When my dad was about twelve, he and his best friend, Johnnie, were rummaging through a bootlegger’s yard for liquor. It was February in Pennsylvania, and thus rather cold and snowy.
The bootlegger saw them, yelled, and gave chase. The two boys ran — I don’t know if they actually got a bottle — and tried to get away.
The boys ran across the yard and some open land and proceeded across the road, where Johnnie was hit and died. My dad was a couple steps behind him, and the bootlegger watched, agape, farther back.
Johnnie taught my dad French as a kid. Johnnie was really “Jean,” and he and his parents had moved from france when Johnnie was even younger. My dad would beg and beg for French lessons, and Johnnie taught him night after summer night under the streetlights.
When they began middle school, my dad was quite excited for French class, as he really did want to learn the language and was, of course, quite excited to show off his superlative skills.
Both Johnnie and my dad did poorly in French class. Johnnie’s family was from the country, and what my dad knew as French was, in fact, not considered French by his teacher, nor, most likely, by the national government of France.