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Harvey's Flock

June 10, 2013
Here’s a different post about birds, a true story about someone I knew a long time ago…

Harvey was the biggest kid on the block, a massive, towering fixture of the neighborhood living in the corner house at the end of our street. He had a flattened nose, a short neck and a small mouth with a tongue that tended to protrude. His childlike personality was at odds with his Buick-shaped frame. Harvey towered over most adults and wore size #17 shoes—extra wide. His parents specially ordered them from San Francisco. Harvey didn’t read or write and to my knowledge never went to school. Today we refer to people like Harvey as having Down Syndrome; back in the 60s folks not inclined to politeness called them ‘tards’ or Mongoloid idiots. Harvey was twenty-four years old.


Harvey couldn’t manage a regular bicycle so his dad, who looked nearly as old as my grandpa, assembled a giant tricycle for him from old bike parts. Harvey rode up and down our neighborhood, talking to stray cats, humming sunny tunes and waving at anyone who caught his eye. He never held a job but he did earn money. New housing developments and strip malls were replacing orchards everywhere. At dusk or on weekends he could usually be found riding his huge tricycle, prowling through construction sites and gathering up fragments of copper wire left behind by electricians. He brought home the discarded copper wire, cut away the rubber coating and twice a year loaded the stripped copper into his dad’s pick-up for delivery to a recycling center that bought scrap by the ton. Harvey made enough to keep him in bubble gum, popsicles and giant shoes for a year.


I can still picture a utility blade and copper wire in his stubby fingers. Harvey’s broad hands were marked by a single crease in the palm, not much of a lifeline. I once had my palm read at a carnival and knew it was important to have a long lifeline. My best friend Ricky Delgado said this meant Harvey wouldn’t live very long, even though he was already twice as old as we were.


It didn’t take long for the kids in the neighborhood to overlook Harvey’s off-putting appearance. Hanging out in his garage was a frequent pastime. Harvey had extra utility knives and we helped strip down the copper wire which fetched a higher price without the rubber coating. He had a coffin-size freezer in the garage and was liberal with his stash of frozen popsicles. While stripping copper and sucking popsicles, we tutored Harvey on an ability that, so far, had eluded him—whistling. He’d pucker his wet lips and blow until a puddle of spit appeared on the ground between his great knees. Try as he would, nothing whistle-like ever sprang from his mouth.


Once when I was headed over for a popsicle, Dad stopped me and said, “I don’t think it’s such a good idea for you to be hanging out with Harvey so much.”


“Why not?” I asked. Dad, like Will Rogers, never met a man he didn’t like.


“He’s a lot older than you and your friends. And he’s not…” Dad seemed to struggle for a word, “the type of person little kids should play with.”


I resented being called little; I was already eleven.


“I’m sure you kids have noticed that Harvey isn’t…normal.”


“Of course we have, Dad. But we all really like Harvey.”


“I know, and I’m sure he’s a fine person, but it isn’t right. You need to stick with kids

your own age.”


I took the opportunity to ask a question that had been bothering me for a long time.

“Dad, why is Harvey so big, and why does he act like the rest of us kids instead of a grownup?”


“Everyone is born different. Some people are born smart, some are born strong, and others, like you, are born with the ability to paint and draw. Why is Harvey so big? I just can’t say. Most people like him usually don’t grow as big as the rest of us.”




“I don’t know why. Just don’t go over there alone.”


"No problem. Ricky’s going with me.”


Ricky Delgado lived next door and was my best friend. We never had problems at Harvey’s house. One day the chain slipped off Harvey’s trike in front of our driveway. Dad, a professional mechanic, worked on squad cars and fire engines for the City of Sunnyvale. He could fix anything. He pulled Harvey’s trike into our garage and repaired it. While doing so he got to know Harvey, see beyond the lurching Frankenstein. Dad seemed to relax after that.


I once asked Harvey, “Why do you think you’re so different?”


He was sitting on a folding chair in his garage stripping the bright green coating from a piece of copper wire. I wondered if he’d say something about God’s will, but he didn’t. He scratched one of the small ears sprouting from his large head. “It happened at our old house before we moved here. Momma says I ate a peach that falled from a tree in our backyard. A rat peed on that peach before I ate it, and that’s what done it.”


“Gosh, that’s awful! You sure about this?”


He squinted at me with slanting eyes. “Yeah. My momma told me this back in the days when I cried lots ‘cause of the way I am.”


Harvey never told lies and I had no reason to doubt him, but this was disturbing news since I owned a pet rat and loved her dearly. Obviously, my parents didn’t know rats caused people to grow into Harveys; if they had I’d never have been permitted to own one. How many times had I been sloppy cleaning her cage? I was a nail biter; my fingers had undoubtedly found their way into my mouth after I cleaned my pet’s cage. 


It was only a matter of time until I ended up like Harvey. But how much time remained before I was transformed into a hulking Frankenstein? I wanted to share this tragic revelation with Ricky Delgado. Together, Ricky and I had battled imaginary dragons and fought off alien invasions, but my pending transformation wasn’t something I could reveal, not even to my best friend.


Harvey’s Flock concludes on Wednesday


That sounds like an origin story for a Stan Lee superhero in the 60s: He ate a peach sprayed with radioactive rat pee and became the Incredible Hulk!
By: PT Dilloway on June 10, 2013
I'm looking forward to reading the rest of this tale. Consider yourself very blessed to have had a relationship with someone "different". It obviously had an impact on you as an adult.
By: Oma Linda on June 10, 2013
Harvey's Flock still hasn't come into play. Not sure if it's you kids or some other thing that Harvey excelled with. I've a feeling that Harvey had a very special talent. Have a fabulous day. :)
By: Comedy Plus on June 10, 2013
How wonderful that you and your friends could overlook the differences -- so many couldn't, and still don't.
By: mimi on June 10, 2013
Bless Harvey's heart. Can't wait to read the rest of the story~
By: Shelly on June 10, 2013
I love your stories...can't wait for the next installment!
By: Eva Gallant on June 10, 2013
i'm glad you were friends with harvey. looking forward to reading more.
By: TexWisGirl on June 10, 2013
The ignorance of adults never ceases to amaze me. It's a good story, but I can already tell it's gonna piss me off because it already has in some areas with the ignorant statement from your dad and that whole rat pee thing. Boy if I could, I'd sure set those people right and give them a blistering talk about down syndrome.
By: Michael Offutt on June 10, 2013
Agree, it's great that you were able to overlook the differences, but ... a pet rat?!? I'll be looking for the next installment of the story.
By: tom sightings on June 10, 2013
Harvey sounds like a real character. I'm looking forward to reading the next part of the story.
By: LL Cool Joe on June 10, 2013
I want part 2 NOW!!
By: fishducky on June 10, 2013
It was a different world when we were growing up. Maybe Harvey's mom couldn't think of any other explanation to help him feel better. It sounds as if he was a real sweetheart. Love, Janie
By: Janie Junebug on June 10, 2013
I am glad you were friends with Harvey. We had a harvey on our block.
By: momto8blog on June 10, 2013
Harvey! WOW! I remember him riding his bike. I also remember being afraid of him because he was so big and so different.
By: Becky Thomas on June 10, 2013
When I was a kid I never saw anyone that wasn't like me...back then I think they hid their "different" kids or put them in institutions. It's a lot healthier today to know we aren;t all the same and we all have something special to share with others. Your dad learned that from Harvey. Waiting impatiently for part 2!
By: Kathe W. on June 10, 2013
There was a kid in my home town who was born deaf. His parents sent him to a special school but he was home during the summer and a sweeter lad you couldn't have known.
By: Bruce Taylor on June 10, 2013
My boys have a Harvey in their bowling league. Not Down's, and not giant, but an adult man in his 40s. He LOVES to bowl. So enthusiastic. The smaller kids have to jump to give him a high five. Everybody treats him well. He's just like one of the other kids at the bowling alley..
By: Val on June 10, 2013
A wonderful memory and story. Looking forward to the conclusion.
By: Tom Cochrun on June 10, 2013
As always, I am waiting eagerly for the conclusion. I have a real affection for people with Downs. I have met a number and they are all sweeter than sweet. What would possess a person to tell a child that bit about rat pee??
By: Cheryl P. on June 10, 2013
It's tragic that Harvey held onto the peach story, very sad. I'm glad you and the neighbors befriended him, though. I'm sure that meant a lot to him. xoRobyn
By: Robyn Engel on June 10, 2013
It sounds like you were able to see past the outside. Waiting to see what the flock entails... And curious what your pal Ricky has to say about it... Cat
By: Cat on June 10, 2013
This is SUCH a well-written engaging story! For the past two years, I've worked with Special Needs children and it has changed my life in so many ways. For instance, I can no longer bring myself to say 'retarded' (don't even like writing it). These children have so much to offer and I've learned that many times it's the 'normal' people who are disabled!
By: Al Penwasser on June 10, 2013
Excellent story. You're intent on teaching me patience, aren't you? ;) S
By: Scott Cody Park on June 11, 2013
Wonderful moral story to remind all of us that there is so much more to people than what we can see. I'm really looking forward to the rest of your wonderful story.
By: The Broad on June 11, 2013
An excellent story and a fine example of how a little knowledge can melt prejudice. I'm looking forward to hearing the rest of the story.
By: Joe on June 11, 2013
I think there was a Harvey in every street. Super story that illustrates that the most effective way to break down prejudice is to spend time with the excluded.
By: Bryan Jones on June 11, 2013
Excellent anecdote. We called them Mongoloids b/c that's what we knew but not idiots, and it wasn't name calling on our parts. It's still the term that wants to pop into my mind first, but I don't think it spills onto my tongue that I can recall.
By: AC on June 11, 2013
We used the term "Mongoloids" in German, too. I knew of a few kids like that, but didn't get to know them. Down syndrome kids were still mostly hidden away at home at that time.
By: Pixel Peeper on June 11, 2013
Kids are always better at seeing the real human than adults are - great stuff
By: Glen on June 12, 2013
Such a well-written moving tale of acceptance, compassion and above all, friendship.
By: Michael Manning on June 13, 2013
It's kind of an Owen Meany type of story, isn't it?
By: Laurel on June 14, 2013
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By: maillot psg on July 25, 2013

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