Column: Remembering a couple of characters


I love characters. You know, people who don’t color within the lines; folks who listen to their own music and march to their own drum.

Two of the greatest characters I ever knew were a German couple who lived across the street when I was a kid.

Mr. and Mrs. Boesch came to America when they were children. Since they came from the same German village, they huddled together in the New World, eventually fell in love and married.

That was right after World War I, so they were already old timers when I got to know them. Mr. Boesch apparently played in an Umpah band in Germany, so it was only natural that he would become a music teacher in America.

At first, he thought I should learn to play the trumpet, but when my early bleatings set all the neighborhood dogs to howling, he diplomatically changed his tune and heartily recommended I take up singing instead and maybe join the school choir. It dawned on me only later that our school didn’t have a choir.

A couple things made Mr. Boesch a character. Since he came to America during a period of high anti-German feeling, he vowed to become the most patriotic American in town. He accomplished this by speaking nothing but English and by flying the American flag from his front porch at all times. Moreover, he walked onto his porch every morning, put his hand over his heart and recited the Pledge of Allegiance.

The second thing he did was to pull weeds. He started with his own yard and dug out every dandelion, clover, burdock and thistle. With each dig, he uttered a soft but intense oath. And, when his yard was weed-free, he headed down the block, clearing his neighbor’s lawns of alien botany as well.

And when he had finished for the day, he would retire to his front porch and drink a bottle of beer. This practice Mrs. Boesch believed was nothing less than a well paved road to perdition, and made her feelings known by stomping past the porch and uttering a damning “harrumph!”

Mr. Boesch died a couple years later, and Mrs. Boesch lived on for a few more years, tending her garden and sweeping the front porch. She also began to lose weight. Her husband had been a big eater, but when he was gone, she lost interest in food. To perk up her appetite, her doctor told her to drink some beer every day.

Dutifully, she set her personal feeling aside and agreed. When she died some time later, the children cleaned out the house. In the refrigerator, they found a half-empty bottle of beer and a tablespoon. Yeah, she was a character too.