The first time I ever saw him was in a picture.
It was a photo of my cousin's elementary school class. All of the little kids in the photo looked to be on their best behavior - hair combed, shirts tucked in, hands stiffly on their sides. But those kids were merely background. The object that dominated the picture and immediately caught your attention was this huge kid on the back row. Not only was he twice as big as anyone else in the class, but his tongue was also happily hanging out of his mouth - and his tongue was twice as big as his classmate's noggin in front of him.
That object was Suan "Boo Boo" Gordon.
I later ended up going to high school with Boo Boo. Boo Boo was big - real big. He was probably around 5-11 and his weight wandered between 300 and 600 pounds over the last 25 years.
His size, especially when he was younger, often drew gawks and stares, and even snide remarks from those that didn't know him.
If the unwanted attention and cruelty bothered Boo Boo, he never let it show. He had one mood - happy.
Boo Boo stories are legend in these parts - how he could fold up a large pizza into a sandwich and eat it in three bites; how they got every weight in the high school weight room and put it on the squat machine and he pressed it with ease; how he was the first one on the court when the local high school basketball team won the 1987 state championship, lifting his cousin, Kingston Clark, high into the air after Kingston's game-winning shot - an image vividly frozen in my mind.
My favorite moment with Boo Boo was when some of us went bowling together in Valdosta. Boo Boo was first to bowl, and the entire bowling alley stopped what they were doing and rubbernecked in rapt attention to see how this huge man would fare. You could hear a pin drop when he chucked that ball down the lane, and in chain reaction, his pants fell to the floor. We started howling. Boo Boo pulled up his pants, looked at us with his eyes as big as saucers, and started howling too. He had the type of laugh that made you laugh more. It took us at least 10 minutes to contain ourselves.
I would have liked to laugh with him one more time.
Saturday, I attended Boo Boo's funeral. He died the previous Monday in a four-wheeler accident. He was 39.
"I can't think of anyone who knew Boo Boo who ever said anything bad about him, and I never heard Boo Boo say anything bad about anyone either," said one of his classmates, Renee Harris, at the funeral. True indeed. It's hard for joy to make enemies. The funeral crowd spoke volumes about Boo Boo. There were people of all creeds and colors, classmates who hadn't seen him in two decades, and co-workers who were visibly upset to lose a friend.
"Boo Boo taught us that color doesn't matter," said another classmate, Tanya O'Berry. "He also taught us that outward appearances don't matter."
Boo Boo didn't seem to notice that he was the only person of color at my bachelor party, or anywhere else for that matter. He treated people the way he wanted to be treated - not by the shell outside, but the person inside. That wasn't a lesson he spoke of, but rather lived, and those who encountered him learned subconsciously.
After the funeral, still dressed in my suit, I encountered a gentleman at a convenience store. He asked why I was dressed up. I told him I had been to a funeral.
"Oh, for that guy who was in the band in high school who was real smart?" (The second time I heard Boo Boo described that way). Yes, I replied.
"That's a shame," he said. "I heard he was a good guy, but I didn't know him. I'm sorry for you."
As I walked away, I didn't feel sorry for me or those who knew Boo Boo. I felt sorry for those who didn't.
Len Robbins is editor and publisher of The Clinch County News.