Bobby Baker was the most memorable kid in my first grade class. I spent 12 years matriculating with Bobby, but it was in the first months of those school years that he carved an impression on me that would always bring a smile or gentle laugh when I remembered him.
Since that June night when we threw our caps upward in the high school gym, cheered to the torture behind us, tossed a wave goodbye and hurried off in separate directions, I have thought about Bobby hundreds of times.
I remember 6-year-old Bobby, shuffling into Mrs. Crosley’s class from one of the school’s four buses, the one that was always last to arrive.
He wore dark or tan jeans with a striped, crewneck shirt that was always neatly tucked and belted while a pair of white-trimmed black Keds slapped rhythmically against the wood floor.
His dark brown hair was cut into shimmering layers that swept across his forehead just above hazel-colored eyes that had an impeccable, constant glint. A row of perfect teeth were hidden behind the tight-lipped smile.
It was not a crush that I had on Bobby Baker. It was more serious than that. I had admiration for him. He was a charming character. I am always drawn to interesting people and perhaps it all started with Bobby Baker.
He was entertaining without being the center of attention. He simply was who he was and it was different enough from the rest of us farm kids to be special.
In his book satchel, like the rest of us, he toted a Blue Horse tablet with wide-spaced lines, a fat pencil, crayons and books about dinosaurs.
Bobby was riveted by dinosaurs, something I had never heard of until I met him. He talked with great authority about these odd-looking creatures and enthusiastically shared his picture books about dinosaurs. For show and tell, he brought his dinosaur models and gave expert talks.
He was the only kid in the class who was passionate about something. The rest of us were still pretty much astray in the maze of things to be discovered. But Bobby, at 6, already knew a lot about dinosaurs while the rest of us were experts only in recess.
Bobby Baker stayed in trouble with Mrs. Crosley. Since I was preoccupied with my own trouble with Mrs. Crosley — I couldn’t understand why I shouldn’t make a face at Kathy Couch or talk frequently to her cousin, Lisa — I don’t know why Bobby was sometimes standing in the corner, summoned to the principal or, on occasion, being paddled in the hallway.
If a child had been particularly bad, Mrs. Crosley had a 4-foot long, stuffed, gray mouse’s tail with a big safety pin attached. Bobby Baker was the only one who ever ascended to that degree of punishment and both times it happened, it had to do with untruths. Not that Bobby lied. He did not. He had an active imagination. He was a superb storyteller.
One day, the tail pinned to his jeans and bobbing along behind him, he took his place in the lunch room line. He was proudly defiant, smiling without shame or disgrace. He held his head high.
I knew when I saw his confidence and sly smile, that Bobby Baker would always be my hero.
He straightened up after the first grade and became a bit more conventional. Or perhaps it was that the teachers who followed were less exacting about model behavior and more accepting of that constant glint and mischievous smile.
He took his love for prehistoric times all the way to a master’s degree in history.
“Did you see the obits?” asked Jerry Truelove. “Was that Bobby Baker from our class?”
The moment I saw the photo, I knew it was. He still had the same glint in his eyes and mischievous smile.
I’m glad life had not stolen that from such a wonderful kid.
Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of several books, including “What Southern Women Know.” Sign up for her newsletter at www.rondarich.com. Her column publishes Tuesdays.