'Fudgsicle Kid'

John Boias and his mother, Beth Boias, with the 1995 copy of The Baltimore Sun and the photo that ran of him at 3 years old in his underwear and eating ice cream. (Gene Sweeney Jr., The Baltimore Sun / June 5, 2012)

Back in 2000, when he was a shy and portly 8-year-old, John Boias had a grown-up-sized dilemma.

There he was in the family townhome one day, sweltering on a summer afternoon, when the strains of "Send in the Clowns" came wafting through the windows. The jingle had always meant one thing: "Mr. John," the local Good Humor man, was in their Edgewood neighborhood, his mother, Beth, was about to give him some money, and he was free to toddle out and snag a frozen treat.

Lately, though, the visits had grown less fun.

Mr. John had a photo on the side of his truck that was very popular with his customers. It showed a big-for-his-age 3-year-old boy clad only in underpants, standing in front of this very truck, licking a Fudgsicle as it melted over his body.

It had run on the front page of The Baltimore Sun in 1995, provoked a torrent of calls and letters to the newsroom and become the topic of city-wide conversation. The boy in his underwear was John.

When you're a second-grader who has a weight problem, when the other kids at school have been taunting you about your size on a daily basis, when you're a reserved young man who's now old enough to realize that you've practically become famous in your own hometown for the very qualities that mark you as different, what in the world do you do?

John Boias approached the truck.

"Mr. John, may I ask you something?" he said.

"Sure, John," the vendor replied. "What is it?"

"Do you think you could you take the picture down?"

The driver did, and in some ways, John Boias' life has never been the same.

Unsought fame

It's an odd thing to become famous for a scene you were in, unintentionally, before you were old enough to be aware of your own behavior.

Just ask Boias. He's 20 years old now, six feet of bashful thoughtfulness who lives with his parents, Beth and Tony, and his sister, Shelby, in a Bel Air subdivision.

"I wouldn't say the picture is a major part of my life," says John, who still struggles with his weight. "But it's a part of my life. I do think it has been important for me to accept that."

The Sun ran the picture on Aug. 3, 1995, then again as part of a "best-of" feature at the end of the year. Last month, as editors assembled a special magazine to mark The Sun's 175th anniversary, they named it one of the best pictures in the paper's history and ran it again.

"Every time I think that picture is out of my life, here it comes again," Boias says.

He never asked for the spotlight.

Seventeen summers ago, the Mid-Atlantic happened to be in the midst of a string of days in the 90s — three weeks' worth, in fact, a record. On Aug. 2, this triggered a long-standing ritual at the Boias household: waiting for trusty John Hudson, the 55-year-old ice-cream man everyone called "Mr. John," then rushing to the curb to enjoy some ice cream and conversation.