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School Fights-Beating the Odds of Getting a Beatin’

Alex Weddon in the  backyard on the farm Mid1960s
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From  “Close Calls on the Farm; Off to School,”the last of the “Close Calls on the Farm”  trilogy to be released in time for Christmas, 2014.
by Alex R. Weddon

Bullying in school is regarded today as a problem that deserves more attention. During the 1960s when I was in school, getting beaten up was considered unavoidable.

I don’t remember anyone being called a bully in my school. Back then, a bully was someone that picked on other kids,  threatening violence if they didn’t get their way.  A punk like that in my class would eventually stop because nobody I hung around with would take it for long. Bullying was more of an incident or a flare up than a mean kid.  Fighting usually happened only after argument, yelling and threats didn’t work to dissuade the aggressor. By then, a crowd would be forming to see what happens.

I can’t recall the first time I was involved in a school yard fight. I’m sure it is because I lost. Fights were over in my elementary school when one stopped fighting or said “Uncle.”

As the smallest kid in my class I was an easy target, and over time and bruises developed a humorous banter to deflect most insults, threats and entreaties to combat.  I had fights in every grade until the end of my sophomore  year in high school.  By then I was wearing expensive braces and eyeglasses and just wanted to be left alone.

Most altercations broke out by accident. Fighting in elementary school wasn’t a pugilistic event, but more of a push, slap, jab and a rare thrown punch. After a perceived assault, retaliation was the paramount option, and swift action was to your advantage.

Almost all of the fights I saw in elementary school ended after someone was on the ground. Once someone was pinned down, the fight was over and the one on top stood up and stepped away. The circle of kids would then close in and start the fight replay, the recollections embellished with each version.

During one lunch hour recess of my fifth grade school day,  I heard  a breathless runner shout “Your sister’s surrounded by girls that want to beat her up.”

It was a hot, windless spring day, and so dry a dust cloud hung over the playground merry-go-round, monkey bars and swings. She pointed to a far side of the play area “They’re over by the dead elm logs.”

The tree line around the elementary school playground receded every year when Dutch Elm disease claimed more and more of the woodlot. A  vase shaped dead elm  had been chainsawed and the logs  left near the graying, bark-free stump.

I ran towards the woods and could easily see my twin sister Amy backing toward the logs, surrounded by her trouble. There were five sixth grade girls, two up near her, and three behind them.  I had been in enough fights to know that there was no getting out of this, so I decided today was the day I’d hit a girl. She would be taller than me, all five of them were, and sure to have brothers that  would  never forget. Picking up speed, I glanced at other kids on the playground taking notice of me running, I couldn’t stop now, they knew what I had to do.

As I approached, I was hoping to get in a tackle and out fast. One of the three was the lookout, checking for safety patrol or teacher and sure enough, she spotted me and grabbed the shoulder of the one next to her. Amy saw the sentry turn with me only yards away and closing. The three girls moved away. Well, the crowd said they ran away, along with the other two. Amy yelled at them and so did I.  It was over that fast, before I was within ten feet of her. Amy told me she was worried she was in for a “stomping” because they all had boots on. Girls usually didn’t slug it out when they fought, they mostly screamed, scratched, pulled hair and kicked. But if a kid was knocked down by a billard, a derogatory term reserved for low-class, no good, cheatin’ hillbillys, the girls, like their brothers, would, more often than not, take the opportunity to stand over them and kick down on the head of the defenseless victim, a mean and unfair tactic called “stomping.”

“They ran like hillbilly chickens,” came a retort from the gathering crowd.  After most fights, the crowd was the accepted factual source and often the most cruel.

My oldest brother Todd once assisted the high school principal during an act of bullying. The attack  followed a winter’s eve basketball game. Three grown sons and their father laid in wait for the principal after he had  ejected them from the bleachers during the game because they reeked of alcohol and were using foul language.

The double doors to the gym opened onto the sidewalk and ran along the brick gym wall to the school’s back parking lot. As Mr. H unlocked and pushed the doors open after the final buzzer, Carmel and his boys were awaiting. My brother, behind our principal, recognized the ambush and tried to catch up with the neatly dressed man. The sons were crowding Mr. H and starting to form a semi-circle around him and slurring a blue-streak of threatening epithets. Mr. H was looking in astonishment as one of the sons clenched his fists around a set of brass knuckles. Seeing him distracted,  the father drew back his arm, but he had the misfortune of being  the closest to my approaching brother.

Todd, at 6’ 1” and field hardened, punched the man on his jawline between his ear and chin, a blow that knocked  him back two steps into the brick wall. When his head hit the wall, he fell like poured water. Todd was looking on with growing relief when a brass knuckled fist crashed behind his right ear. A blow that when delivered by a sober antagonist would have knocked him out cold. My brother was stunned, but still semi-conscious. He spun around and in a blind fury threw the man-boy onto the sidewalk and dropped down, his knees on the sucker-puncher’s chest and shoulders.

In a reptilian rage he rained overhead punches and hooks into the growing pulp of a face until being pulled off by three shocked members of the exiting crowd. The remaining sons stepped away. Our principal and my brother had the sidewalk to themselves.  Keeping with the unwritten billard code, the problem was considered settled and the miscreants kept no grudges or sought revenge.

In later conversations, the old man explained why he didn’t get the drop on Mr. H – he’d never been hit any harder in his life. Quite a claim, considering the man had been kicked by mule, horse, and family many times. Odds are his alcohol attenuated senses processed only one blow and could not make the distinction between my brother’s round-house and brick wall. Years later the bully was found dead with a ballpeen hammer driven into his skull.  With no witnesses or suspects, the code once again dictated the problem settled and no cooperation was given the authorities.  I don’t believe any suspects have been identified.

Todd also saved a new teacher and coach from being jumped and taken to the ground right on the football field following a game. Coach C, a young first year teacher, fresh out of some quiet college, was midfield when three school dropouts caught up with him. The first one knocked off his cap and the second jumped on his back and tried to pull Mr. C’s shirt over his head. A common move designed to blind and restrict a victim’s arms. Todd just happened to be nearby and saw them coming. He had been tangling with them and their kin throughout high school. He’d rightfully earned a reputation as being strong and quick as a snake. Todd took one,  threw him to the ground and went after another.  The boys ran like fleas on fire, to quote that crowd.

The meanest bullying I ever witnessed was in gym class between a teacher and my ninth grade classmate. The husky classmate had to line up like a football lineman against our substitute gym teacher, a football coach that was bigger and taller. To this day, I don’t know what John did to deserve the pounding that Mr. H visited upon him. The other guys in the gym class, like me, stared on in a sickening disbelief as the two went at it like rams, our teacher demanding John to get up again and again.

One fifth grade fight I do remember was against a distant neighbor and most-of-the-time friend, Brian. We had our wrestling and punch exchanges, but on this day in the playground, it went an extra slug or two. He clipped my nose with his elbow. I  ran into his midsection, taking him to his back.  My nose bloodied, I looked down upon him and directed the drops onto his hair and face. I was beginning to feel some satisfaction when the playground safety patrol jerked us apart and escorted us to to the principal’s office.

We were both going to get a ration of punishment. In the office, we sat upright next to each other on army surplus gray vinyl office chairs and looked forward as instructed.

Mrs. P started in on her not fighting scree and moved behind us. At that time, I had a Princeton hair cut, short all around with a cowlick up front. She pinched a tuft of hair on the back of my neck and jerked up. It was almost painful, but my yowl disguised that and Brian’s eyes opened wider. He was sporting a kitchen cut by his sister and had plenty for Mrs. P to clutch. His cry was much better than mine, if only for its authenticity. One tug each and she paused. We weren’t entirely sure she was appeased and stared ahead in silence.

Was she still back there, deciding on another ration of hair snaps? “You two sit right there and don’t make a sound until the last bell rings,” she mandated tersely. The clip clop of her shoes down the hallway brought a sigh of relief.

Twenty minutes later, Brian and I were sharing a seat on our school bus, making spit-wads and bragging about surviving a hair-raising close call with our principal.

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