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1947


lately my friends and i have been meeting at ray tackett's house to discuss and practice the fine art of wrestling. most everyone is stronger than i. few are lankier. none are taller. eventually i discover the strength of my legs and within a couple of matches, it is common knowledge that one must stay away from the dreaded stookey 'scissor grip'...arrgh! 

dorsey is a growing community. soon to become the bedroom of both washington, d.c. and baltimore (lying midway between the two cities), the 1940's population of 100 will increase a hundred fold in the next few years and by the late 70's, during a visit with my daughter anna, i will actually get 'lost in dorsey' and not be able to find the driveway that leads to the the house. 

it's autumn of 1948 and there are six or seven of us gathering now at reimsnider's store to catch the bus to the new junior high school in glen burnie. though no one else suggests upset at the change, i miss the simplicity of attending classes in the little four room building; three classrooms and a center meeting hall where my mom once joined the other mothers to make soup and the lip-smacking aroma made concentration on the lessons around lunchtime very difficult. 

this new school is quite different. cold, analytic and...well, just plain school. 

there are also kids from upper grades and from the other school districts riding on this bus. out of the sea of unfamilar faces there is one boy at least as tall as me and about twice as wide. i think his name is chris offit. he seems to have a special dislike for me. one afternoon descending the school bus steps coming back from school he grabs the red and black hunter's plaid hat from my head and hides it. 

"where's my hat?!" i want to know. 

"who wants to know?", he responds. we all know this game. 

finally the scuffling begins. he knocks me down easily. i get up and running straight at his middle, manage to get him down on the ground where we roll around a couple of times; me trying to avoid his hefty arm around my neck and looking for the opportunity to...aha...there it is...my leg slips through a space left by one of his elbows and 'arrrgh...', i've got him now! the action straightens out and there he is trying his best to escape from the stookey scissor...tighter and tighter the invincible 'legs of lore' bear down and my friends are cheering...i'm looking into my offit's eyes...i see his expression changing now...i can see...and oh, gee...he hurts. i can see a direct relationship between my squeezing and his pain... what is this? wait a minute...i don't want to hurt a soul. a hat is worth this? i can always get my hat. forget it...i'm bailing out of here...i'm not going to be a part of this.

i relinquish my grip and begin to extricate myself from our tangle when i discover much to my surprise that stopping is a deal i have made with myself...chris offit has no intention of quitting and as a matter of fact with a bit more viciousness then previously displayed throws me face down in the dirt with my arm twisted up behind my back. i begin to cry from the pain. 

"...say 'give up'?" he asks, his face near my left ear. 

not answering immediately gives no satisfaction and as he pushes my arm higher and i realize that even were i to remove myself from this immediate situation and recover my previous advantage, the net result would be the same. i would never have the stomach to inflict the amount of pain upon him neccessary to be considered a winner in this match. "...give up?", the hoarse question is asked again. 

"yes", i answer with a gulp..."yeah, i give up" 

he gets up haughtily and dusts himself off. i wonder honestly if he even thinks about that moment ago. was it all in my mind? two friends hand him his books and they walk off together leaving me in a circle of disappointed supporters, some of whom are clearly puzzled. 

"why'd ja let him up?", asks one. "you had him..." adds another. 

i'm searching for the words to describe all the thoughts that had passed through my mind. it occurs to me that i'm not supposed to tell why. that maybe it's a secret between me and...and...well, just a secret. charlie tipton hands me my hat that he has retrieved from the rain gutter of the store. he doesn't look at me. we all turn and begin the walk home. 

we've been walking for about five minutes in silence. i feel ostracized. like i let everybody down and finally i can't stand it anymore. 

"i couldn't do it!" i blurt out. 

they look at me embarrassedly and we all keep walking. "i mean i could've...but i just couldn't..." then i realize...it must sound like i'm just making this up to save face. i don't bother to finish the sentence.           


 

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