The story of the "Three Billy Goats Gruff" was one of my favorites when I was a small child. The term "billy goat" was funny sounding. Then when you added a silly sounding word like "gruff" to the title you reached the point of absurdity--just the thing to capture a kid's attention. Round the story out with one nasty troll collecting a toll to cross a bridge and you had a classic tale.
It seemed odd to me why a goat should be called "billy" or for that matter why a person who lived in a place like the mountains of Appalachia would be called a "hillbilly". In my earliest years, my main experience with anything referred to as "Billy" was my cousin Billy.
Cousin Billy was a few years older and I looked up to him not just because he was taller than me, but also because he had some really cool toys. Since he was older he didn't seem to want to have too much to do with me. He certainly did not want me touching his toys. But I accepted that for what it was. He was diplomatic about the whole situation and I certainly wouldn't call him a bully.
However, most of the kids I knew who were named Billy came across as bullies. Actually I only remember two Billies whom I knew when I was young and I don't remember them in a very good way.
The first one was Billy Lado. I was probably about five years old at the time. He was around a year older and lived about a half a block away from my family's house on West 143rd Street in Cleveland, Ohio. His mother was French--at least that's what my mom said because she had that kind of an accent I guess.
In my last encounter with Billy Lado, I was visiting him to show off a newly acquired coloring book that my father had bought me at the circus the previous night. I was especially proud of the picture of the juggler. We were on his back patio and my coloring book was there on the ground open to the juggling picture which was laying there ready for me to color. Then, without any warning, Billy stood up and peed on my coloring book. I wailed and ran home to tell my mother. I don't know what transpired as a result of this, but I do know my mother was livid. I never hung around with Billy Lado after that.
The other Billy bully incident came about five years later after we had moved to San Diego. Billy Blackburn was also about a year older than I and lived a few houses down from ours. We had a tenuous friendship if one could even say we had any friendship. I usually tried to avoid him, but there were times when I guess he had no one else to play with and I was his friend for that day--or perhaps victim would be a more apt term.
It was shortly after the Christmas of 1960. One of my prized gifts from my parents was a football. I was not particularly interested in sports, but I was proud of my new football. I made the mistake of showing it off to Billy B. We played with it for a while. It was probably one of those days when none of his usual friends were available. I could tell that he had an eye on my football and his covetousness got the best of him. I didn't actually see him take it home with him, but I knew he took it and he knew he took it. My mother made an attempt to intervene through his mother, but to no avail. I never saw my football again. The last I ever heard from Billy Blackburn was a phone call where he used words I had never heard before. I later learned from my mother that they were very bad words that I had better never use.
I knew a few more Billies after that, but none had much influence. I also knew some Bills, Wills, and Williams, but they always seemed to be okay. Maybe it's because Billy is close to sounding like bully and the similarity influences some boys with that name. I wonder if that's what happened with Billy the Kid?
All I know for sure is that Billy Lado and Billy Blackburn, if you're out there reading this, you owe me. I don't want the coloring book replaced or the football back. I just want to know that you guys turned out okay. That you had good lives. That if you got married, you treated your wives right and raised good families. Maybe you started calling yourselves Bill or William and you were kind and generous to others. I want to know that people can change for the better.