing.”
“Where is Dick Shea?”
“Assistant sales manager of Kraft Cheese.”
“How about Punchy Henderson?”
“Died of a heart attack watching high school football in South Carolina.”
“Dead in the war.”
A truth bursts forth. “O the book of the dead and the dead, bright sun on the page where the team stands ready to explode in all directions with time.”
How many times crossing my hometown limits do I travel back in time? How often I have pulled my book of the dead, the 1967 Panorama high school annual, from the shelf to see familiar faces. How many times have I looked at our Red Devil football team “On the page where the team stands ready to go explode in all directions with time?”
It’s true. We exploded in every direction with time, and so I walk around like a ghost. As for the town itself, a glance or two says it’s the same, but it’s not. Walk the streets ... the familiar drug stores and cherry colas are no more. The old grocery store and Omar are no more. Old barbershops with their leather straps and fragrant lotions are gone. The pool hall’s clack of balls is gone. One hardware store remains much as it was and you can still buy nails by the pound. Only the old newspaper building remains exactly as it was, though computers banned the Linotype machine to a pitch-black placed called obsolescence. Folks say change is good, and some is, but the change I’m talking about isolates folks as it leads more and more down that passage which has no exit, a dead end if ever—the cemetery. And there at last it stops.