Gentle Readers . . . and Maxwell,
Our BULLY FOR YOU guest post for today comes from a true gentleman by the name of Tom Anderson, but in the blogosphere he's better known as Shady Del Knight of Shady Dell Music & Memories. Tom's compassion is always evident on his blog and in his comments. I wouldn't be at all surprised if the memories Tom recounts in Welcome Wagon didn't contribute to his empathy for others.
My 5th birthday was approaching when my family moved from a rural area to the suburbs in 1954. To my delight I soon found a boy my own age in the neighborhood and we became friends. One day my friend and I decided to explore a nearby park with a stream running through it. We were following the stream searching for crawdads when I looked up and noticed a group of five older boys advancing toward us. I soon noticed that the tribe of fierce looking young warriors was armed with what appeared to be foot long sections of rubber garden hose. The leader of the pack was Ross, a boy who lived a few houses up the road from me.
I flashed back to the first time I had seen Ross. He was playing in his front yard one day as I rode past in the car with my father. Dad beeped the horn and we both waved to Ross. Remarkably, Ross seemed to regard the friendly gesture of two strangers as a threat. Instead of reciprocating, he darted behind a bush and peered through the branches until my dad and I were a safe distance up the road. The incident left me with an uneasy feeling about Ross.
Now, here we were, Ross and I, face to face in the park. For some reason he had been motivated to organize a Welcome Wagon committee and lead a march to the park to confront me. Ross told my friend he was free to leave, explaining that the business at hand did not involve him. My friend promptly ran from the park and vanished over the hill. Smelling my fear and savoring the power he had over me at that moment, Ross declared that I was trespassing on his territory. Charged with the crime and found guilty, it was time for me to face the punishment phase of my ordeal. Ross and his posse surrounded me and began beating me about the arms, legs and torso with their rubber clubs. The attack seemed to go on forever and my body was soon covered with welts. Suddenly the assault ended and Ross and his pals scattered. I looked up the hill to see my older brother and his buddy running to the rescue. They had been alerted by my friend who had the presence of mind to run to my house and summon help. The welts healed but that traumatic incident left the inevitable emotional scars.
Reflecting on the events of that day 60 years later, I believe my list of sins went beyond trespassing on Ross's turf. I was also guilty of living in a new house that was built on a corner lot at the end of Ross's street, eliminating what had probably been a convenient playground for Ross and his friends when they didn't feel like walking the extra block to the park. I was also guilty of having a dad who loved me and spent a lot of time playing games and sports with me. Ross's parents were separated and his father, who lived across town, didn't spend much time with him.
I often wish I could rewind that mental movie and have Ross smile and wave back at me that first day. It could have been the start of a great friendship rather than a very painful memory.
A couple of years later Ross and his disciples found a new target, one who didn't have a big brother watching his back. A boy named Clifton moved into the neighborhood and I befriended him. Three years older than me, Clifton was stricken with Cerebral Palsy. He wore thick lens glasses, walked with a severe limp, was mentally retarded, had difficulty pronouncing words and suffered frequent seizures. During those episodes, which lasted the better part of an hour, Clifton's legs turned to jelly and he collapsed wherever he happened to be - on the ground, on the road or inside someone's home. If he was fortunate enough to go down in the presence of people who knew who he was and where he lived, they would call his uncle to pick him up and take him home. If Clifton was alone or among uncaring strangers, he was stranded for the duration.
Clifton was gregarious, eager to make friends, but he was different and different made people uncomfortable. Most residents of the neighborhood regarded him as a pest and shunned him. Parents who treated Clifton with apathy set a poor example for their children. No wonder kids considered it acceptable to pick on him.
Clifton and I were playing at the park one day when Ross and his chums arrived and another ugly scene unfolded. I was wrestled to the ground and pinned by a larger boy who sat on my chest. Ross, resembling a boot camp drill sergeant, stood a few inches in front of Clifton mocking him, ridiculing him and calling him names that included cripple, moron and queer of the year. As Ross delivered his cruel insults, another boy crept behind Clifton and got down on his hands and knees. When Ross finished reciting his litany he pushed Clifton, causing the handicapped boy to take a nasty tumble over the other boy's back. Clifton landed in a heap. His glasses flew off his face and broke. His clothes were left dirty, wet and grass stained. The gang members laughed and exited the park. I ran to Clifton's house, informed his uncle and rode back to the park in his car. Discovering that Clifton's glasses were broken and his clothing soiled, the uncle scolded and shamed Clifton, as if what had happened was his fault.
Sadly, what transpired in the park that day was not an isolated incident. Clifton's life has been plagued with similar episodes. I visited him in jail at Christmas 1983 after a woman had him arrested for peeping in her window. She incorrectly assumed that people with Cerebral Palsy are perverts with overgrown genitalia and libidos to match. She got it all wrong. The truth of the matter is that Clifton, a man with the I.Q. of a child, saw a window and looked through it because that's what windows are for. He did not know the difference between right and wrong. He was merely doing what he has spent his life doing - searching high and low for a friend.
Thank you so much for joining us today, Tom. I consider myself blessed to count you among my friends.
I hope you'll all take the time to give Tom some love in comment form, and please consider visiting his blog at Shady Dell Music & Memories.
If you were bullied, do you think it made you kinder and more empathetic?
Infinities of love,