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Up until I turned twelve years old the kind of friends I had were what you'd expect. They were my own age more or less. Most of them were born here in Serenity along with me. And all of us went to the same school together.
As long as those were the friends I had, nothing too serious ever happened to any of us, except a broken arm now and then or six stitches in somebody's scalp or scarlet fever. The worst was when we were six years old and Eechee Ries bad to be pulled out of the pond behind the closed down piano factory. Eech bad to get worked over with a Pulmotor. They bad him breathing again in about ten minutes and he came out fine. That was the worst. Until I got to know Onion John and we two came to he the best of friends.
Onion John was a lot different from anyone I ever hung out with before. Like his age. No one actually knew how old he'd be. But considering he was six feet and three inches tall with a mustache, it was a good guess that Onion John was well along in years. Anyway, he was a lot older than I am.
He used to live up on Hessian Hill, Onion John did, in a house he built out of piled up stone and four bathtubs and no running water. Once a month he'd get up in the middle of the night, according to the way the moon was, to cook up a stew with chunks of lead in it and maybe some chipped stone he collected and half a rabbit sometimes and always a little wood alcohol to make a blue flame. It wasn't a stew for eating. It was to get gold out of the moon, to make his fortune.
I never saw any fortune come out of what Onion John was cooking. And now I guess I never will. Because everything's changed for Onion John,on account of us getting to be friends the way we did.
It happened the day we played Rockton Township for the Little League Pennant. Onion John didn't come out to watch the ball game, actually. He came to go shopping in the garbage dump behind center field which is the position that I play. The Serenity dump for John was the same as the supermarket is for most people. He went there for whatever he needed. And if he didn't find what he was looking for he usually came across something be could use just as well. So the sight of Onion John out there on the garbage dump, that day, there was nothing too different in that.
Except everything else about the afternoon was so different I took special notice, more than ever before, of Onion John. It was the biggest ball game I ever played in. And the most important ball player on the Serenity team was me. Not that I'm the best one. There's George Connors who bats fourth, he's the best slugger our age with this trick, he has, of twisting his wrists when he steps into a ball. Ries., who almost drowned that time, he's our best pitcher. And in the field, Bo Hemmendinger is the handiest.
I'm lucky. The only way I ever managed to stay on the team was because of all the luck I had. The part I liked about the Little League was the bus rides we took when we played away from home, the singing, and what happened every afternoon just batting it around at practice. The most I ever looked for out of a ball game was not to get noticed, particularly.
Yet I was the one the whole championship depended on. According to Mr. Miller who was the editor of the only newspaper we have in town, the Lamp.
I'd just come into the hardware store to bring my father his cooked lunch, the way I'd been doing all that summer, and while the bell on top was still jingling, I heard, "Congratulations, Andy. You're in the news."
It was dark inside the store with all the shades pulled down, especially after the glitter the sun made outside. When I made him out, I saw my father over in kitchenware waiting on Mrs. Kinnoy. "It's on the desk! Take a look at yourself."
Across the front page of the Lamp was this headline about us. Little leaguers meet rockton lions in pennant tilt. When I saw the picture of the ball team underneath the headline, I asked my father, "Who am I? Which one?"
The sort of picture it was you could make out Mr. Donabue on one side. He runs the barber shop down at the bridge and be coaches us. And on the other side you could make out my father. He's the president of the Rotary Club and they collected to buy us our bats and gloves and things. They were tall.
But in between, all you could see was twelve uniforms all in a row with hardly any faces to them because of the way things were smudged. We all looked the same, Burke, Hemmendinger, Ries, Schwarz, Connors, Maibee and Berry, like a bunch of dark shadows standing in the fog with the word serenity across our chest.
This is the special way that the Lamp prints a lot of its pictures and I never minded it before. Most of the time I know what the picture is supposed to look like anyway, whether it's the Episcopal Church, or the firehouse, or construction starts on the new $125,000 school. Except this time I'd just as soon not have to suppose, seeing it was my first picture in the paper.
"Who are you?" my father turned around to answer me. "Why don't you look underneath." Below the picture were all our names from left to right and the fifth was Andrew J. Rusch, Jr. I counted out to the fifth blur and it didn't lookfamiliar.Onion John. Copyright � by Joseph Krumgold. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.