Sunday, August 22, 2010

Oonly Bonly

His name was OB Lewis.

My mother said he was, in a word, magnificent. I pressed her for more, but she just sighs and says, "forty-six years does nothing for specific memories."

It was their senior year at South Mountain High School in Phoenix, Arizona.

I like to think OB was a go-getter. The kind of young man you want living next door to you, taking your daughter to the homecoming dance, and eventually marrying her. You'd put him to work at your car dealership, and he'd make you zillions of bucks--just because men trusted him, women were enamored of him, and babies toddled to him with delight. A solid boy with honor, manners, great hair, a cleft chin, and perfect teeth in his deep and brilliant gene pool -- the sort of fellow that makes Richie Cunningham seem like a ruffian.

The story goes like this:

OB was a family name. One passed on for generation upon proud generation in the Lewis family. One his parents lovingly passed on to honor those who came before him. One that stood for goodness, for purity, and, as it turns out, nothing.

Yup. That's right. The "O" stood for not a thing. It was simply an "O", next to a "B" that, likewise, stood for bupkus ... just as it had for generations.

I imagine OB was used to explaining this to legions of folks as he grew from a boy to a man. I envision him clad in crisp denim and a fresh sweater, varsity letter gleaming from his spotless letterman's jacket. (I have no idea if he was an athlete in reality; but he for SURE is in my head. The captain of every team he was on, in fact.)

I imagine the scene wherein he gives his perfect convertible Mustang a loving pat as he leaves her at the curb, entering the building that houses the Army recruiter's office, his jaw set--determined. It was 1964, there was a war on, and this young man was going to go serve. Just as his father and his father's father had, he would carry the name OB Lewis into battle and gladly fight for the very things for which his forefather's had fought.

In my version, he approaches the desk, paperwork filled out, and waits while an overworked clerk reads through the fields filled in ink, checking for missed information.

"What do the O and B stand for?" the clerks asks. He's seen hundreds upon hundreds of these kids and has yet to be impressed. He'd be there headed overseas, too, if it weren't for his own father's legacy: myopic eyes, flat feet and wheezing lungs only a pharmacist could love.

"Nothing, sir. It's just an O and a B," young Mr. Lewis would explain calmly.

And so the weary clerk makes a notation on OB's paperwork, adding a single word behind each letter. And when OB receives his dog tags mere days later, they read in a way even his father's and grandfather's tags did not.

They read, "Oonly Bonly Lewis".

OB came to school that day laughing his head off and showing everyone the tags. He even claimed the Army said they wouldn't fix them; that HE himself filled out the paperwork and that surely the boy knew his own name.

And so OB became Oonly Bonly for the term of his enlistment.

My mother told us this story as I was growing up, and it became one I retold often.

I asked Mom what happened to OB. She has no idea, but thinks maybe she saw his name on I take this as a good sign. That maybe those Oonly Bonly tags became a good luck talisman. That they brought him home safely and with his sense of humor intact.

Raise your coffee cups, kids:

To OB Lewis, who shows us that even if they call you a silly name, you remain who you are, and that even in the face of something terrifying, you can teach others that it's okay to laugh, too.


Sarah McCurdy said...

How did you know I was wearing my pjs? Hmmm....good story! It's cute and I thank you for sharing and adding to my Monday morning.

Kimberly* said...

Wonderful posting, Laura!