He just wanted to BE Mickey Mantle

November05/ 2014

I suppose every municipality and metro area has a bunch of’em.   States like Texas, Louisiana, Maine and California grow’em by the bushel.  A “Mayberry” usually only has one or two at most.  That makes’em special.

Ours was “Butch”.   Mayberry’s was Ernest T. Bass.  Yep…. I’m talking about Town Characters.

His full name was Virgil Morris “Butch” Tyndall.  He would brag that he was named “Virgil” after one of Wyatt Earp’s brothers.   That gained him considerable playground “cred”.   Butch died two weeks ago.  One never forgets “a town character”.

Mercer lived next door to Butch.  I lived two blocks west of Butch and Mercer but on a direct line between Butch’s house and Fairfield Park.  Rhett lived across the street from Butch.  Rhett and his dad used to stand in their front yard and throw rocks at cars.  Did you and your dad ever throw rocks at cars together?  Me neither.

Butch, as you will see, was an official “character”.  Rhett was just nutz.  Some might say “whats the diff…?”  It’s a subtle “difference” but there IS a difference.

Speaking of dads…. if one of Butch’s claims to fame was “named after one of Wyatt Earp’s brothers”, of equal rank was:  Butch’s dad, Fred, was the original “postal” US Postal Worker.  Butch’s dad and Rhett’s dad did not get along as I recall.

Mercer’s dad was a Fire Chief and next door to Mercer was a Highway Patrolman named, I kid you not, John Laws.   Ours was a colorful neighborhood.

Did you grow up playing ball with “the son of the ORIGINAL “postal” postal worker?  I did.  The Tyndall’s house was covered in asbestos shingles and the paint on the walls had a distinctive “lead” taste.   Not that I ever licked Butch’s wall or anything.

As The Legend of Butch grew over the insuing 50+ years, local historians noted such details as “asbestos”….. “lead paint”….. and Fred Tyndall truly was ‘postal’.

Ask any of The Boyz in Our ‘Hood about Butch.  The first word will be “Baseball”.

When I notified Mercer about Butch’s passing on, he replied with this most fitting epitaph:

“He was a very good athlete but outside influences altered his potential career path. Vaya Con dios, mi amigo.”

Noted Mecklenburg barrister Peter C. Buck noted:

“I think his very happiest days were when he played in pick-up games at Fairfield. It never got any better for Butch. …. very sad”

This was the early 60s.  Unlike most of us, Butch knew from the get-go what he “wanted to be when he grew”.   Butch wanted to BE Mickey Mantle.   I didn’t say “wanted to play centerfield for the Yankees”.   I said “wanted to BE Mickey Mantle”.  Uh oh.   Butch and Reality were never all that close even back then, not to mention later on.

If I had a nickel for every choose-up-sides sandlot game I played with Butch, I could probably finance a decent US Senate campaign.   If it was just 2-3 of us, we’d play “grounders & flies” or roll-a-bat or rotation.   It gets purty hot downeast in the summer, but never too hot for us even in those pre-Gatorade days.

Butch was always “a good player” relative to the norm at Fairfield Park.  But not “a future playing ball” good.   As Butch grew older his competition orbit increased, the always slim odds of him “being Mickey Mantle” became insurmountable.

Butch read somewhere that Mickey Mantle never went to college nor was much of a student at any level so Butch chose a similar route.   With Fred’s genes in him, it would not have mattered.

In high school Butch started having issues with curve balls as many kids do.  Butch’s solution was 1,000 push-ups every night.   That resulted in massively overdeveloped upper arms which severely restricted him getting around on even fast balls.   Baseball talent scouts eschew boys who can’t get around on fast balls and whose batting average hovers around The Mendoza Line.

Barely getting thru high school and a total zero chance at “the next level” Butch reluctantly contemplated an alternative to “being Mickey”.   I figured a bit of Butch died about that time.

God invented the US Marines for boys like Butch or so I thought when I heard he had “signed up”.   Military discipline seemed a perfect re-direction for him.

Alas, Butch The New Marine met his first “girl” about that time.   Butch The Ballplayer had never had time for them.   Have I mentioned she was “a nun”.  Not just any nun but an “Indian nun”….. ok, Native American Nun.   Butch fell hard for his Indian nun.  I never met her.  It was an unrequited love.

No “Mickey” and No Indian nun. That was two swings and misses before Butch hit 25.  Life was winding up to throw that 3rd strike at Butch.

Butch sought solace with Demon Rum and random pharmaceuticals.  Uh oh.  The US Marines frown on that.   Butch and Semper Fi parted not so amicably.

Back home on permanent leave, Butch went into a local 7/11 to buy a six-pak…. just as three “no-goods” came in to rob the joint.   Not sure exactly what happened next.  I’ve always wanted to believe Butch tried to play Rambo and save the day.   Strike Three…… A “no-good” cold-cocked Butch upside the head with a tire iron.

That formally ended Part One:  Butch The Early Years.   When Butch regained consciousness, if indeed, he ever actually did, Mickey, the Marines and the Indian Nun chapters were closed forever.

Part Two:  Butch The Town Character:   It was “quite a while” after the cold-cocking at the 7-11 that I encountered Butch again.   He was in full-blown Ernest T. Bass-mode by then.

I came home from some corporate rainbow-chasing to see my Mom.  A stooped-over man dressed like a scary bedraggled homeless guy cut across the corner of our yard headed towards Fairfield.   “Mom, who’s that?” I asked.

“Oh, that’s Butch.  He walks by here every day about this time on his way to the BP station to get a styrofoam cup of coffee.   Then he walks down Vernon Avenue drinking his coffee.  He roams all over town.”

“Is he dangerous?”

“Oh no.  It’s just Butch.  Most people just leave him be.  Some times kids pick on him and tease him like kids will do.”

I later learned that Butch would indeed walk 8-10 blocks down Vernon Avenue to a Bojangles.  The coffee would kick in and Butch would stop and pee on a telephone pole.   The particular telephone pole Butch favored was right outside a drug store.  The lady pharmacist took exception to Butch doing that and she would call the po-leece.  They would pick Butch up and tell him to please not do that any more.   Butch would mumble some sort of “I’m sorry…. I won’t do it again.”   No charges would be pressed.

A few days later, of course, he would indeed…. “do it again”.   Butch’s short-term memory was shot.  Most folks ‘round town thought it was a hoot ‘cause it was “just Butch”.

This went-on for 30-40 years.   I know that sounds like a lot, but it became somewhat of “a constant” for me on visits back home.   Towns-not-named-Greenville haven’t fared too well “down-east” during those 30+ years.   The gentrification of a small town is not a particularly pleasant process….. and Butch being “just Butch” kept me grounded.   Butch became a touchstone to my youth.

Fred met his maker quite some time back.  Butch had a sister – Sharon – and there was some convoluted story about her.   I never got the straight skinny on that.

I wonder if Butch’s daily walks ever got him down to Kinston’s primo attraction – The Chef & The Farmer restaurant.  Would Vivian Howard appreciate Butch?

Butch got burned badly in some sort of fire a few years ago.   I’ve no doubt there’s “a story” behind that too.

I got the news yesterday that Butch died peacefully last week in a nursing home outside LaGrange.   The fellow spreading the news described Butch’s passing as “a merciful thing”.  I sure hope it was.

There are many variations of Heaven – Hell – Purgatory – and Elysian Fields.   I’ve no idea where “the Butchs” of our lives go.

Wherever Butch is….. I wonder if he’ll run into Wyatt Earp’s brother?

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