“Hey, Bubbles!” Dave shouted to the guy across campus.
The guy looked towards us and raised his hand in acknowledgment before continuing on his way. I looked at Dave, confused.
“Bubbles?” I said.
“What? You don’t know Bubbles?” He asked. I shook my head. “You should talk to him. He’s a great guy. Makes one hell of a snowcone.”
“Okay, but why is he called ‘Bubbles’ exactly?”
Dave smirked. “Go ask him. Trust me, it’s a good story.”
It didn’t seem like he was going to give me any more information, so I didn’t bother asking. I glanced at the clock tower across campus. It was a couple hours before my next class. Now was probably a good time to get lunch. I said goodbye to Dave and walked to the cafeteria.
Inside wasn’t too busy. It was two o’clock, so I had just missed the rush. Which is why it was easy to notice him sitting in the corner. Bubbles. What a weird nickname. Especially for a guy. Dave said to ask him, so why not? I walked over and set my tray next to him. He glanced up from his phone and smiled at me.
“Hey, you’re Dave’s friend, right?” He asked.
“Yeah, Mike. You’re… Bubbles, right?” I asked skeptically.
He laughed. “Sure am.”
“Umm… Look, I’m not trying to be mean or anything-”
“Let me guess, Dave told you to ask about the name?” He said, smiling.
“Yeah,” I admitted sheepishly.
He shrugged. “No problem. I get it all the time. It’s a bit of a long story though.”
“I got time,” I said, sitting down.
“Alright then,” he said. He cleared his throat. “So I guess I should start off by saying ‘Bubbles’ isn’t just my name. It’s a family nickname actually. Everyone in my family is Bubbles. My dad, my sister, everyone except my mom basically.”
“Why not your mom?” I asked.
“She married into the family,” he chuckled. “My grandma and my uncles aren’t called Bubbles either. It’s the legacy of the bloodline. Not that any of them really complained about not being called ‘Bubbles’ by everyone around them.”
“I can imagine,” I admitted.
“You get used to it pretty quickly. Especially in this town,” he explained. “People have been calling my family Bubbles for generations now. It started with my great-great-grandfather.”
“Your family never left the city?” I asked.
“Eh, a couple,” he said, thinking, “but they admit it still weirds them out to get called by their actual names.”
“So your great-great-grandpa was the original Bubbles?” I said.
“Sure was. Okay, so this is where the long story starts,” he explained. “My great-great-grandfather’s name was Winston Hillson. He used to be a professor at this college. He was a psychology professor right around the time of the Great Depression. Which, according to my grandparents, wasn’t very fun for him.
He saw his class size drop significantly in a very short time. A lot of families couldn’t afford to send their kids to college anymore. They needed all the kids old enough to work, well, working. The ones who were left looked miserable and burned out. Half of them were working two or three jobs just to stay in school, and the stress at home probably didn’t help. Everything was miserable and hopeless. So do you know what my Grandpa did?”
“What?” I asked.
A huge grin crossed his face. “He blew bubbles.”
“He… blew bubbles?” I repeated slowly.
Bubbles laughed. “Yup! Simple as that. Kids started coming into class every day and he’d be sitting at his desk with a bubble wand blowing hundreds of bubbles. He did it throughout the entire class. At first, you know, people thought that he’d cracked or something. Weirded the hell out of his poor students, but he seemed okay, so they just went with it.
Eventually, they got used to it. Some students would make it a game to try to see how many they could pop in one class period, some students even brought in their own bubbles and blew them throughout the class. Over time, he stopped being Professor Hillson and just became ‘Bubbles.’
Everyone knew Bubbles around campus, then it spread into town. His kids started to be known as ‘Bubble’s kids’, which later got shortened to ‘Bubbles.’ Before my grandpa and great aunt knew what happened, they were ‘Bubbles’ too. They rolled with it, their kids did the same, and now me and my sister. It’s like a family tradition now.”
“So, you’re called Bubbles because during the Great Depression your great-great-grandpa blew bubbles in his classes?” I summarized.
“Yup,” he said simply.
“So, why the bubbles exactly?” I asked. “Was there a reason for it or did he really crack? Ah, sorry. I-”
“Nah, I get that question a lot,” he said, waving it off. “He kinda kept it a secret for most of his life, but he told my grandpa before he died.
I guess he felt helpless seeing all these kids he knew so well suffering every day from things they couldn’t control. He wanted to do something for them, but what could he do? Pay everyone’s tuition? Support their families? He was doing okay, but he didn’t have that kind of money. I guess he decided the best he could do for them was take their minds off of how terrible everything was. Even if it was only for one class.
It worked though. Every kid that left his class left with a smile, and everyone was looking forward to ‘Bubbles’ class the next day. Years later he still got thank you letters from former students saying how much he helped them through a difficult time. One guy said it stopped him from killing himself.”
“Wow, that’s crazy,” I muttered, shaking my head.
“Absolutely,” he said, “but it’s one hell of a legacy to live up to. I always try to do things like that now. Something small that could make someone’s day better. Who knows? Maybe one day my great-great-grandkids will be called ‘Snowcone’ or something stupid like that.”
“Do you have snowcones?” I asked half-jokingly.
“Dude, I got an ice-shaver in my room. I’ll make you the best damn snowcone you’ve ever had,” he laughed.
“Raincheck, man,” I said, smiling. “I got class.”
“Tomorrow then. Alright, catch you later Mike,” He said, waving.
I nodded. “Catch you later, Snowcone.”