A friend and I were cruising east down West Lafayette recently when we came to the intersection at North Church and witnessed two young men walloping the heck out of each other, both were teen-sized young men so the blows meant something. The smaller of the two would occasionally try to escape but the bigger boy would take a couple of steps, catch him, and thrash him again. The little kid could fight well and I deemed the contest pretty well matched. My friend said, “Should we stop and break it up?” He truly wanted to do this, but he was much younger than me. I’ve long passed the walloping age. Soon an adult female came running at them. (Traffic had now stopped in all directions and they were fighting in the middle of the street.) She yelled the name of one of the young men and grabbed the collar of the other. This lady was formidable but for the sake of their pride, neither boy would stop swinging. She pulled them out of the intersection so I pulled away, noticing in my rearview mirror that Mama had calmed things down.
I immediately thought of Harold. Harold was the meanest kid in our grade school class. He didn’t have much of a father or mother and was pretty much left to raise himself on the streets. When we chose up sides to play softball at recess Harold was often chosen first. He wasn’t all that good with a ball bat, but we were afraid of the strikes and hits he’d be making on our heads if we didn’t choose him quickly. Harold was just mean. They said he’d pee on puppy but I never actually saw this happen.
Harold was a fairly bright student and I guess this was his one redeeming quality. He’d often be the last of the final two standing in spelling bees and one threatening look from Harold would often cause his lone competitor to accidently misplace a vowel. He even got in trouble with the FBI once or at least that was the rumor. Word had it that Harold would go to the post office to get his mom’s mail, then reach his arm all the way into the slot and nab the mail from the adjoining boxes. I guess this made it a federal offense. To my knowledge he was never arrested but he spent a long afternoon on the bench in front of the town restaurant talking to two guys in dark suits. I think I believe this. Harold was just that mean and I really didn’t like him very well, which makes the incident on that summer afternoon after school seem so strange in recollection.
I was riding my bike home from fourth grade when I saw a commotion on the sidewalk ahead of me. As I got closer I saw that two big high school boys had jumped Harold just behind the ball diamond and they were in the process of rearranging his face. Harold already had a crooked nose and this wasn’t helping. One of the bigger boys would whack him around then the other would take over. Finally Harold grabbed a fallen tree limb and began whirling around in a circle, causing the big kids to jump away from him. Harold wasn’t about to halt his revolving whirligig of death so his tormentors finally got tired and walked away. Harold sat down on the grass and I think he might have cried a little bit, and mean as he was this just broke my heart. I loaded him up on the back of my bike and took him to my house where my mother tended to his wounds. Harold was pretty much my buddy after that. At least he quit hitting me in the lunch line.
We graduated together, I went to college, Harold found a job driving a truck and I heard rumors that he raised two little boys who just drove him crazy with their unmanageable behavior, proof positive that there was a God.
Last summer our high school class met for our 50th reunion. It was basically me and a bunch of old people. We laughed, shared old pictures, ate fish, and drank de-caf coffee at the Naples Boatel, but there was one guy who puzzled me. In fact, he was the one who met us all at the door of the Boatel with a smiling, “Kenny! Great to see you! God loves you and I do, too!” All night long he acted like a host, moving from table to table bring laughter to each corner of the room. Finally I asked my friend Bill Curry who that was. He said, “That’s Harold.” You could have dropped me with a feather. Harold? That guy who just finished telling me what a great church home he’d found in Missouri and how this was the happiest he’d ever been in his life. He’d gotten into real estate, become a Christian, started a second family and was happy as a clam.
I wonder about those two boys slugging it out on West Lafayette. I hope they get to meet Harold some day.