August 27, 2011 10:39:00 PM
Birney Imes - [email protected]
"An'' they chased him ''n'' never could catch him ''cause they didn''t know what he looked like, an'' Atticus, when they finally saw him, why he hadn''t done any of those things... Atticus, he was real nice...." His hands were under my chin, pulling up the cover, tucking it around me.
"Most people are, Scout, when you finally see them."
Atticus Finch and his daughter talking about Boo Radley in "To Kill a Mockingbird"
Like the Maycomb of Harper Lee''s imagination, Columbus had an enigmatic character known as Boo. Our Boo was much different than the recluse, who for most of Ms. Lee''s novel, was more an unseen ogre than a person, at least in the minds of three children, who are the book''s central characters.
By contrast, our Boo was very much in evidence on the streets and sidewalks of our small town, striding purposefully -- often with folding chair in hand and talking to no one in particular -- toward an unknown destination. He was tall, slender and always crisply attired. He often wore a white sailor suit, sometimes adorned with tassels and a sash.
Among the joys of living in a small town -- and to be specific about this small town, Southside -- are the street characters and the yards and brightly painted houses that are an extension of the personality of the people within. You may never interact with the folks in the purple or the watermelon house, and you may never set foot in the garden with the mauve hedge, pomegranate tree and profusion of chest-high blue salvia, but it''s oddly reassuring to see them and know expressive, creative people live here.
And then there are the characters.
One of them, Lucious Wilson, better known as "Boo Man," died Thursday of what appears to have been of natural causes. He was 66 and, according to his estranged wife, was diagnosed as a schizophrenic years ago.
Yet, he incessantly walked the streets, apparently harmless. For me -- and for others I''ve spoken with since his death -- Boo was a welcome sight about which little was known. A local landmark of sorts, albeit one constantly in motion.
Lucious Wilson was the father of four children, two of them by Hattie Wilson, his wife. The youngest of them, Sierra Wilson, is a nursing student at the University of Alabama.
"He wasn''t like that growing up," said Sierra. "He was pretty awesome as a dad. I was a daddy''s girl; when I wanted something, I knew who to get it from."
On Thursday Sierra, her brother, Lucious Jr., and one of their two half-sisters, Angela Bluitt (Carrie Barry is the other.), were cleaning out their father''s brick home on Second Street South, a block from Friendship Cemetery. According to the police report, Boo had $1,000 in his pocket when he died in his backyard.
When I encountered Boo on our Southside walks, he would call out the names of world newspapers. The subject of his soliloquy was his way of addressing me. He made no effort to acknowledge me otherwise.
Daughter Tanner, also a Boo devotee, had better luck engaging him in conversation.
"You that newspaper lady," Boo once told her, "I can tell by your feet."
Boo had been in the hospital in Meridian for two months, and, though he was released Monday, no one in his family had seen him. At the time of this writing, an autopsy is being done. Speculation is he suffered a heart attack after a walk in the August heat.
Wilson was a veteran of the Army, and the Navy, from which he was honorably discharged in 1969 with a temporary disability. In the Army he received a National Defense Service Metal and marksmanship certification. In 2001 he completed a program in electronics at East Mississippi Community College.
"He had a head on his shoulders," said Hattie, "there wasn''t anything he couldn''t do."
Boo''s peculiar charm must be attributed in part to his mental illness, a sometimes debilitating and tortuous condition and nothing to make light of. Despite the illness, his outbursts revealed a singular intelligence and often an unintended sense of humor.
Seeing him on Northside, a long way from home, son John once offered him a ride.
"No, I got my own spaceship," Boo responded.
Lucious "Boo Man" Wilson''s funeral will be 11 a.m. Saturday at Friendship Missionary Baptist Church.
Birney Imes III is the immediate past publisher of The Dispatch.