I can’t recall his proper name, but I can still, over all the softly falling years, see his face before me and hear his high falsetto voice. He was known to us all merely as “Squeaksie”; Squeaksie Dole. And he was my friend.
It was a time and a place for nicknames and small boys took great delight in hanging colorful cognomens on one another. My small world revolved around the likes of “Henny” Keller, “Chuckles” Price and twins known only as “Brownie” and “Bluey” out of respect for the clothing they invariably affected as the only real distinction between them.
Squeaksie was one of those thoroughly unobtrusive and self-effacing kids whose presence never stirred much notice. Quiet, modest, almost painfully shy he was just always there. We never had to notify him of our intended activity or destination. We would just turn around to see who was following and he would be there. Perhaps his small stature, always-congenial air and easy-going ways allowed him to ease into an otherwise highly-competitive fraternity of super-active neighborhood “buddies”. He was noticeable mainly because of his round, freckle-spattered cherubic face set off by jug-handle ears and an unkempt thatch of reddish hair.
To philosophers and students of psychology alike the word innocence would be too imprecise to connote anything of scientific relevance, but for me the word innocence will always call to mind the simple state of existence in which I lived those carefree early boyhood experiences shared with Henny, Chuckles, and the twins. And with Squeaksie. Together we built and flew rubber-band-powered balsa models of Wacos and Stearmans and Travelaires, vying for realism in our copies of Jimmy Doolittle’s GeeBee racer and the Army’s shark-nosed Curtis P-40 pursuits. We raced our clattering express wagons down Washington Avenue and talked late into the evening dark about the siege of Leningrad or the fall of Tobruk, and traded baseball cards and shiny agate marbles from the string-tied chamois sacks hung from our belts. Our days were filled with importance and we were surrounded by the sweep of great events.
It was a safe, secure, unthreatened world through which I roamed. No one loved by me or close to me had yet died; death was remote, vicarious. It happened to “old” people; to those unconnected to me. Life stretched ahead into a future whose very horizons were so hazy and distant as to seem invisible. Mortality was an unvisited concept. Small, laughing barefoot boys who climbed slender trees and played hide-and-seek and crowded together around static-prone radios to listen to Captain Midnight and Jack Armstrong the “All-American Boy” inhabited a world of unlimited possibilities.
The moment all that “innocence” came tumbling down was when we heard the news about “Squeaksie”. “It happened last night, after dark” a stunned Bobbie Daigle related in halting bursts over a telephone usually reserved for grown-ups.
His father had been taking him to buy a new pair of shoes. They had been walking hand-in-hand along the shoulder of a busy roadway, and a passing car had struck Squeaksie “killing him instantly”. The word instantly seemed to hang on the air with a special menace.
I can’t remember what we said to each other as we all gathered in a patch of woods from which we could keep a vigil on the Dole home, but we each – in our own way – recognized that something new had entered our seemingly uncomplicated domain, and some things would never be quite the same again. Squeaksie - quiet, always- smiling –and-unruffled Squeaksie - would not be gathering stones for our sling shots with us again.
My Aunt and Uncle accompanied me to the viewing held in the Dole living room where we stood in tight, quiet formal groups, surrounded by the overpowering smell of lilies. “Why do they have to have lilies” I recall thinking, and I have disliked them ever since that night. I stood there, wanting to say something to my friend; to tell him how much he had been a part of my life; that I would miss him. I wanted to cry, but knew I couldn’t in front of all those people.Now I can. GOOD BYE SQUEAKSIE!