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There was no way for us to know that the tow-headed kid sitting on top of a truckload of furniture parked outside the store would soon be our neighbor, and even less of a chance that we would have suspected that he would end up being our closest friend.
We walked up to the truck checking him out carefully. He was aware of us but pretended not to be interested.
Forest, Jr. spoke first, "You movin' to Loyd Star?"
"Yep," was the reply.
"Where from?"
"Where you gonna live?" quizzed Forest, Jr.
The boy pointed down the road toward a rent house. Forest, Jr. was not satisfied. "How old are you?" He asked.
"Goin' on eight," was the response.
There was onl,y one more question to be asked, and he beat Forest, Jr. to it. "My name is Willie. Willie Wirt. What's yours?"
We snickered as the truck pulled off. We liked him. We would see him tomorrow.
The next morning we headed for the rent house. Willie spotted us and ran out to meet us. We talked. I could tell that he was intrigued by Forest, Jr. and that he had no intention of challenging my cousin's role of leadership. At just the right moment, Forest, Jr. announced that we would play cowboys today. What Willie did not know was that we played cowboys everyday.
Forest, Jr. was the Cisco Kid. He lived and breathed him, slicking his hair down with vaseline to look like him. He even practiced saying Senor, pronto, vamos and a few other Mexican words. My favorite western hero was the Durango Kid, but Forest, Jr. convinced me that two Kids in the same gang seemed inappropriate, so naturally Forest, Jr. would be the Kid. He made the rules, he gave the orders. I was simply to be "Drango", and that's the way it was until Willie came along.
When Forest, Jr. asked him who his favorite cowboy was, I held my breath. Willie thought for a moment, and then looking at us proudly, he announced, "Lash Larue."I breathed again. I could tell Forest, Jr. was also relieved.
Willie wiped his nose with his sleeve, "Well, who are ya'll?"
"This is 'Drango', and I'm the Cisco Kid."
Lash stepped forward, "What's the plan, Cisco?"
Forest, Jr. was in his glory. He put his arms around his sidekicks and plotted how we would rid all of Lincoln County of its bandits, Indians, and bank robbers. He picked up two pine limbs and offered one to Lash, "Here's you a rifle."
Lash declined the offer. Lash reached into his back pocket and pulled out his prize--a long piece of plaited grass twine tied to the end of a short stick. "I'll just stick with this here whup," he said. Forest, Jr.'s eyes brightened. Willie "Lash Larue" Wirt was one of us.
We mounted our imaginary horses, slapped our thighs and broke into a gallop up one hill and down another, heading for the fields.
Suddenly, as if he were shot, Forest, Jr. fell to the ground. "Lash! Drango! Get down quick!" We did.
Cisco pointed to a clay bank. "You see him?"
"See who?"
"That Indian over there in that cactus."
"You mean that little black boy over there in the kudzu?" questioned Lash.
I knew it was only Hoy D. squatting up there on a clay bank minding his own business, but I also knew that if Forest, Jr. said he was an Indian, he was. Lash realized his mistake and recovered quickly.
"Sure is Cisco. It's that thieving redskin for sure. Let's go get him."
Cisco, Lash, Drango and three invisible horses broke into a dead run toward a now-startled Hoy D. When we reached him, Cisco pointed his pine limb rifle at our black friend. "Reach for the sky, Senor, and drop that gun belt. One false move outa' you and we'll blow a hole in you a rabbit could jump through."
Hoy D. in amazement inched his arms upwards.
"I'm the Cisco Kid, and I mean business," Forest, Jr. asserted belligerently.
'You ain't no Cisco Kid, youse 'Farst, Jr.' and you knowed I ain't got no gun belt." said Hoy D. A long silence followed.
"Then reach in them pockets and lay out that gold you stole, pronto!"
Hoy reached in his pockets and pulled out two marbles.
"'Farst, Jr., youse crazy. I ain't got no gun, no gold, and no nuthin' 'cept 'dese marbles and you ain't gittin' 'dem."
Lash could not stand it any longer. Waving his whip, he commanded, "Let's give him a tast of this, Cisco."
Hoy D., even more confused, gave his full attention to our new friend. He was certain that Forest, Jr. and I would never lay a hand on him, but he wasn't so sure about "Willie-the-Lash-Wirt."
Forest, Jr. regained control. "He ain't worth whippin, Lash. We need to shoot him and let the buzzards pick his carcas pronto."
"BANG!!" No response.
"BANG! BANG!!" Still no response.
The whiish of Lash's whip sounded overhead. Hoy D. got the message and fell to the ground. "You got me for shor, Mr. Cisco. Dis Injun's daid!"
We all fell out laughing and helped Hoy D. to his feet. "Don't you know anything about playing cowbooys?" Willie asked him.
How would you explain to a seven - year old that had never heard of a picture show, much less seen one, what playing cowboys was all about? Even Forest, Jr. knew the task was too great, but he sensed that Hoy D. wanted to play with us and would be hurt if he couldn't. "What do you know how to play?" Asked Forest, Jr.
"Truck," was the reply. Hoy D. scratched off and imitated a log truck to the top of his lungs.
Forest, Jr. explained to Hoy D. that he could be a truck and follow us around in search of outlaws, but that he would have to refrain from shifting gears so loudly because it would spook our horses. Hoy D. had no idea what was going on, but he agreed. Three cowboys and a human truck headed for the badlands.
That's the way it was the entire summerof 1948. Cisco and his Mexican words, Lash and his grass twine whip, Hoy D. shifting gears, and Drango just proud to be along.
Hoy D. loved Willie's whip, and by the end of the summer he could pop it almost as well as the Lash, but it was always when we were resting the horses, otherwise it never left Willie's hand.
The four of us were always together. We laughed, played and stretched our imaginations. There were no boundaries, we were inseparable. We loved each other. A grand summer slipped away from us before we knew it.
Before school started in September, Forest, Jr. , Hoy D. and I were inside the store. A truck stopping outside caught our attention. Just as it had begun, it was about to end. Outside, sitting atop the same truckload of furniture, was Willie, our friend, the Lash.
We ran outside. We didn't know he was leaving. He had not told us. The slight figure above us was looking down tightly clutching his twine treasure that had become a part of him. Lash Larue, with quivering chin, trying to be brave, simply said, "We're Movin'."
No one spoke for a moment.
"Can I pop your whip just one more time, Lash?" asked Hoy D.
Willie pretended not to hear.The truck started and began to move.
Forest, Jr. cupped his mouth with his hand and shouted, "Adios Amigo!"
Willie smiled, then stood up. "Hoy D.," he called, "Catch!"
Hoy D.'s eager hands reached out. The grass twine whip that had been Lash's trademark found a new home.
We stood there looking down the road long after he had disappeared. The truck that had brought our friend to us had taken him away. Willie Wirt never returned to Loyd Star.