By OWEN PERRY
His real name (or so we’d been told) was Elmer T. Malone; but very few people in our small town of 2,000 or less ever knew him by anything but “Bones” Malone. Some local wag slapped that moniker on him many moons ago after an incident at Riley’s Grocery and Market.
It seems that Mr. Malone had dropped by for a bag of cheap flour and pound or so of fatback, and as he ambled back to his battered old car, Mrs. Riley murmured sympathetically,“I don’t know how in the world that man’s still living! Ain’t nothing but skin and bones!”
Now ol’ “Rimer” Winderweedle, our local homespun poet, happened to be present that day, and immediately he grinned his snaggle-toothed grin and said, “Say, that’d make that ol’ codger a fine name: ‘Bones’ Malone — and for right now we could even say: “Bones” Malone has done gone home.” The name stuck, and from then on, everybody forgot (or ignored) the Elmer T. that had once preceded Mr. Malone’s last name.
Folks, as a rule, detest mystery — or anything they don’t understand. And ol’ “Bones” was truly “a puzzle wrapped in an enigma.” Natives who were older than I, said he just suddenly appeared on the scene in our town over 20 years ago — tall, thin, taciturn, and definitely not sharing any personal history of himself.
Nobody had ever heard him utter over 10 or 12 words on any given occasion, so no one knew whether he was a widower, bachelor, divorced man or just what. He chose to do his banking and his mail business in an adjoining town about nine miles away, and this gave rise to some wild rumors that Mr. Malone was an eccentric, tightwad, old coot who was actually a rich recluse who didn’t want any of us to know anything about his affairs.
Personally, I didn’t “buy” that theory, but lots of people did. As a result, Mr. Malone was the butt of many an unkind joke or prank. His response? A shrug of his thin shoulders and a forced laugh that left some of his tormenters furious — particularly those who sometimes badgered him for money. “You old skinflint,” they’d yell. “with all that money, and you’re tight as the bark on a tree!”
Mr. Malone (as my parents insisted I call him) lived alone in a run-down shack down between Boyer’s Pond and the railroad.
Egged on by a dare, and the prospect of instant wealth, I tagged along with a couple of other 12-year-olds one day while Mr. Malone was away. Some habitual liar (backed up by two more that were even more “habitual”) had reported that our reclusive friend had just “oodles” of money buried in old syrup buckets in his back yard, but after shoveling so hard we had blisters on our hands, we gave up the quest and sneaked away home — tired, disillusioned and broke as ever.
Well, things sort of rocked along for Mr. Malone and the rest of us in Woodville. Then one day, because our neighbor had not been seen for three days, some men went to check on him.
Sure enough, Mr. Malone had succumbed to a heart attack, so the men, accompanied by ol’ “Rimer” Winderweedle, rummaged around hoping to find the name (or names) of possible survivors.
They found none, but they did return to town with some incredible news: everywhere there in Mr. Malone’s old shack they found canceled checks dating back several years. Checks made out to orphanages, widows, etc. for hefty sums of money. And, as it turned out, our mysterious neighbor was anything but rich. Deposit slips revealed that his “riches” consisted of a retirement check that amounted to somewhat less than $500 per month, which with the exception of $200, he gave away each month.
A lot of folks that had harassed our now-departed neighbor went on some real guilt trips, because he’d left this ole earth with less than three dollars in his pocket.
Town folks who heard the touching story of Mr. Malone’s generosity all chipped in for a casket, and he was interred at Chapel Hill with a huge crowd in attendance.
Someone suggested that ol’ “Rimer” compose a poem for the occasion, and he gladly obliged, with tears in his eyes. I don’t recall any of the words, except the last line, which read as follows:
“Now Bones Malone has finally gone home!”
This column sponsored by: Encompass Home Health (”a better way to care”), 2256 S. Sycamore St. Suite 2, Palestine, Texas 75801, 903-723-3991.