An incident stands out of when one such bully, Joe Wood, a kid who always brown pigskin gloves, turned his attention on me. I told him to leave me alone. He refused and egged me on, challenging a fight. Being at the end of regular classes and time for homeroom assembly, I proposed we meet in the boys bathroom “to have it out.” Wary of getting a sucker punch like I had in grade school, I was being defensive and had my guard up. He started by shoving me so I shoved him back and when he came back at me again, I punched him hard in the stomach, right in the “solar plexus,” as the saying goes. I didn't like hitting another kid in the face because it could mess him up and ruin your knuckles, especially if you hit a tooth. Even a very hard punch in the gut didn't hurt your hand and usually put him out of commission.
Well, this caused even “tough” Joe Wood to cry and turn away from the fight. That ended the matter and from then on, we were always on fine terms because he knew I wasn't afraid to take him on. The next day at the end of the class sessions, Coach Tolman, our home room teacher, noted I had been absent from class the previous day but seemed to understand. Somehow he knew I had been engaged in a necessary business – he knew what a little bully Joe Wood was and didn't seem to mind I had missed class to set him straight.
Being that Mr. Tolman coached the boys at school in all the sports, he remembered that my brother Noel, just 4 years my senior, had excelled at virtually every team sport sponsored by the junior high. He was big and strong for his age, and older even than most in his class because his birthday was just beyond the cut off age. With that he was also very quick, able to outrun even smaller men for a short distance. His unusual size and strength was enough for his high school biology teacher and wrestling coach, to claim he was afflicted with “giantism,” subject to the anomaly which sometimes afflicted men of unusual size. Coach Tolman gave me every opportunity to make the team whenever I tried out but was disappointed at my obvious lack of athletic abilities.
While I liked sports and participated in many, it was not an exclusive interest. I did well in most of my academics, but too lazy generally to excel. I preferred classes where a person could move around and do things with his hands, such as “shop” where we made things. Woodworking was one of these classes I liked, in fact crafts of about any kind. A guy in our home ward, the church group in Centerville, taught me to do leather work. So I made a wallet out of calfskin with the colorful hair still on the hide. It was good enough to be put on display when we had an open house there at school. What was my chagrin when it turned up missing and I never got it back after the end of the exhibition. Someone liked its looks as much or more than I did! Maybe just as well, because the hair on the hide, if in my pocket the wrong way, made it work up and out, causing me to misplace it on more than one occasion.
Speaking of shop, our teacher Mr. Memmott was quite the sport. I remember one time while passing our English teacher in the hall, he swatted her on the butt in a playful manner, of course that was back when no one seemed to mind such stuff, and certainly didn't make a federal case of it.
In the fall of my 8th grade year I tried out for football but didn't do all that well, being a bit timid about getting knocked down by bigger classmates like Dick Lewis, the fullback. He was short and stout and a menace to anyone trying to stop him. I didn't try out the following year, as a ninth grader because of an open sore I had on my left elbow. It had happened one night coming home from scouts on my bicycle on a dark and rainy night. As Porters Lane ran downhill, I was going pretty fast without much effort and had my head down to keep the rain out of my eyes. What I didn't expect was some other boys coming up the road on bikes without lights or any way for me to see them right off. One of the boys saw me at the last moment and turned to one side just enough for my front tire to strike the axle of his back wheel, stopping my progress and throwing me over the handle bars onto the asphalt pavement, tearing a deep chunk of flesh out of my elbow.
Treated in the conventional way, stitched up and bandaged, it would have healed in good time but Dad's idea was the old fashioned way, soak it in Lysol to kill the germs and to draw out the rocks and grit. Trouble is, the continual soaking killed the cells trying to reconstitute. Finally, after a time we switched to Boric Acid, not quit so toxic but nonetheless harmful to the healing process. Eventually I simply kept it covered until it healed on its own, leaving a pretty bad scar.
But the wound not only kept me from going on a scout camp in the High Unitas that summer, it also kept me from going out for football that fall. Perhaps it was according to some higher power and grand design. And living as far from the high school in Kaysville as we did I had no way to stay for football practice and still have a way home; so I did not go back to that sport until a senior in high school.
Before leaving those “middle school” years, I must comment on a few other experiences of the time. The Hatch family lived west on Porters Lane about a mile from school and church. For that reason, I was not as tight with the other boys or socialized with them as freely. One fall at Halloween time, I decided I would go uptown and mix with the crowd and see what mischief was a foot. We were hanging around the corner across from the post office and half way down the block from the town mayor's house. With nothing ostensibly better to do than that, we decided to pull up the stop sign planted there. I remember well having it in my arms at the moment the mayor and another of his neighbors came after us. He had been hanging in the shadows of his porch waiting for something of the kind to materialize.
Well, they came out after us like a shot, wanting to nab and make an example of us. Everyone scattered. I dropped the sign and headed east up the street past Old Man Adams' privet fence. The hedge had grown pretty tall so Mayor Walton couldn't quite hurdle it as he intended to cut me off . And when he fell into the hedge he must of got scratched a bit. I got away but spent most of the rest of the evening hiding in an irrigation ditch to keep from being apprehended. Finally I grew tired of the game and went home to bed.
I slept in that next morning so missed the bus. It ran along what we referred to as the “old highway,” now called Main Street. It is the road which goes into Bountiful and to the junior high school at 4th North. Having missed the bus, I had to hitchhike my way. Who should pick me up but Mayor Walton with a few scratches on his face and hands. I was pretty glum and didn't have much to say, could only smile to myself as he told me how he had gotten the scratches. I could hardly hide the sheepish grin on my face as he asked me if I knew anything about the boys who had been near his house the night before pulling up a stop sign. He didn't have to press me for a response to know exactly who it was had been running up the street while he crashed into the privet hedge. But he had enough good sense and understanding of how “boys will be boys” to not push the matter any further. It taught me then that people in authority need not necessarily be “authoritarian,” which has allowed me to hold the man in high regard ever since.
As I reflect back, I'm reminded of another bully I knew at Bountiful Junior High, at a time I was in the ninth grade. The kid was pretty stocky and didn't hesitate to throw his weight around to get his way. I hated to be anywhere near if Frankie Blackner was there, loathing bullies as I did but not wanting to get into a fight. I remember a time when Blackner challenged a classmate of mine named Nielsen and they got into a fight. Even though the bully was a grade behind us, he was just as old or older, having been held back in grade school at least a year. The dark stubble of a beard confirmed he was at least as old as we were. They had popped each other pretty good so were mostly just standing in a fighter's pose, waiting for the other guy to make his move. About the time they got to mixing it up again, the bell rang marking the end of the lunch period.
Being in my early teens, I was still too numb and dumb to know what to do with girls but it didn't keep me from having my little crushes and secret fantasies. Joan Stringham and Joyce Anderson were two of the girls who had matured earlier than most, hence a bit more busty than they. My family went to pick peaches in the fall at the Anderson farm along Bountiful's 2nd West and I had always hoped Joyce would come out to greet us but she never did, it was always her mother or dad who came. Joan Stringham later became quite a good friend of my older sister, Barbara, so there were a couple of times later in life when we had occasion to meet and say hello.
My infatuation for Joyce was supplanted by the arrival of Bonnie Bell. She too was a blond and well filled out. I must honestly admit there were times my thoughts filled with fantasies of being with Bonnie beside a freshwater pond in bathing suits basking in the idyllic languor of leisure moments.
I still had romantic feelings for Betty Blood but another new arrival on the scene during those years, Howard Clark, appeared to catch her attention. However I haven't forgotten a time she and I were crowed in the back seat of a youth adviser's car at the end of an outing. Again, still too numb and dumb to follow up.
While we never really had any kind of graduation ceremonies from the ninth grade, my dad did something unusual; he gave me a graduation present, a wrist watch. It had never been his habit to give presents for any occasion so this was a bit out of the ordinary. I could see it was motivated by an incident which had occurred during the winter. One snowy night my older brother, Noel, had been promised the family car for a date he had made for a school dance. But Dad said he couldn't take the car that night because it was too dangerous, that the roads were too slick. Noel was so angry he refused to ever milk another cow.
Ironically enough, Noel did get into a serious auto accident during that winter but not in our family car. He was double dating with a friend and was riding in the front seat. It was on icy roads in North Salt Lake when the crash occurred. Being in the passenger seat he was thrown forward into the windshield. Cars in those days didn't have safety glass so when his forehead struck the window it splintered and cut terrible gashes. Some friends of his older brother happened to be by at about that time and knew enough first aid to staunch the bleeding. Even then he lost quite a bit of blood before being taken to the hospital where the cuts were stitched up. I still remember waking up to see a bloody white shirt draped over the clothes hamper in the bathroom.
Nonetheless, the incident where Dad had refused him the use of the family car because of the weather had created a serious rift between them which exploded one day. It looked very much like serous injury was likely until Mother succeeded in breaking up the confrontation. Dad's best way to show his disapproval of brother Noel was to give me that gift for having to step up to milking the cows ahead of time. It was to have extra meaning since Noel was graduating from high school that same year, 1948, and there would be no gift for him or any special acknowledgment, although Noel deserved credit for having stuck with his academics even though it was not his “cup of tea.”
Dad might have been proud of Noel for another reason, his athletic prowess. As a Sophomore, he was already on the varsity football team and did well in basketball and the track and field events. The next year he won medals at the BYU Invitational Track and Field meet in spite of being out all the night before on a date. As a wrestler, Noel won the state heavyweight division and received the championship trophy. That year he was again on the varsity football team as the “full back.” As a senior he boxed for the team and went on to win the heavyweight division for the entire region becoming the Golden Gloves Champion.
Lacking as I did in athletic abilities should have spurred me on to greater endeavors in academics, but it never did. I was still quite content to dabble in sports and do only enough to get by in my classes. But the summer had come and I was free to enjoy life and earn some money. I was fortunate enough to get work at the Miller Floral Company in Farmington, helping to tend the hotbeds of carnation, roses and geranium.