A Friend of the Family


“Is it time for you to go Mr. Amos? OK, I’ll walk you to the door”. My cousin Clarence stood up and reached out his hand to take the hand of his friend. I was too young to remember, but according to Clarence, Mr. Amos stood about six feet tall, so Clarence had to reach up to grasp hold of his fingers. Any physical description comes from how my cousin Clarence described him to me. Clarence slowly and somewhat sadly walked to the door with his arm outstretched to hold his friend’s rough dried hand, he opened the door, moved to the side to let Mr. Amos out then said, “Goodbye Mr. Amos, I’ll see you tomorrow”. For a good 3 minutes he stood watching at the front door, watching his friend walk up the road and out of sight on pass the trees, brush and briars. That much I remember, I remember seeing Clarence standing at the door waving goodbye to Mr. Amos. When my cousin finally turned back to us he said, “Let’s go play at the well”. We all went out to the well and played for the rest of the day, we played until time to go in for supper. This was the routine that played itself out almost everyday since Clarence had arrived. It was summer and Clarence was spending a few weeks with us, he lived in Sioux City, Iowa and he came to visit in the summer months at least two or three times when I was young. This year was different, immediately after his arrival, Clarence met Mr. Amos out at the dirt road and brought him directly to the house. After that first day, Mr. Amos came down the road to see Clarence every day. They seemed inseparable, Clarence seemed happy, they were best friends. I was only two or three years old, so as I said, I don’t remember much but, according to Clarence, Mr. Amos must have been about 70 or 80 years old. He was an old dark, leathery-skinned black man with white straggly hair, who lived just up the road from us. We had never been to or seen his house but he was a regular at ours while Clarence was there.

When Mr. Amos was at the house we didn’t get much of a chance to play with Clarence. He stayed at the table or in the corner of the living room talking to him. Sometimes you could hear him telling his friend what he’d been doing all day but mostly it was Clarence telling Mr. Amos to go here, go there, do this or do that, apparently Mr. Amos was quite accommodating. His visits were so commonplace that we barely even noticed when he was there and when he wasn’t anymore, he practically became a part of the family. But once Clarence said his goodbyes we would find plenty of things to keep us busy. He, Ba-jean, Bay-Ray and I spent a lot of time playing on the swing set out by the well or Clarence would don his shirt and shoes when we’d see Mrs. Nita and her son Johnny Arstino walking up the road on their way to see her parents. Johnny would stop and play with us while Miss Nita stood out in the road talking to our mother, we knew they’d be there a while so we took advantage of it. This was all before Miss Nita learned how to drive, so she went by quite regularly on her way up to visit her folks. One day we saw them walking up the road in front of the house so we ran out to say hi, “Hi Miss Nita, Hey Miss Nita”, we all chirped as we ran out. Clarence blurted, “Hi Miss Nita, Hi Johnny! Hey Mr. Amos!”, he ran out, quickly pulled his friend toward the house, disappearing inside so they could go sit in the closet with the door shut and talk, they did that a lot. Miss Nita spoke to us and Clarence, but didn’t acknowledge Mr. Amos at all, she continued on up the road to the farm. This is the same farm where we played rock walk and the farm where years later, Raymond and I would find ourselves stuck in the mud, fighting for our very lives.

It had been almost two weeks since Clarence arrived for his visit and my mother was starting to become concerned about him and his new found friend. At first she didn’t seem to mind this odd relationship, but when Clarence pulled Mr. Amos from the road to ride with us to go shopping and had us move to the back seat to make room for him in our station wagon, this was more than a body could stand. (How did Mr. Amos know we were about to go grocery shopping? They wondered) It was then she decided it was time to do something. Nowadays, a similar situation would probably warrant getting the authorities involved, maybe even social services or worse. A friendship of this kind would probably not be allowed to flourish today, let alone exist at all, but back then it wasn’t considered that uncommon, some people thought it was normal. But the problem wasn’t Mr. Amos, the problem was Clarence. But Mom never had to say anything about Mr. Amos, for some reason he just stopped coming by. Just as he seemed to have appeared out of nowhere he left just as abruptly.
Because you see, Clarence was the only one who could see Mr. Amos. Clarence was the only one who could hear Mr. Amos. Mr. Amos wasn’t real, Mr. Amos was Clarence’s imaginary friend. That’s right, he was imaginary, imaginary to everyone but Clarence.

I recently ran into cousin Clarence and I asked him about his childhood friend. To this day Clarence swears that he could not only see him but could describe what he wore and how he talked. I’ve since learned that the new owners of our old home place created a haunted trail this past Halloween in the woods where Clarence first saw Mr. Amos walking, the same path that I feared to walk on as a youngster is their haunted trail today. My only warning to them is that, if you are on that trail and you come upon an old dark leathery-skinned black man with white straggly hair, just nod and keep on walking. Don’t pause to make eye contact, don’t stop to talk, He may just be old Mr. Amos, he may just become a friend of the family.
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