Do Tell: The Early Years by Don B. Dale

Chapter III

To Fight Or Run

The Fights

     Life is full of struggles and sometimes personal confrontations break out in a fight. One thing for sure, fisticuffs should be avoided whenever possible, because you might wind up the loser and it hurts getting beat up, with damage to one's pride as well as person.

     Jed was always picking on me. Being the older brother he must have felt some need to dominate, which naturally had to be resisted at all costs. We were probably 7 and 8 respectfully when Mother complained to Dad one day that his boys had been fighting all day and she'd had enough. We were still fighting when he walked into the basement rec room, took us both outside into the backyard and had us put on boxing gloves. I think the command was fight, but I do remember it went on about three rounds too many.

     I never really wanted to beat my brother up, I just wanted to be left alone, and know everything he was doing of course. After a few minutes of forced combat we were more than ready for a truce.

     From that day forward we were good friends and never fought again. Excluded of course is the time we were rough housing in the basement and I knocked Jed down and while he was down, somehow chipped his front tooth pounding his head into the floor. This disrupted a bridge party the folks were having upstairs. There was something said about giving them just one evening of peace and quiet.

     Then there was the time we went fishing in Minnesota, the folks left all of us in the station wagon while they took a break (from us) and went into a coffee shop for coffee. I decided to take a drink from the Coleman water cooler in the car when Jed hit me on back of the head breaking off part of my front tooth on the cooler spout. It was a short coffee break for the folks, and I suffered, not too quietly, all the way to Dent, Minnesota. The telling of this story has a familiar sounding ring to it.

     About the time I was in the 5th grade, my sister Mary was in the 2nd grade. Her presence at the same school at the same time was truly forgettable; at least there are no memories of sibling togetherness. There was one instance when we were walking home from school where big brother had to wake up. We may have been walking together, or she was more likely in front of me by about 2-3 minutes. All I remember was some yeah-who, jerk, and all around bad guy was pushing her around. Well we got down and dirty real quick. It was one of those times when my size and not experience saved the day.

     Just goes to show you, I hated her and her sister for years because of their nasty habit of coming up behind me and whacking me up behind the head, then they'd run to Mother before I could retaliate. But when someone else messes with one of the family, Katie bar the door, it's open warfare with no holds barred.

     The person in the right is family and god help the other side because you have to protect your own. This probably wouldn't sit well with anyone involved in California's drug culture, but I know my kids, who they play with, and hope they know each other in the same context.

     There weren't many fights to speak of in the years before graduation. I was a sophomore when brother Jed was a senior. He had this eclectic group he hung out with, no real winners of which to speak. That Halloween his "group" of jackasses, not a nice term but descriptive, decided to spike up things by illegally harvesting watermelons and after dumping one in front of the police station, they cruised main street. Cruising a several block long main street in your "rod" was about all Garden City had to offer for those over the trick-or-treat age. One of the group tossed a melon against the side of a car from Holcome. There were only 3 guys (strapping farm hands) in their car, which made quick pursuit and chased down our (Jed's and mine) '48 Nash.

     Although they, the Holcome guys, were tossing eggs, the melon toss seemed to be escalatory in their minds. Jed, always a leader, jumped out to do combat yelling "let's go it's 5 to 3". Unfortunately, it was 3 to 1, as Jed's group locked the car doors behind him and watched Jed get beaten half to death.

     I don't know who drove Jed home, I do remember Mary being all excited, and yelling to me (in the basement) Jed's drunk, Jed's drunk. We all rushed to the scene. You can imagine Act 1, Scene 2 - enter kid right, kid left, from down stage kid three. There, at center stage was Mom holding Dad off, he was about to belt Jed for drinking.

     We had this family policy which you have to know about to understand the seriousness of the infraction. If we didn't drink or smoke before graduation we'd receive $500.00 for completing each successful trial of adulthood. The first fallen angel had landed, in a very wobbly state, on the back step.

     As soon as my parents figured out Jed wasn't "in that way," wasn't (hush..hush) intoxicated. "My God", I said, "give me the keys and I'll go get that Meeker kid and fix him." He was the one who supposedly locked the car doors.

     The long and short of it was that Meeker was no longer invited to the house and we all learned an important lesson, that being to make sure you know who your friends are, not necessarily who you might think, but are they really friends who speak with action, or do they just talk a good game. And throwing melons on Halloween was also a practice determined to be not in keeping with the proper decorum and upbringing of the household.

     When I was a junior and felt I was as good and for the most part better than any senior that walked, well it was bound to happen. In the course of several months I'd dated a different girl every single weekend. No single person made that much of an impression, plus it was fun going to everyone's party (as long as I was home by ten!!!!!), to every game, and to every happening with someone different. My friends started to gang up on me as well because I was upsetting the status quo. There wasn't any certainty whether Sandra, Judy, or Carol, and so on (actually 15 or so counting the girls out of town) was committed to someone else.

     About that time I picked a new girl to date who had just moved to town. Big mistake, she'd had a few dates with Ray Salyer, a big shot senior, and he thought he owned her. At the Rec center (there was a local Rec center where there were regularly scheduled dances on the weekend, it was across the street from Sears) on a Friday night, I was accosted by Ray, who grabbed the front of my shirt and ordered me to lay off Carol. Always avoid, if possible, a fight - so I made some joke and left. It turned out when I got home, that Ray had torn my new shirt, and so I changed shirts and left to find this villain of the cloth.

     A little later I caught up with him at the bowling alley. Other than A & W Root Beer and the Dairy Queen, the bowling alley was about it for hanging out, unless of course the movie had changed, which only happened once a week. I gave him the high sign and we went outside.

     The Alley was along the highway going north to Scott City, and they'd just finished cutting wheat in the field behind the Alley. With just the two of us present, I let Ray know what a jerk he was, and said something dumb like "you have to pay for my shirt."

     We began to mix it up, I got in a good right hook that split his lower lip, he countered real good and got me in the belly twice. Before long we were on the ground and wrestling, fighting for leverage. I got in a couple of licks when Ray got a lock on my throat and smacked me a good one on the upper lip. While he began to squeeze and cut off my windpipe, I got aggressive and secured a firm purchase. Just before my maneuver, Ray had asked me if I wanted to call it quits; and I'd said over my dead body (I never was too smart in that department). After gaining some leverage of my own it was fairly easy to reach a mutually acceptable compromise. I was surprised when Ray offered to shake hands, he turned out to be an all-right kind of guy, heck of a football player, and as far as I remember, neither of us ever dated that girl again.

     Don't know how to explain this to two girls, but you'd do well to consider carefully before pitting two (macho type?) fellows against each other. It wasn't our fault.

     My first year at the Air Force Academy was one fight after another. As a freshman or doolie, you used to have to participate in extensive physical education. That first year I swam, learned gymnastics, wrestled, took unarmed combat, and boxed. We had, after six weeks of instruction, three one minute boxing rounds with an opponent, another classmate.

     Unfortunately (there's that word again) my opponent was about 180 pounds, with a bald, bullet shaped head. He'd won the golden gloves championship for his weight class in Chicago the year before. My knees were knocking so hard you'd thought there was a band playing accompaniment. I lasted all three rounds, scored a few points but lost big time, and swore I would never fight again.

     I made it through that first semester with a 2.0 average, which considering I entered finals with 4 F's, was quite an accomplishment. My roommate was Lou Ackler from Philadelphia. He'd finished high school in Philly (Central) with every course we were taking already on his transcript plus Russian.

     Lou borrowed my portable radio I got for high school graduation, took it on a road trip where it was stolen. You remember these little things, especially when there's no money to replace the loss. So Lou still owes me for the radio and $3.57 for an Ann Margaret record he took when he left the Ranch after three years to get married.

     Reckon Ben Franklin had a point when he said neither a borrower nor lender be. The second semester I got the squadron creep for a roommate. He kept a bottle of vodka hidden in the room, came in late, and played hot rock jazz music in the evening. I complained, but it was one of those things you were suppose to solve on your own, and reasoning with Thomas Tanner Maxwell didn't have much of an impact.

     Just before mid-semester tests I was trying, like always, to pass the exams, when TT came in from some party. Being on academic restrictions for most of the year I seldom ventured off campus and was struggling again to keep up when the door banged open. It was the straw that broke the camel's back.

     I slowly turned in my chair to confront TT and he began to play his dirty rock music, loudly. I made one attempt to convince him I needed every second to study and would he please put on his earphones. I got the high sign and he got his speaker cords jerked out, he also got in the first swing. The door was open and the call "fight" soon rang out up and down the hall. No one seemed willing to stop the slugfest, and some seniors were taking bets on who would win.

     Months of frustration had built up in anger and resentment, which finally boiled over. TT was from California, and had learned a few tricks about fighting dirty. After a few minutes we were grappling on the floor, I got kicked where a guy never wants to get kicked and was fighting for my life. About then the squadron duty officer was trying to get through the crowd to break up the fight.

     I was down with a scissor leg lock on my neck, but TT had let me turn my head enough to get a purchase and I bit down as hard as I could on the fleshy part of his leg. He relaxed his hold enough for me to break free and when they pulled us apart old TT had turned green and wasn't breathing real well because of a hammer lock on his throat.

     They drug TT out of the room for first aid, and the duty officer got my story on what had happened. There was some concern about the aggressiveness I'd shown (of course I'd won otherwise they would have been asking TT all these questions), and whether I felt any remorse about wanting to kill TT.

     I admonished as how I'd never wanted to hurt him, only to get him to quiet down, and if we were to continue to room together I could assure everyone that I'd do my darn best to keep TT quiet the rest of the year if I had to take his head off. I got a new roommate and passed the rest of the year in relative quiet.

     Hell week probably isn't allowed any more. That's where the upper classes, mostly the hardened seniors, play god and punish the doolie class. I'd had a little bit of razing at Wichita State University as a Beta. I'd pledged the baby blue and baby pink fraternity because a number of football team members were Betas and I liked their songs. There was also a music major who thought he was god's gift to the world and laid out endless punishments for the lowly freshmen.

     We captured him one night before the end of the year, drove him outside of Wichita to a farm owned by a classmate, and against his protests, lowered him into a well that was sealed off. He was obliged to revert to his birthday suit, then we poured a bucket of molasses down the well and followed that with a load of cow chips.

     It took an hour or so to kill some beer (I didn't drink beer until much later in life) and coke, after which time (it was dark) a very meek and polite senior asked to come up out of the hole in the ground. We helped him clean up, there was a hose attached to the house, and gave him a beer. Was the episode over reacting to numerous harassments and tortures? Who cares, the jerk became a real person, helpful in every way to fellow fraternity brothers, and we had a good time. When you're in a position of authority it's best not to abuse that authority; and getting someone to help may be harder than ordering him to do a job, but the long term benefits of cooperation may out-weigh any short term results.

     During hell week at the Ranch, the razing was generally in good fun with lots of pushups and bracing in the hall before lights out. Some unlucky souls were in another squadron where a particular senior believed in excessive harassment. They were taken down below ground level into the boiler room and worked over in a physical manner. I'd heard the stories during the week and knew there was only one candidate in my squadron, Nicholas - a football jock, who would push the limits of common sense.

     The week was about over. There had been numerous shaving cream fights (our retaliation against the upper class), and the last 24 hours of non-stop hazing had begun. Some time after midnight, I was pulled out of my room for the third or fourth time. Nick, the jock, was bound and determined to get me to break.

     I did another hundred situps and was told to hit it for twenty (pushups), which I couldn't do. I was 90% dead, my muscles were cramped and there was this big foot in the small of my back. They stood me up in a brace, the sweat was rolling off my body, and began to shout, scream, and cuss me, my weakness, my manhood, my everything was brought into question. After sticking his face in mine, spiting and yelling until he couldn't think of anything else to say, Nick growled "you got anything to say for yourself smack, before we get serious?"

     The proper response is "No Sir!" or yes sir as the case may be. I knew something bad was about to happen depending on my answer.

     Except for a couple of classmates, also braced against the wall, there were a half dozen seniors standing around watching the fun. I looked Nick in the eye, it was eyeball to eyeball, and an extremely tense moment - and said in a loud clear voice "Boo!". I think Nick jumped back about a foot, his classmates began to laugh and the initiative had turned. Nick cracked a smile and sent me off to the shower, it was over, I never gave in like everyone expected, but because a change in tactics was used at the right moment, I was accepted, as a rogue maybe, but still accepted.

     Personal fights later in life have all been of a mental and political nature. The Christian school of doing unto others, and turning the other cheek doesn't necessarily prepare one to fight these fights.

     This can be especially true if the opposition sees your philosophy of life and manner of conduct as weaknesses to be exploited. As you grow older you have to learn to think smarter not necessarily work harder, and you also have to learn who your friend is, how real the friendship is, and understand the nature of the opposition.

     Just because someone is opposed to you or what you want to do, doesn't mean they're an enemy. A strategy or game plan of how to deal with opposing views can sometimes turn your opposition into an ally. This lasts until there's another opportunity to question your authority or the status quo. How you accomplish all this isn't written down in any book and the code may take years of experience to decipher.

     Your parents and beliefs are and will always be your best guides to understanding the rules. There usually isn't a black and white answer to personal conduct but basic principals govern our actions, and if you keep your principals, providing they're correct, you can live with yourself.

     For the record, I did buckle down after Jr. High and watch my grades. When graduation night came that last year I was one of the ten seniors that got a handshake and a pin of some sort for having decent grades. Obviously, we've been real proud of Lauren's grades in high school and Regan has improved each year in grade school and is a good math student, they obviously learned from their parents what not to do.

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