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Mrs. Bollinger

In the Charleston of the 40’s and 50’s, I remember three families in town named Bollinger. They all lived on Main Street. There was Doc Bollinger, the only doctor in town, who lived just east of the Courthouse. There was John Bollinger, who lived a little over a block east of the Catholic Church, and owned ‘tourist cabins’ that were adjacent to their house. Next to their house and their small market was Mr. Raible’s auto repair shop, and immediately east of that was a Mr. Bolinger, who was a cattle farmer.

It seems odd to me now, these many years later, that I never asked my mother how the Bollinger families were related. If anyone reads this and knows, drop me a line or an e-mail, and tell me.

I have an amusing memory regarding farmer Bollinger’s wife. During the school Christmas vacation of 1956 my dad was hired to paint her kitchen. I was his crew.

Mrs. Bollinger irritated me. Looking back now I have some sympathy for her. She hired my dad to paint her kitchen and he showed up with a helper who was a sixteen year old kid. Mrs. Bollinger was understandably anxious that the kid might not know what he was doing. She was constantly supervising my work, and her anxiety about my possible incompetence caused her to constantly point out mistakes that she thought I might make. She would say things such as, “Be certain that you don’t miss any parts of the cabinet doors.” or “Make sure that you don’t let the paint run.”

I thought she should shut up until I actually made a mistake, rather than warning me ahead of time about all of the mistakes she feared I might make.

At one point she had stopped warning me about possible mistakes and began telling my dad about a nephew of hers. The nephew was, she said, unbelievably thin. His legs were so thin, she said, “You wouldn’t believe that he could walk.” His arms were just bones and you wondered if he could feed himself. She went on and on about the unfortunate nephew.

While she was describing her emaciated nephew, I was on a ladder painting near the ceiling. During a pause in her sermon on the pitiful boy, she looked up at me and said to my dad, “He looks about like your kid.” I was profoundly surprised and insulted.

I was, in fact, very thin. But I didn’t know it. I had, just a few weeks before this incident, been named second team All-District in football. I was a starting guard on the basketball team. I saw myself as an accomplished athlete. I had no idea how others saw me, and it was stunning to learn that to Mrs. Bollinger, I was a pitiful sight.

My brother played high school football in Charleston during 1950-53 and I played 1955-57. He still likes to say, regarding our teams back then, “We were small, but we were slow.”

I still keep up with the Charleston Tigers by reading the Express. It is late in arriving here. As a result, about two weeks after the cheering for a particular Charleston win has died down, there is a faint ‘Hoorah.’ rising upward from Roanoke, Virginia.

Judging from the incredible success of the modern Tigers, I feel certain that they have very few, if any, “small but slow,” players like the Hansard brothers of old, and none who are, like the younger Hansard, apparently was in some people’s eyes, pitiable to look at.

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