My hometown of Lawler, Iowa in the 1950s featured much character. And many characters.

In general, through the years there have been about 500 people who live there. I will tell you about one of them.

His real name was Francis. We called him Hoot. I don’t remember why. Everybody I knew had a nickname. Someone called him that once and it stuck.

Francis was probably manic-depressive or bipolar or some other fancy medical term that we didn’t know or use back then. We were kids. We called him crazy. And it shames me today. But we were just kids. We didn’t know any better.

“They hauled Hoot off again today,” someone said. “Took him off to the hospital in Independence. You shoulda’ seen it. He was raising Cain and Herb came and got him. They had to get help from the Chickasaw County Sheriff, Galen Folkers all the way from New Hampton.”

Herb was the Lawler village cop. He was also kind of the town custodian. His police car wasn’t a car. It was a pickup. When Hoot raised Cain, somebody called Herb, and Herb called the county sheriff. I saw it happen once and it scared me. I must have been nine or ten years old. I remember Francis being cowered in the back of the sheriff’s car. He looked as scared of me as I was of him when we looked at each other. But he was big and I was little. And we called him Hoot and made fun of him.

The story is that when Hoot finally graduated from Lawler High School he said, “This is the best senior class I was ever with.”

We thought it was a funny story back then.

I don’t today.

Francis has been dead for many years. I wonder what made him the way he was. I wonder why we walked by his house and taunted him.

“Hooooooot! Hooooooot! Hoooooooot!”

I wonder what he thought of us. Did he want to hurt us? Did he think we wanted to hurt him? Was he afraid of us?

He was tall and gaunt. His hair was unkempt and we never heard him talk. Francis was in a world of his own. A world that we invaded.

I don’t know how Francis died. Or when. I know he never married. I don’t think he had any friends. I know we laughed at him.

We shouldn’t have. But we were kids.

I hope he has forgiven us.

  • Phil Alcoceli

    Even though some few in my little homewtown mistreated the mentally-emotionally ill, that was a behavior that was heavily frowned upon and any regular citizen would stand up to the abuser and protected these frail people. There was a sense back then of common human decency and that these affected people were a part os us as much as we were a part of them. One of them became very appreciated by serving as an altar helper and ringing the church’s (real) bells for different ocassions. He had an enormous devotion to the Holy Sacrament and would point to everyone with a loud voice about how Jesus was present there and later this man called upon Jesus’ Name at the last moments of his life. Should we be careful ourselves and teach our children to be careful around those mentally unstable? Of course, both very careful and very charitable, the Authentic Via Media of True Catholicism. If direct contact is too risky then a prayer with much love and helping when we can is in order.

    One famous author said that the insane reflect the inner reality of society, which does not mean to follow the intentional, forceful insanity of liberal social activism and its related insanities, it means that without the Judeo-Christian God in the Catholic Truth, we are all insane, calling evil “good” and good “evil”, secretly or overtly (that’s why we have Confession). Heck, it’s now an epidemic all around us and inside us today. Two nights ago I saw pontifical Dr. Phil on TV with a show about the Guyana Jim Jone’s Massacre and he recommended a book about cults from an author who himself has a cultic mentality (shows that Dr. Phil himself and his sponsor Oprah greatly admire cults and have become social cult leaders themselves). In the good, old USA, land of the free and home of the brave, we have followed narcissim, sentimentalism and emotionalism and become dreadfully afraid of the True Freedom and Wisdom that only God can give and have become the most cultic country in the world. Insane!

    The insane are God’s messengers to remind us that we are no better than them and desperately need God, Grace and Truth every moment of every day. One day, one of them turned very suddenly toward me when I was an adolescent long ago and told me to forgive my mother just right when I was quietly angry at my mom. Talk about humility! I’ll never forget that!!