by Judith Allen
The continuing Appalachian story. Introducing Billy Bug and his strange addiction.
|Billy Bug - The Chalk Thief
In which Billy Bug devlopes a strange addiction, Big Mil takes a stand and the town benefits from the ruse.
Our Millie used to say that sometimes it is better to eat chalk than to wash the chalkboard and dust the erasers. That chore only gets you a bucket of dirty water and dusty clothes and sometimes a pat on the back that doesn't go very far in life, but eating chalk can make you a hero and get you candy.
Our Millie was the kind of girl who would give up recess to dust the erasers and clean the chalkboard but not her brother Billy Bug. His school career was questionable to say the least and his intelligence had been the subject of many a teachers meeting throughout the years. It was especially disturbing when he began answering every multiple choice question with the letter B for his name. On tests that called for something written he would always scrawl, "The anser is B" and then escape from the room, usually by going through the open window near his seat or in the winter by hiding in the furnace room where Old Bubba, the janitor never gave him away as he slept near the furnace.
Nobody ever asked him why he answered the way he did. They thought he didn't know any better. But he told Our Millie and might have told a teacher who asked, that anything else just took too much time and thinkin' gave him a headache. He would rather be fishin' in good weather or sleepin' near the furnace in the winter.
Things really got bad though when Billy Bug started eatin' chalk. It wasn't long until whole pieces of chalk began disappearin' and Billy Bug had the distinctive dusty evidence around his mouth. It went on a long time and so the Board of Education got riled up and discussed it at length at the latest board meeting. It was decided that Billy Bug needed to be tested. They said they were worried about his health but the real reason was it was costin' a bunch of money to replace that chalk Billy Bug ate and the teachers had to take chalk home with them if they wanted any to use the next day.
So a Nurse drove down from the County Seat and made her way to Billy Bug's house and saw Big Mil sittin' on the front porch snappin' beans. The kids and dogs were around playin' and sleepin' but Billy Bug saw the car first and he was nowhere to be found. The Nurse approached Big Mil and began by sayin' how concerned everybody was about Billy Bug and that it was decided that they needed to test Billy Bug because he might have a deficiency. The kids perked up at that but they never did find out what kind of deficiency because Big Mil jumped up, knockin' her beans to the ground and drawin' herself up to her almost six feet, she scared that Nurse so much that she was in her little car and down the road before anyone could bat an eye. Big Mil yelled after her, but Our Millie was sure she couldn't hear it with the engine roar. Big Mil said that Billy Bug ain't deficient. He's as smart as any one in the holler and more than most. Billy Bug just hid beside the house, covered his mouth with his hands and laughed as hard as he could.
Our Millie always thought that Billy Bug was smarter than people gave him credit for and she found out that this was true one day years later when she was sittin' with him behind the Only Full Service Station in the Tri-County area and he finally told her the true story about the chalk. Seems he wasn't eatin' it at all except for a small amount just for show. He was really takin' it and selling it for a penny a piece in town. He said that he knew he'd get in trouble for stealin' it 'cause that was a sin and Big Mil would whop him so hard he couldn't sit down for a week. But eatin' the chalk was different. That could be a mental problem or a physical one and he could just be sick.
Billy Bug had a lot of regular customers in town. He said it was really somethin' the number of people who needed chalk. The Henderson sisters and their friends needed it for hop-scotch and sidewalk games. They went through a lot because they were always breakin' it and someone would always want to draw pictures and use it up.
Mr. Jones ran the General Merchandise Store over on Main and he used chalk to write his specials out to advertise on a board outside his store. He didn't know it was stolen chalk but it probably wouldn't matter to him since everybody in town said he was always robbin' them blind anyway.
Uncle Homer was the only one Billy Bug told the truth about the chalk. He got a big kick out of it and chuckled every time the sheriff gave him a piece to mark the days to freedom on his cell wall.
Then there was Mrs Lucas. She always wanted lots of chalk preferably in as many colors as Billy Bug could find. That took some doin' since colored chalk was scarce and only used on special occasions. Somehow Billy Bug kept her supplied and she used it to draw pictures of Moses and Baby Jesus and Angels in Heavenly scenes for her second grade Sunday School class. She always thanked Billy Bug for such lovely chalk, offered him juice and cookies and said he was a "blessing". Billy Bug felt a little guilty about that but he didn't want to offend her so he accepted the juice and cookies with a smile.
Big Mickey from across the road used his chalk to graffiti out-houses, church doors and front porches all over the county. The Sheriff got many complaints and
Big Mickey was finally caught and had to clean everything up. His story had a happy ending though because a few years later he got into a good art school on scholarship and learned to do mural in his favorite medium - chalk.
Billy Bug took his pennies to the drug store every week and bought candy. He told Our Millie that licorice tasted a whole lot better than chalk any day.