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New Holland's population was a booming number of 563 residents residing there. You'd think that a town with a name like New Holland would be more impressive. Sad, in a way. I'm sure the first mayor thought that he would be creating a giant landmark, a large red dot on the map of Illinois. I bet you, if he were to some how magically come back to life, he would drop dead right over again from witnessing tragic dissapointment that could have been something great.
My father and I would walk up to the gas station on the other side of the highway, that split our tiny ditch of a town in half, to get soft served cones. On our way across the highway the town homeless man, Bo, was wheeling his bike across the gravel as well. His bicycle had two large basket hanging above the back wheel. And in those baskets were all of Bo's belongings. Dollar General bags kept all of his items in order. A fleece blanket peeked over the top.
Everyone had a story to tell about Bo. Not a single one of them either sweet or sentimental. Even at the age of three I could identify the disgust in the church ladies eyes when he sat in the middle pews on Sundays, or how the mothers always clasped a little bit tighter on their children's hands as they passed by the aged man.
My mother was like those women, grabbing me by the back of my shirt when I wanted to play in the back yard while Bo was out. My father always defended Bo as if the smelly man were his own brother.
Bo waved to us from a good ten feet away. My pug, George Clooney, started getting antsy and immediately started yanking at his leash, wanting to greet Bo. The leash slipped out of my hands from the pressure and George darted towards Bo, panting and his legs kicking like a mule.
Dad ran after our small dog, smiling.
"Sorry about that, Bo." He shook his head. Bo had George in his arms. George kissed the mans dirty bearded face excitedly, liking around his nose and cleansing the dirt off of his face.
"Ah, that's alright, Jack. He's a fiesty one, isn't he?" Bo grinned his toothless grin, darting his face away from the dogs tongue. I stood slightly behind my father, hiden by his hip.
"That he is." Dad stepped forward and took George from Bo's arms. He handed the leash to me.
"Hi there, darlin'. Is that your dog?" He caught me peeking my head out to see his aged face. His eyes were sunken and bruised, his eyebrows long and untame, and his beard wild and grayed, speckled with dirt bits. His remaining teeth were blackened at the gums, like he had been chewing on coal. All in all the man looked sickly.
I nodded, terrified. I eyed the front of his bike, a bag dangling from the handlebar. A sleeve peaked out from the top of the bag.
"Ah, you're interested in Ole Blue." He patted the large bike seat proudly. His toothless grin widened.
"You named your bike?" I bravely asked, my voice full of skepticism.
"Well, sure. This baby and I have been through a lot. They work a lot like people, ya see. The pedal gives you the right push that lets you into their lives. Then the chain gives traction, so you're really going somewhere with them, not just aimlessly pedaling place. And if they're good friends then they're sure to be reliable." He smoothed the handlebar with his callused hand.
"Bo, we were we're going to go grab some ice cream. Would you like some?" Dad smiled, obviously astonished by the words of wisdom that came out of this poor man's mouth.
"Oh, that's awful kind of you, Jack. But I've got to be heading off. A homeless man is kept pretty busy, believe it or not." Bo cracked a smile then turned and trudged off with Ole Blue at an awfully slow pace.
Dad turned to me then, his face twisted in frustration.
"You know, Shel, it's those who have nothing at all that are the ones worth knowing." I nodded, pretending I understood fully. He bought me a Swirled Cherry cone. My favorite out of all the flavors and all the way home I only thought about how delicous the soft served ice cream was against my tongue and how great it felt, cooling down my insides.
Years later the gas station/ice cream parlor was boarded up and closed. Bo no longer had Ole Blue because a couple of teenagers had stolen it at the park. So Bo spent the rest of his days, sitting on the bench in front of that decrepid building, where he would smile to those who passed and strike up a harmless conversation with anyone who would listen.