Larry ‘Bulldog’ Jones was my friend
This blog entry was originally posted in July of 2014.
The headlines read, Aliquippa Grid Star Larry Jones Dies. That was in Saturday’s paper on August 26, 1972. Larry died on August 25th. People that knew Larry, his friends, family, and teammates won’t know me. They won’t know I was Larry’s friend. I doubt he ever spoke of me to his friends or family, and I never spoke of him to mine. I never went to his house, and he never came over to mine. But Larry Jones was my friend.
I initially met him on that first terrifying day at the Junior High School in 1967. This is when the seventh graders left the comfort of their neighborhood schools and went to one giant school that housed all the seventh, eighth, and ninth graders in the entire town. This was a rather overwhelming day for a scrawny, shy, and “unsure about everything” skin and bones kid.
We met on that first day in Mrs. Smith’s homeroom. Mrs. Smith was an elderly, small, dignified, yet tough woman who could manage a classroom. She was calling roll.
She got to my name, “Andrew Dobo.”
I timidly raised my hand and shyly said, “Here.”
Then it started; the kid across from me in the next row started to whisper.
“Doe! Bow!” And then he’d laugh.
“Doe! Bow!” With another whispery, Wiley E. Coyote laugh under his breath.
“What kind of name is that?”
“Slovak,” I said.
He wasn’t interested in my nationality.
And even though he was laughing, it didn’t feel like he was making fun of me. He just got a kick out of saying my name. No one ever said my name the way Larry said it, and no one has since.
Little did Larry know that Mrs. Smith was not amused and spotted his antics even though he tried to hide behind the student in front of him, which was a useless endeavor because Larry was a big boy and all muscle. I think he could probably lift me over his head with one hand if he wanted. She surprised him by tapping him on his shoulder, and he jumped.
“Mr.,” as she looked down on her seating chart, “Jones, is it?”
“Yes, ma’am,” he said, rather startled.
“Is something funny back here?”
“Good. Let’s keep it that way, young man.”
Then she turned her back and walked to the front of the room and continued with roll call.
I’d hear in a whisper, as she walked away,
“Doe… Bow… Doe… Bow…”
The bell rang and, well, I survived my first homeroom in junior high school. That was my first encounter with my friend Larry Jones.
Larry and I were friends for nine months in seventh grade, and nine months in eighth grade. He was in my homeroom both of those years and in some of my classes. That was our friendship; first thing in the morning he’d say, “Doe…Bow… D’you do your homework for Mr. Owens?”
I can still hear the sound of his voice.
I’d reply, “No.”
He’d respond, “Doe Bow, What am I gonna do with you?”
“Did you do it?” I asked.
He’d laugh and say with a sly grin on his face, “No, but don’t worry, I’ll take care of it.” Later in Mr. Owens’s class he’d raise his hand and tell Mr. Owens how much he had toiled over the homework.
“Mr. Owens, I tried all last night to do this homework, but I do not understand this ‘direct object’ stuff.” Mr. Owens would ask, “Anyone else have a problem with the homework?” Of course, we’d all raise our hands and we’d get another lecture on direct objects, and Larry just bought us another night to do our homework.
Or he’d ask, “Did you do Mr. Dzvonar’s math homework?”
“Yea,” I’d say. He’d look it over.
“Well, this ain’t right.”
I’d reply, “I didn’t say it was right; I said it was done.”
“Doe Bow, what am I gonna do with you?”
We’d laugh. Man did he have an infectous laugh, and a smile that would light up the room. He was always laughing, always telling a joke, or being mischievous. Messing with someone, but it was all in fun. It was a badge of honor, really, if Larry played around and teased you a little. It was never bullying. Larry was more about preventing bullying.
He just never took anything too seriously. He knew exactly who he was at twelve years of age. He was so confident, so funny, and he was my friend.
Larry’s been dead for forty-six years. This was in the ’60s, so I guess I should mention Larry happened to be black, and I happened to be white. Neither of us cared. We never mentioned it; it never entered into the equation of our friendship.
Larry’s close friends, the friends he grew up with, the kids in his neighborhood all called him Bulldog. I never did; I just called him Larry. If I was walking to class with him he was showered by what seemed to be a million “Hey, Bulldog, hi Bulldog, yo Bulldog, Bulldog, what’s up?” Everybody seemed to know Bulldog. If I wasn’t walking to class with him, but he’d see me walking the other way, passing me in the sea of other kids, I’d hear my name, “Doe! Bow!” and I’d hear that infectious laugh. It was Larry.
I wasn’t sure why they called him Bulldog until I played a basketball game in gym class with him. Bulldog perfectly described him. He was a Bulldog. He was fast, stocky, strong, and big. I remember watching him get a rebound, which resulted in three or four kids hitting the floor from an encounter with “Bulldog.”
“Wow, how does he do that?”
Sometimes I’d have to play against him in gym class. He had many opportunities to send my scrawny little body flying fifty feet across the gym, but he never did, because he was my friend. I guess sometimes friendship is more important than a basketball game.
I once read a quote that was attributed to Maya Angelou. She said, “When you are gone, no one will remember how big your house was, or how many cars you owned, or how much money you had. No, all anyone will ever remember about you is how you made them feel.” My friend Larry made me feel safe, accepted, and important. I mattered to Larry, and he showed me these things almost every day. Maya Angelou was right, because I remember exactly how Larry made me feel even forty-five years later.
I do not know how I would have fared in those years without him. They were two of the roughest school years of my life.
When I knew Larry he had not yet put on a football helmet. I was surprised that he did not play midget football or junior high football, because if anyone in my school looked like a football player, it was Larry. No, when I knew him, he was not a gridiron star, he was just Larry, and he was my friend.
I hate to confess that I have not thought about Larry since his death. I probably thought about him for a few months after he died, but in ninth grade, I changed schools, and when he died, I had not seen him in three years. Our time together had ended at the end of eighth grade. I got on with my life in my new school, and he did the same.
I’m not sure why I started thinking about him again in June of this year. I do not mean a casual memory popping into my mind about him. I mean a rather obsessive and unrelenting review of my life in those years with Larry. This article was writing itself in my head for days. It would wake me in the middle of the night. I am writing this now, and it is 5AM. It’s as if I could feel Larry’s presence, I’d think of him, and I would sometimes start to cry about how much he meant to me in those years, and the sad thing about it is, I didn’t even know it. I did not realize how important this kid was to me until forty-two years had passed. Today, I am sobbing as if he died yesterday. Today, for the first time, I am grieving the loss of my friend.
A week before I started thinking of Larry, a reporter from Florida Today wanted to interview me about emotion and film, about why we cry at the movies. I’m a psychologist; that’s why she called me. I talked with her for about twenty minutes. At one point she asked if she could ask me a personal question. I agreed. She asked me when the last time I cried was, and I told her.
This unexpected question stirred up some old emotions, and I also instantly remembered a time I had not cried, but should have. You see, I did not attend Larry’s funeral, nor do I remember crying over his death. My brother, who was a teammate of Larry’s when he died, did attend, as did the entire football team and practically the entire town of Aliquippa. My parents, who were notorious for making me attend funerals of people I did not know back then, did not make me attend Larry’s funeral because they did not know that I even knew Larry; like I said, he probably never mentioned me in his home, and I never mentioned him in mine. Not for any reason, except, that’s just how it was. We were friends at school.
Not attending his funeral is a great regret of mine. Not crying about his death, well, that’s what we’re told to do, right? “Don’t be a baby and cry, be strong.” So here I am forty-two years later writing these words with tears in my eyes for my friend. Larry’s probably here next to me saying, “Doe! Bow! What am I gonna do with you?”
Larry was my guardian angel forty-five years ago. I think he’s letting me know he still is. When my time comes to leave this earth, I’d want Larry there. I can see him in my mind’s eye.
“Doe! Bow! I see you’ve been doing your homework down there, and you’re still messing it up. What am I gonna do with you?”
“Don’t worry, I’ll have a talk with the man in charge. I’ll take care of it.”
“For now, we have to get to the other side of this dark tunnel, stay close, hold on tight to my shoulders, because it’s dangerous, but I’ll keep you safe.”
Then he’ll turn his head and look back at me with that contagious smile and a twinkle in his eye and say,
“Doe! Bow! Don’t worry. They don’t call me Bulldog for nothing.”
I never saw Larry play football. Football was the least of what was beautiful about him. I wrote this so those who knew him will remember him on August 25, 2018, and for those who never knew him, I want them to wish they had. It is my wish for everyone reading this that they will have someone, even for a brief moment in their life, who makes them feel safe, accepted, and important, but for me, well, I was lucky, ’cause, you know—Larry Jones was my friend.