Amy and Little Bill

From the time I was seven until ten years old, my family lived in San Pablo, a poor and heavily ethnic neighborhood of Oakland, California. We lived in a small rent house belonging to grandpa, dad's father. In the bedrooms, one for my sisters Amy and Ann, one for my brother Tim and me, and one for my oldest sister Suzy, mom put various hand-made items of furniture. Dad was an amateur carpenter and good at making small furniture items. He designed and built small toy boxes for the younger kids.

One of those newly-made toy boxes was sitting in Amy and Ann's room one night, around eleven o'clock. We had all just gotten still and quiet for sleep, an accomplishment my mother managed to bring off every school night of the world during those years. As the light of the moon began to show against the rooftops of those little houses, we were startled by a cry from near that toy box. Tim and I were awakened, as was Ann, although Suzy may have been still awake, since she sometimes watched TV in the living room a little while after the rest of us had gone to bed or sleep.

Forgetting anything else, we all raced into the bedroom. It was Amy--sitting up on the bed, eyes wide with panic and shock.

"There was a little boy there--on top of the toy box," she cried.

We looked, but no one was there.

"He's not there now--but he was a minute ago," Amy said, tearfully.

Mother went over and hugged her, as we all did. She was quite unnerved by the experience.

"It was only a dream, that's all. It was just a bad dream," mom said.

"But I wasn't dreaming--I just looked over there and saw him!"

"Well, dreams can be like that."

"Maybe it was like those that Suzy has, where she walks in her sleep and talks in her sleep," I volunteered.

Dad had come in by then, as well.

"There ain't no little boys in here. So you can all go back to sleep."

Several years later, we had moved back to Batesville, Arkansas, to a two-story house on Hill Street. Amy and Ann had their bedroom upstairs, as did Tim and I. Sue's bedroom was downstairs. Mother and dad had their bedroom downstairs also.

We were a few years older, so we sometimes stayed up later. Sue was about to graduate high school, and she had been dating a little bit. She was still up, downstairs watching TV. Again, a cry in the night from Amy awakened the rest of us.

"It's a little boy--there's a little boy on the toy box!"

Again, the reassurances followed, and my distraught little sister finally was able to get back to sleep.

Some years later, as adults, we were discussing family issues. We came to the topic of Little Bill. My mother began to weep as she recalled the baby she had lost at birth.

"He was so sweet--he looked so sweet. He had curly hair. That doctor had been drinking, when he delivered him. I can't help but wonder if that wasn't why he died."

Mom has usually cried a little bit when she begins to recall the loss of Little Bill.

He would have been my older brother. He was born about two years after Suzy, but was dead within, at most, a few minutes of birth.

His death must have really traumatized my mother. She had only one child at that point, the oldest, my sister Suzy. After that loss of Little Bill, she had no more children until me, about seven years later. There is thus quite an age gap between Suzy and the rest of us kids, probably best explained by mother's grief over Little Bill.

As mom was discussing Little Bill with Amy recently, something clicked for Amy.

"You remember how I kept having those dreams about a little boy by the toy box? Well, I've been thinking. I kept having the feeling that he was 'one of the boys,' in the sense of being, you know, someone in our family, a relative. But he didn't look like Tim or Max or even Doug. And they're the only boys in our family."

"I remember you saying, 'one of the boys is in the room,'" I interjected.

"Amy--do you remember what the little boy looked like?" mother asked Amy over the phone a little while later.

"Yes, he was blondish and he was about eight or nine at the time I saw him, both times."

"I wonder why he wanted to be by the toy box?" mother said, half jokingly.

"Maybe it was the spirit of Little Bill both times, wanting to see our toys," Amy replied, surprisingly.

It had been a number of years since those dreams, so memories may grow vague. But there are several things that might suggest the figure in Amy's dream was a persistent visitor.

Addy Street in Batesville was the location of the first house our family had in Batesville after all us kids had been born. We were all very small then, Tim and I being only about three and five, respectively. I was old enough to have a playmate by then, Randy Johnson from across the street, who as a grown man became Pulaski County Sheriff. However, Tim was still so small that Mother was concerned that he would get into the street by climbing over the rock wall that surrounded our yard. I tried, as the older brother, to help her keep an eye on him, while busy playing.

Unfortunately, I wasn't much help: I could hardly keep up with Tim. As I played in the yard on sunny days, Tim often seemed to be right beside me, when he was actually someplace else. At least part of the reason for this was that I often saw a someone out of the corner of my eye, when no one was there. I can't recall many details of this, but do recall that it happened more than once.

If my corner-of-the-eye company was a little boy image, perhaps he was persistent then for the same reason he was persistent with Amy in later years: perhaps it was Little Bill, come to visit.

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