Walking Around in Boo

Photo in a billfold
A few weeks ago, I reread To Kill a Mockingbird, one of my favorite books. I hadn’t read it in quite awhile, so it was like going home for me. And that’s because of my fascination (just like Jem and Scout’s ) with Boo Radley. And maybe that’s because I knew Boo Radley from the very first time I read the book — because I knew a “real-life” Boo Radley.

The poem below doesn’t have a shape yet, so it will probably change considerably before I send it off. But I am going back to Iowa in a few weeks, and I can’t get the book or Boo out of my mind, so I might as well set it down here, let it eat a piece of pie and listen to the jukebox.

“Boo was our neighbor. He gave us two soap dolls, a broken watch and chain, a pair of good-luck pennies, and our lives.”

– Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

Walking Around in Boo

Milo Miller was my Boo Radley, my mockingbird.

Every Saturday afternoon,
Milo delivered ice to the R&E Cafe
for a slice of rhubarb pie and vanilla ice cream,
when I was 17 and worked as a waitress
for two dollars an hour and tips.

Everyone in town knew Milo.
With teeth so splayed he could not close his mouth
and black-rimmed glasses as thick as church windows,
he was a child-man with a craving for sweets
(and he often asked me for a second slice
when he knew he was allowed only one).

One day Milo asked for my senior class photo,
while we were playing “Go Fish”
and listening to “Old Black Water” on the juke box
when the restaurant emptied after the lunch rush.
And I gave him one, signing my name on the back.
Twenty years later, he still carried
a dozen photos of “his girls” in his billfold
and I was proud to be one of them.

And now, when I fly home once a year,
I always hope to see Milo riding his bicycle
or patrolling the fairgrounds
because I still hope he will remember me
and smile and pull out his wallet
and ruffle through the soft-edged pictures
until he finds mine.

But I still remember, when I was much younger,
back when Milo was still a teenager,
how town kids would peek in his bedroom window,
throw gravel in the alley behind his house,
provoke the mad boy and rile up some fun.
Their taunts often won out – with Milo chasing them
with a bat or a kitchen knife
(at least that is how their stories went)
all the way to the old high school.
Their screams would wake the neighbors
and the town cop would turn in by the street light
and walk a crying Milo back home.

I was a farm kid, so I didn’t know much about Milo.
Except his name.
If you were slow or said something stupid
or struck out or got picked last,
you were “a Milo.”
If you tattled or couldn’t read or spell or got left back,
you were “a Milo.”
And I was none of these things
but I was “a Milo” anyway
because my last name was Meylor: “MY-LER.”
And so began my strange connection to this man.

As I pack for another trip home,
I wonder what his world is like now.
And I wonder if I will see him this time
and if he still likes rhubarb pie (so do I)
or if he still rides a bike (so do I).

Milo is my Boo Radley, my mockingbird.

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10 thoughts on “Walking Around in Boo

  1. Julia, beautiful tribute to Milo. I’m glad you have him one of your class pictures and you still look forward to seeing him when you come back to visit. That tells me you have a kind heart. DM

  2. Julia – nice poem. Just saw Milo this past weekend (7/17/2011) when I was home for the 4th annual Marcus Tractor Drive. Waved to him and he waved back – I don’t think he knew it was me though – to far away to him to see me clearly. Milo used to go to our church. He always had a big smile and “hello” to share. Thanks! -Bruce

    1. Hi Bruce! Thanks for posting here. I think we all have Milo stories to share. He is quite the character. Sounds like you had a great time with the brothers. Will you and Chris be in Marcus for the fair weekend? Would love to see you two!

  3. Julie, I am Kitty Pallesen, Karen’s sister. It brought tears to my eyes & many memories to read your Milo memories. I considered Milo one of my best friends when I was growing up in Marcus, and I believe he thought of me that way, too. Like you, I had the honor of my picture being carried around in his wallet – from over 40 years ago! I did not make it back for the fair, and one of my biggest regrets was not being able to see him. Every single time I see or re-read To Kill A Mockingbird, he is always in my thoughts, plus many, many heart warming memories all of the time running through my mind when I think of home. When I was a lifeguard at the Marcus pool in the summer, we rotated our guarding stations around the edge of the pool and would mostly stand there twriling our whistles and trying to be so cool. Every single position I had, Milo would follow me around like a puppy. Chuck Nielsen, our manager at the time, would tease me about Milo having a huge crush on me, and it was true – he did. But I was also the one who defended him from the constant teasing and taunting, and he knew me as his defender. One summer after I graduated from high school, but was back for a visit, I had my 2 dogs with me. I would borrow a bike from the garage and ride around town with Milo and the dogs following along. This was back in the 60s when there were very few stops signs in town – not even on Main Street I don’t think, and everything was just courtesy “right of way.” As we rode up to Main Street, my dogs shot out ahead of us just as a car was coming by, and I watched as one of them was run over and her spine was crushed under the car. I was stunned and devasted. Of course, I should have been more responsible about them, but I was still untouched by that age where you don’t think anything like this can go wrong. It did, and it was Milo who stayed with me as she took her last breath and helped me bury her in the back yard and sat with me all day as I mourned her death. So, even after I left Marcus, I continued to grow closer to him and always looked forward to seeing him when I got back there. If he heard I was coming back, he always knew when and would ride his bike up and wait on the street on his bike in front of the house until I noticed him out there. It did not matter if it was scorching hot in summer or the middle of winter in the ice and snow, he would never come to the door and knock; he would sit there on his bike and would wait until I saw him out there. Sometimes it took Dorothy Peavey or one of the other neighbors to call the house and say, “Did you know Milo is out there waiting for Kitty again?” Over the years, I have been back less and less, but the highlight of any visit has always been to see him again and hope that he would remember me. He always did. When our family home in Marcus was sold, one of my first thoughts was, oh my, when am I ever going to see Milo again? After this last weekend of the big fair, I had to check with Mom, who went back for it, to find out who all she saw, but one of my first questions was, “Did you see Milo?” Yes, Milo is my Boo, too. Knowing him has made me wish that we all could keep that innocent childlike quality and openess and acceptance as we grow older, like he has – because of a disability, of course, but as time goes by, I have questioned the meaning of that over and over. He never hesitated or wavered in his love and loyalty to me, something I have discovered is rare and to be treasured always. Thanks for your memories, for bringing mine back to me, and the next time you see Milo, would you please say “Hi” to him for me! Sincerely, Kitty Pallesen

  4. Hi Kitty. I just saw your mom and sister … and Milo … at home this past week. What a wonderful, wonderful time we had! What is it about you Pallesens? You always have me crying! 🙂 … in a good way. Thank you for sharing your memory. I can see Milo helping you bury the dog. And I can see his slow smile. I feel even more honored knowing that you are one of the girls in Milo’s stack of photos. He’s still doing well, although he doesn’t ride a bike anymore. Next time I’m home I’ll make sure to say “Hi” for you. Thanks for stopping by, Kitty!

  5. Julia,
    Again you brought tears to my eyes. Milo taught all of us many things about life that until we grew older(and wiser) didn’t understand. It gave me great joy to see Milo again. And you! LOVE the tribute- well done!

    1. Sorry Julia- last post was me…Valerie Eickholt (Slagter) in case you were wondering who the heck Richard Eickholt is. LOL

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