Directly across the street from us lived a couple who were almost the same age as my grandparents with kids ranging from their mid twenties down to a boy a year or so older than me. Eric was more socially awkward than Paul and he had a more than a little of that Lord of the Flies thing going for him. He would gather up a small group of followers and pick on the youngest or weakest in the group. I was usually not a part of this group – boys only. But I did have to deal with Eric on one occasion.
- My youngest brother Ronnie (he told me in his 20’s he preferred “Ron” – I have been ignoring his wishes for over 20 years and last Christmas he capitulated and admitted he doesn’t mind the moniker) was the object of Eric’s derisions. Ron was about 7 and was one of the younger boys on the block. I was about 12 so Eric would have been 13 or 14. Ronnie came home with chewing tobacco laced saliva in his hair – Eric had gotten all the boys to try some Skoal and he had directed them to use Ronnie as a spittoon. Pops pulled me aside and told me that I had to take care of this – if he did he would go to jail. He reasoned that since I was under 14 years old, it was legal for me to be the protector for my brothers (I have no idea about his rationale – I was barely five feet tale and about 90 pounds – Eric was well into puberty and much stronger than me) He made it clear that picking on Ronnie was not acceptable and it was my job to protect him.
I had never been in a real fight. I tussled with my brothers but never had a serious knock-down-drag-out with them. Being the oldest I was not allowed to ever hurt them and paid the price if things got too rough. Frankly I hated physical fighting – it wasn’t my style, but there was a baby brother who had to be defended.
I heard some kids at school use the term “calling out” when talking about fighting – so I decided to “call out” Eric. I stood squarely in the middle of the street and yelled at the top of my lungs, “Eric, I’m calling you out! Get out here right now you big chicken!” I had a way with words even back then. Eric came out his front door and my heart raced. He was so much bigger than me, but this wasn’t about me – this was about Ronnie. He came out and stood toe-to-toe with me. Looking down at me he asked what I thought I was going to do. I told him that I was going to make him pay for picking on Ronnie.
He laughed and I noticed that he had on his Budweiser tee, I knew it was his favorite – he always bragged about it. I reached up and grabbed his collar and pulled down towards the ground as hard as I could. You could hear the seams in his beloved tee give way. His face turned red and he clenched his fists. I was ready to cover my face with my hands when I saw that he was getting ready to kick me. Kicking is not real fighting, only girls kick. I took one step back and brought my hands up to about waist level and waited for his foot to come at me. When it did I grabbed hold of his ankle and lifted it towards the sky as I rushed towards him. His other leg gave way and he dropped on his butt with a thud. He started to back up like a spider with his hands behind him. I reached down and grabbed what was left of his collar and said, “You want some more?” “No!” he said. “Don’t ever even think of spitting on my baby brother again, or there’s more where that came from!” I shouted. I turned on my heel and walked back into my yard towards the front door.
In the kitchen window I saw my mom laughing hysterically. I looked back over my shoulder to see Eric’s mom doing the same in her kitchen window. From that day on I was the toughest kid in the neighborhood. The boys on the block would tell new kids not to mess with Lorri’s brothers because she would mess you up. A reputation built without ever throwing a punch or kicking like a girl.