It’s funny how people get nicknames.
Some are really obvious. Take my brothers. John David is known as Jack, and Robert Joseph is known as Bobbie Joe. The only other choice for him is Robbie. These names will usually stick with you for life.
Some nicknames are based on something obvious about you. Maybe you’re known as Red because of your red hair, or you’re known as Curly because of your curly hair, or you’re Shorty because, well, you’re short. Sometimes these names don’t work out so well. Curly might grow up to be a cue ball by the time he’s middle-aged and Shorty might end up six-foot-five. Still, for the most part, nicknames are fairly harmless.
Mine didn’t turn out like that. My name is Graham Wendell Reaper. Again, it’s fairly harmless as far as names go. I asked my parents about my name when I was a kid. I got into a little trouble once, but not because of my nickname, or maybe because of a possible nickname. I must have been about eight or so.
We were in the living room, me, Jack, and Dad, while Mom was in the kitchen right around the corner working on dinner. I don’t know where Bobbie Joe was, but he was only three at the time, so he might have been in jail. That was what we called the penned-in portion of the family room, where Bobbie Joe couldn’t get into too much trouble. “Where’d my name come from?” I asked.
“Hmmm?” commented my father, putting down the newspaper.
“My name, Graham Wendell Reaper. Why’d I get named that?”
“Oh. You’re named after your grandfathers.”
“Huh?” I asked. I only knew my grandparents as Grandma and Grandpa and Nana and Papa. I supposed they had names, but it never really occurred to me before.
“My father is named John Graham Reaper and your mother’s father…”
“Papa?” Dad’s parents were Grandpa and Grandma. Papa and Nana were Mom’s parents.
He nodded. “Yes, Papa’s name is Everett Wendell Simmons. So we took their middle names and gave them to you.”
I thought about that a second. “Okay. And Jack is named after you?” Dad nodded. I knew my father’s name was Jack, because that was what Mom called him. Sometimes she called him other things, especially if they were arguing. They didn’t do that often, but Mom could get a temper. “How come he’s not Jack Junior?”
Jack, my brother Jack, looked up at this. “Because we don’t have the same name,” explained my father. “My full name is John Henry Reaper and Jack’s is John David Reaper. You can’t be a junior without having the same name.”
“Oh.” It sounded like there were a lot of rules about names.
Jack asked, “So who was David?” He was six.
“My brother, your Uncle Dave.”
“Oh.” Jack shrugged his shoulders and went back to playing his video game.
“Who was Bobbie Joe named after?” I asked.
Dad grunted and said, “The mailman.”
At that a wet dishcloth came flying in from the kitchen and caught Dad in the face. “I heard that!” said Mom.
He snorted and tossed the dishcloth to me. “Give that back to your mother and ask her about Bobbie Joe.”
Weird! I went out to the kitchen and Mom loudly said, “Your father thinks he’s funny!” Dad made a grunt from the living room and Jack giggled. Mom looked down at me. “Bobbie Joe is named after my brothers, your Uncle Bob and Uncle Joe.”
“Now, wash up for dinner and set the table.”
Jack tried to give me a nickname after that. He knew my middle name was Wendell, so he called me ‘Wendy’ one night right before dinner. I popped him in the nose, which got him to crying, and then Dad tanned my hide. When Jack laughed at that, he got his bottom walloped as well. We both missed supper that night. Afterwards Jack was smart enough to not try calling me a girl’s name.
So that’s where our names came from, but it doesn’t explain my nickname. That occurred a few months later, in the summer. That was when Bobbie Joe went into the hospital. I don’t think Jack understood, since he was seven, but I had turned nine in March. See, Bobbie Joe was deaf, sort of, or at least he didn’t hear very well. He almost never talked, and what he said you couldn’t understand. At the beginning of June Dad took off a few days of work to stay home with Jack and me, and Mom took Bobbie Joe to the hospital. Dad said he had to get tubes in his ears so he could hear better. He came home the next day.
The first thing I did was to look real close at him, since I didn’t see anything hanging out of his ears! “Where’s the tubes?” I asked. I was expecting something like an inner tube, but maybe that was too big. Maybe it was more like the macaroni we had glued on stuff in second grade and covered with glitter.
Mom laughed and smiled. She seemed pretty happy. “You can’t see them. They’re inside his ears. They are very small.”
I knew something was different, though. Bobbie Joe was looking at everybody as they spoke and began to talk to us, not that I could understand what he was saying. Still, if you talked to him, he would say something. Mom kept hugging him and kissing him for a few days. I also remember Dad commenting, “Christ, Maureen! Now you’ll never get him to shut up!” Mom laughed at that, too.
Bobbie Joe seemed determined to make up for the last three years by never stopping talking. Unfortunately, he didn’t speak all that well. Mom assured us that as he got more practice, he would be more understandable, and began taking him to a speech therapist. He did get better, too, a lot better. Still, he was the one who gave me my nickname, simply because he couldn’t pronounce my name. He just couldn’t figure out Graham, and called me ‘Grim’. I tried correcting him all summer, but he was hopeless. By the time he was actually able to pronounce my name, the nickname had stuck. I was now known as Grim Reaper to everyone. It was a few more years before I understood why all the grownups who heard this gave me funny looks the first time.
In the summer of 1994 I was in between third and fourth grade at Matucket Plains Elementary School. Matucket is in the middle of Matucket County in Georgia, and is pretty much all of Matucket County. As counties go, it isn’t very big, and is mostly Matucket and East Matucket, and some surrounding places. I looked it up on a map and we’re west of Atlanta, in between Haralson and Carroll Counties, near Alabama. I-20 is the main east-west road and runs right through the middle of Matucket. Running north and south is State Route 389. It’s a pretty neat place, but kind of quiet. I told my parents once I wanted to live somewhere more exciting, and they laughed and said Matucket was exciting enough, thank you.
I was doing what I normally did that summer, which was goof off with my friends and try to keep my parents from figuring out what I was up to. We lived in a development called Pine Glens, and when my buddies and I weren’t building or rebuilding our tree fort behind the Jenkins place, we were down by Taney’s Creek skipping stones and chasing frogs. We also used to go up to the school and play catch on the baseball diamond. If you left the house early enough, you might be able to skip out on any chores before your parents figured it out.
Sometimes that didn’t work out so well. I skipped out on taking the garbage out to the road and we got skipped over by the garbage truck, and I got grounded for a week, to ‘remind’ me to take it out the next week. Since I couldn’t leave the property (and Mom was home taking care of Bobbie Joe, so I couldn’t sneak out) I ended up throwing a tennis ball against the end of the house and catching it with my baseball glove. Our house was red brick, and Dad had allowed us to draw a circle on it with chalk. You got it in the circle, it was a strike. The return was a bit iffy at times, since sometimes the tennis ball would hit in the mortar groove between the bricks and head off anywhere else. Our pointer, Duke, was with me, sleeping on the side of the lawn and occasionally waking up to growl at birds and squirrels. He was good about chasing after the ball if it went on a wild tangent, but not so good about giving it back, and it was always wet and soggy when he did so. You learned to play with several spare tennis balls.
“Hi! What’s your name?” I heard from behind me.
I stopped my windup and turned around. It was a small girl, maybe my age or younger, and she was riding a bike on the sidewalk. “I’m Graham. Who are you?” She was wearing the standard Georgia summer uniform of shorts, t-shirt, and sneakers, just like me.
“I’m Kelly. We just moved here. Whatcha’ doing?”
Wow, were girls dumb, or what? “I’m practicing my pitching. I’m going to be a pitcher for the Braves someday. Watch!” I turned back to the wall and went into my windup. I missed the circle, but only by an inch or so. The ball bounced back and I didn’t catch it, but I still got my glove on it and it fell to the ground at my feet. I grabbed it before Duke could get to it.
“You missed,” she told me.
“Yeah? Watch this!” I turned back to the wall and did a really elaborate windup, looking at both first and third bases, twisting all around and kicking my left leg up before rocketing the ball towards home plate. I really had some pepper on the ball this time and I nailed it right in the center of the circle! Yes! That would show her!
And the ball smacked into a piece of mortar at the edge of a groove and rebounded wildly, up and off to my right side, like a pop fly. I started moving in that direction, and Duke started running, and Kelly yelled, “I’ll get it!” and she took off on her bike.
Unfortunately, we all got there at the same time. Duke was the smart one and managed to avoid the pileup. I got tangled in Kelly’s left handlebar and she tumbled off the bike, landing half on the grass and half on the sidewalk. “Ow! Ow! Ow!” She was grabbing her right knee and yelling like it had fallen off or something! I mean, it was bleeding, but not like in gushers. I’d been hurt lots worse, but she was a girl after all.
I pulled her bike off of her. “Let me see.” Duke came over and began licking Kelly’s face, and she took her hands away from her knee to push Duke away. She had some scrapes on her right knee, and some blood, but I knew what to do. “I saw this on television last night! I can make a tourniquet!”
I pulled my t-shirt off and wrapped it around her knee. “Come on! Let’s get to the house and call the ambulance! My mom’s a nurse, she’ll know all about it!”
We semi-hobbled over to the back door and I let her in, trailed by Duke. She was too short for me to put her arm around my shoulder, not that I wanted to. My tennis ball ended up rolling into the sewer. Still, maybe there’d be some more bloodshed and we’d get to call for an ambulance.
Mom came down when she heard the commotion. “Graham, what in the world…Who are you?”
“I’m Kelly O’Connor.”
Both Kelly and I tried telling Mom what had happened. After a minute of that, she said, “Okay, let me look at your leg.”
Kelly peeled off my t-shirt, and showed Mom her right knee. Mom took my t-shirt and grimaced.
“Will she need a tourniquet?” I asked, hopefully.
“No, she’ll need mercurochrome and a Band-Aid! She’s in more danger from your shirt than anything else!” Kelly giggled at that. Mom added, “That’s disgusting. You go wash up and put a clean shirt on while I look at this.”
“No ambulance?” I pressed.
I went up to the bathroom and washed my hands and face, and then put on a clean shirt before heading back to the basement. Kelly wasn’t there anymore, but was in the hall bathroom with Mom, with Bobbie Joe watching and talking to her and Kelly talking to him. Mom washed her knee and was rubbing on some mercurochrome while Kelly went, “Ow! Ow! Ow!” Bobbie Joe imitated her. I watched and Mom finished it with a large Band-Aid.
“There, good as new.” She bent over and gave the Band-Aid a kiss. “Now, let’s get you home and show your parents.”
Kelly laughed and said, “Now it’s his turn.” She pointed at me.
“Huh?” I said.
“You have to kiss it, too,” she told me.
“No way! Yuck!”
Mom was laughing at this. “Oh, boy, are you in trouble now!”
Kelly smiled and said, “You put the tourniquet on, so you have to kiss it now, too!”
“Or I’ll tell my mother it was all your fault,” she finished.
“It was your ball! I was going after it and you knocked me off my bike.”
I turned to Mom. “It wasn’t like that! I didn’t knock her off her bike! She fell!”
“Don’t get me involved in this,” she laughed.
Kelly stuck her knee towards me.
“Mom, I can’t! This is…is…blackmail! That’s what it is, blackmail!”
“I’d pucker up, buster.”
“NO!” I moved towards the door, but Mom grabbed me. “MOM!” She kept me from escaping, so I had to bend over and kiss Kelly’s knee.
“I feel better already!” laughed Kelly, who got up off the toilet seat she had been sitting on.
“I need to vomit!” I said.
“Alright, enough out of you. Let’s take Kelly home and tell her mother about this,” replied my mother.
She shooed us out of the bathroom, and grabbed Bobbie Joe and loaded him into his stroller. Kelly lived about four houses up the street, on the corner. I had seen the moving van there a few days ago. We walked up the street, with me pushing the bicycle and Kelly pushing Bobbie Joe’s stroller.
Kelly led the way and after we got to the corner she turned and rolled the stroller into the back yard. She went to the back door and opened it and yelled out, “MOM!” at the top of her lungs. “MOM!”
Mom and I stayed outside with Bobbie Joe, and we heard somebody coming to the back door. “Kelly, what have I said about yelling in the house? What happened to you?” Through the screen we could see Kelly pulling her mother along by the hand. She saw us standing there and said, “Hello. Who are you?”
“Hi. I’m Maureen Reaper. We live down the street.” Mom pointed in the direction of our house. “Kelly fell off her bike in front of our house and skinned her knee. I wanted to make sure we got her home and told you.”
“Well, come on in. I’m Sharon O’Connor.” She pushed the screen door open. “Come on in.” She looked at me and asked, “What’s your name?”
“That’s Grim,” answered Kelly.
Kelly’s mom gave me a funny look. “You’re the Grim Reaper? I think you’re a little young for that job.”
Mom started laughing. “No, he’s Graham. Bobbie Joe calls him Grim.” That got the two women to start chatting, and Kelly and I were basically left to our own devices.
Kelly took me on a tour of the house, which wasn’t all that necessary. It looked a lot like our house only backwards, sort of. She was the only kid living there, and her room was full of My Little Pony toys, and I got out of there as soon as possible! I could just feel the cooties sinking in while I was standing there and looking in the door! After that we went down to the basement and then out to the backyard, and from there down to the crick behind our row of homes. We walked along the crick until we heard out mothers calling our names.
We went back to the house and found Mom putting Bobbie Joe back in his stroller. “Come, on Graham, it’s time to go. I need to start dinner before your father gets home.”
“Make sure to come back,” said Kelly’s mom. “It’s good to meet the neighbors. Maybe we can have a party. And it’s good to see Kelly making friends.”
I gave a horrified look at that. Kelly was NOT a friend! She was a girl! And she made me kiss her knee! That was just beyond the limit! I left the house silently vowing to never speak to her again.
Mom had a different take on it. She smiled at Kelly and said, “Oh, I can tell you’re going to be trouble someday.”
Kelly’s mom agreed and said, “Seamus said that the first time he saw her after she was born.”
At dinner that night, Mom told Dad what had happened, including my desire to put a tourniquet on Kelly’s leg and ride in the ambulance with the sirens blaring and the lights flashing. Dad snorted and laughed at that, though Jack agreed that the idea was, “Cool!”
“She’s a very nice young girl. Real Irish, too,” she added.
“Oh?” commented my father.
Mom nodded. “Red hair, green eyes, freckles. It’s like she stepped out of an Irish Spring commercial!”
Dad laughed at that. “Hah! Well, with a name like Kelly O’Connor, that’s not much of a surprise. What about her parents? They must be Irish, too.”
“Half and half. Her mother is from Savannah but her father’s name is Seamus and he’s from Belfast, in Ireland.”
“Well, there you go.” Dad looked at me. “Too bad you didn’t get to see anything too gruesome. Still, I’m glad you helped her. I think I’m lifting your grounding long enough to go fishing tomorrow with me and your brother.”
“Yes!” I exclaimed.
Mom gave a disapproving, “Jack!”
“And then you’re grounded again until garbage day,” he added.
That mollified Mom, and I looked over at Jack and grinned. Dad owned a flat-bottomed fishing skiff with an outboard motor and every couple of weekends he would take us over to Lake Matucket and we’d go fishing for bass. Bobbie Joe was too small, although Jack did suggest tying a rope around him and using him as bait. Mom gave him a rap on the head for that, and then another to Dad when he looked thoughtful and nodded.
Jack just had to push it, though. “So, Grim’s got a girlfriend!”
“I do not have a girlfriend! I don’t like her! I don’t ever want to see her again!”
“Grim’s got a girlfriend! Grim’s got a girlfriend!”
This time it was Dad who reached over and rapped Jack. “I don’t have to take you fishing.” Jack shut up. Dad looked over at me and smiled. “You’re smart. Girls are nothing but trouble! They’re yucky and have cooties and stuff.”
Mom laughed at that. “You seem to like my cooties!”
Dad just looked at me and Jack. “I was a happy guy until I met girls. Now, take your plates out and clear the table.”
Mom was laughing at Dad as we took stuff off the table. In the kitchen Jack lowered his voice and asked, “Was Dad talking about Mom? Was she a girl?”
“No way. Mom’s a mom, and she’s old, too.”
We must not have been as quiet as we thought, because the next thing we heard was a shriek out of Mom and a laugh out of Dad. We scooted out of the kitchen and headed down to the family room.
I avoided Kelly as much as possible, but I couldn’t avoid her completely. That was because her father worked at the bank, and the bank supported the team. That was the Matucket Cherokees, the Pee Wee football team. Mom had refused to let me join last year, but this year, now that I was nine, she had relented and allowed me to join. The season started in August, and I spent most of my time on the bench, but playing football was really cool. We had practice four nights a week after school, and Mom or Dad would take me to that, and then we played on Saturday. The bad part was that Kelly’s father ran the bank and the bank supported the team, so he and Mrs. O’Connor and Kelly had to come to the Saturday games. She would wave at me and I would turn away and ignore her.
School started that August, like normal, and I ended up talking to Kelly again. I had been avoiding her as much as I could, but the bus stop was right in front of her house, and I couldn’t get out of seeing her again. Luckily she was a grade behind me, so it wasn’t like I even had to sit with her on the bus. I was in the fourth grade and we had our own seats towards the back of the bus. Next year, I’d be able to sit all the way in the back with the other fifth graders.
Matucket Plains Elementary was grades kindergarten through five. After the fifth grade you went to Matucket Middle School and then after the eighth grade you went to Matucket High. I asked my father about that one time. “How come everything around here is named Matucket?”
He smiled and shrugged. “Probably because a guy named Matucket founded the town.”
Dad nodded. “Back after the Revolutionary War a soldier named Captain Matthew Matucket decided to lead a group of pioneers west and look for a place to live. They got here and liked it, so they started a town. He filed claims on everything he could and named everything after himself. There’s Matucket City, and Matucket County, and Matucket Creek, and Mount Matucket, only that’s not so much a mountain as an overgrown hill.”
“And East Matucket?”
“No that was years later, when some people moved from Matucket a few miles east.”
“And Lake Matucket.”
“No, that was after they dammed Matucket Creek to make the reservoir. Captain Matucket was long gone by then.”
“Are there still any Matuckets around? Do they own the town or something?”
“Nope, they all died around a hundred years ago. Nothing left now but the name.”
Anyway, I was in the fourth grade. Matucket Plains was built sort of in an L-shape, and was two floors. The bottom floor held the kindergarten and the first two grades, the cafeteria, and the crawlspace. I heard the crawlspace was used as a bomb shelter back when it was first built. That sounded pretty cool, but I looked in there once and it was totally filthy and full of junk. Upstairs were the third, fourth, and fifth grades. Each grade had their own classrooms, though on the second floor you had lockers out in the hallway. Downstairs you stayed in your classrooms.
I heard once that the classes were laid out like that so you didn’t have the big kids next to the little kids; that could cause trouble. I didn’t really understand what that meant until I got to the fourth grade. I was in the hallway when I heard a crash, like somebody had fallen against a locker, and I went around the corner. I saw a big kid pushing Bo Effner against a locker. Bo was in the fourth grade like me, and even smaller than me, and this guy was bigger than either of us. “I said, give me your money!” he told Bo.
“Hey!” I yelled.
The big kid turned to face me and said, “Shut up and get lost, or you’re next!”
I knew who it was as soon as he turned around. It was a new kid in school, Candy Pants. His real name was Randall Caniday Holden, and he had just transferred in from East Matucket Elementary. He’d been called Candy Pants almost from his first day at Matucket Plains, but if you think it was a play on his middle name (Caniday - ‘Candy’) you’re wrong. No, it’s because on his first day in school he decided to eat a Hershey bar in class, and when the teacher, Mrs. Morris, turned around, he stuffed it in his pants pocket. He couldn’t finish it, and by the time he could, it had melted and he had chocolate all over his pants. He was known as Candy Pants since that first day.
I don’t think he liked the name all that much, which is another problem with nicknames. Once you’ve got one, you’re stuck with it forever. If you yell and complain, you just look like a pussy, and people will call you by the nickname even more. Once you have a nickname, you just have to live with it, good or bad.
“Leave him alone, Candy Pants!” I said.
Candy Pants shoved Bo against the lockers again and turned to advance on me, but before he could get close, a teacher came around the corner and came down the hall. He took off at that, and I saw that Bo had gone into a classroom. I followed him in.
“What’d Candy Pants want?”
“Nothing!” he replied.
“Bo, he wanted some money. What’d he want?”
“Nothing! Leave me alone!” He turned away and went to his seat, and I had to sit down because Mrs. Campbell came in.
Something wasn’t right, and I thought about telling Mrs. Campbell, but Bo didn’t want to do anything. I knew there was a problem when Bo came to school the next morning and had a bruise on his right cheek. I asked him about it, and he mumbled something about tripping and hitting the door, but I also noticed he skipped lunch. Bo was a real little guy. I wondered if Candy Pants had taken his lunch money. You had to pay for lunch, but some of us brought in money every day and some brought in money once a week and paid ahead of time. I know Bo usually paid every day. Maybe he didn’t have any money. You could usually go light a day and pay it the next day, but then he’d have to tell his parents.
Candy Pants must have figured a life of crime was a good paying job. That afternoon I found myself shoved against a locker from behind. “You little pussy! I want your money tomorrow. You pay me and you don’t get what your pussy friend got!”
“I don’t pay until Friday!” I squawked.
“Then Friday you pay me everything!” Candy Pants shoved me against the lockers a few more times and then walked away.
I noticed Bo and another kid not eating lunch the next day, so Candy Pants was expanding his circle. I didn’t want to snitch to my parents any more than Bo did, but I had another problem. My mom would give me a $10 bill to pay for my lunches, and the cafeteria lunch lady would give me a note to take home when I ran out of money. No way did I want to pay Candy Pants ten bucks! I’d never eat again! Mom gave me a $10 bill Thursday night in an envelope. Then, that night, the solution came to me. I was watching a TV show and the bad guys were caught with marked bills. I asked Dad about that and he told me that banks and police sometimes put invisible ink on money. I didn’t have any invisible ink, but I did have a really fine tip pen with black ink. I wrote my name as small as I could on both the front and back of the bill, near where there was some other writing, and stuffed it back in the envelope.
Friday morning Candy Pants braced me before I even got in the building. He pulled me around the corner from where the school bus dropped us off, and before I could even do anything he punched me twice in the stomach. I doubled over, but he grabbed me again and pushed me upright, and then hit me a third time. My eyes were almost watering, but I decided to tough it out.
“Where’s my money, pussy?” he demanded. He shoved me back against the wall of the school.
“My pocket…it’s in my pocket,” I stammered out. It wasn’t an act, either. My stomach hurt and I was scared.
“Give it to me! Now!”
I pulled the envelope out of my pocket and handed it to him. He let me go and I moved to leave, but he shoved me back into the wall and opened the envelope. He saw the ten, and must have figured he hit the mother lode. His face lit up and he said, “I want another $10 on Monday. You’re a rich kid, aren’t you?” I never had a chance to answer since I got another shot to the stomach before I could say anything. He took off and I took my time to straighten up and catch my breath.
Screw this! No way was I going through this again! After I entered the school, instead of turning left to go down the hallway towards my locker, I turned right and went into the school office.
The school secretary, Miss Barnes, looked up at me. She was the only nice person there. She normally made the school announcements every morning, and was kind of pretty, I suppose, though she was almost as old as my mother. “Yes? Can I help you?” she asked, smiling at me.
“I was just robbed of my lunch money,” I reported.
Miss Barnes’ eyes widened, and about two seconds later I found myself sitting in front of Mister Carson, the school’s Vice Principal. At that point I began to wonder if this was all that smart, since the only time you ever saw Mister Carson was when you were in trouble. I told him what had happened, and found myself dragged into the Principal’s office. I had to repeat everything to Mister Garofalo. Nobody ever wanted to see Mister Garofalo, because that meant your parents were going to get involved. I was definitely figuring I had done something really stupid by that point. It got worse when Missy Baker came down to the office. She was in class with me and Mrs. Campbell had sent Missy with a note to the office reporting that I wasn’t in class. Great! Now I was in trouble for missing class!
Mister Garofalo looked over at Mister Carson. “What do you think? Have you heard anything on this?”
Mister Carson answered, “Nothing I could prove. I heard from a student that she had seen the boy do something, but didn’t know who it was.” He shrugged. “I wouldn’t be surprised. You know how we got the Holden boy here.”
I didn’t know what that meant, but I figured that maybe Bo could make them believe me. “He did it with Bo Effner, too, but Bo wouldn’t do anything,” I said.
Mister Garofalo looked at Mister Carson. “I want Effner and Holden in here now. Keep them separated, and get a parent in here, too.”
Oh crap! My parents were going to kill me! I was given a note and sent to the school library, where I was to stay until my parents came. I wasn’t to speak to anybody or say what had happened. I was so dead!
I tried to read something in the library, but couldn’t concentrate on anything other than the big clock over the door, where the minute hand jerked every time the second hand came around. There was a tiny but audible CLICK every time the second hand moved, and I listened to it as it counted down my remaining life. I just stared as the time passed. It was over an hour before I was summoned down to the office again. Both Mom and Dad were sitting there waiting for me, with Bobbie Joe sleeping in his stroller. I saw Bo Effner sitting on the other side of the office, crying softly, with a woman next to him. I guess she was his mom. I think his parents were divorced or something, because I never saw him with his dad.
As soon as I came in the office, Mom asked, “Graham, what’s going on?”
Before I could answer, Mister Carson came in and said, “Let’s talk about that in my office. Miss Barnes, can you keep an eye on…”
“Bobbie Joe,” answered Mom.
“I’d love to!” She got up and moved the stroller over to her desk, but Bobbie Joe slept right through everything.
The rest of us, Mom and Dad and me, and Bo and Mrs. Effner, followed Mister Carson down the hallway into Mister Garofalo’s office. We were cramped in there, but we all fit. Mister Carson stayed standing. Mister Garofalo started things, saying, “I don’t know if you’ve all met me, but I’m Jim Garofalo, the Principal, and this is Bill Carson, the Vice Principal. This morning Mister Reaper here came to us and told us that another student had beaten him up and stolen his lunch money…”
“Bo!” exclaimed Mrs. Effner.
“No, Mrs. Effner. Bo was a victim like Graham here,” interjected Mister Carson.
At that point Mister Garofalo told me to tell everybody what had happened, starting earlier in the week. I felt like I was on the witness stand on TV, like on Law and Order. I started talking, and Mister Garofalo asked questions, and then they shut me down when I started repeating myself.
Bo just wept silently. He was a little guy, like I said, and his birthday was real late in the year, so he was only eight at the time. He was pretty scared. His mother asked him, “Is that what happened, Bo?” but he wouldn’t answer. He just cried and nodded.
Miss Barnes stuck her head in the door and said, “Mister and Mrs. Holden are here. I have them in the conference room.”
“Thank you, Janice.” He turned back to us. “Let’s go in there and see what they have to say.”
“NO!” wailed Bo, who promptly wet his pants.
“I’ll go!” I said.
Mister Garofalo said, “Okay. Mrs. Effner, you take Bo home for the day. I’ll call you after this is over.” He stood up and led the way out of the room, with my parents and me following, and Mister Carson behind. Bo stayed behind with his mother and cried.
The Holdens were in the conference room. Candy Pants sneered at me as we came in. His parents were really different. His mom was about the same age as my parents, maybe younger, but his father was really old, like Papa or Grandpa. “What is the meaning of this?” demanded Mrs. Holden. Mister Holden didn’t say anything. He just looked sad and tired. I did notice that he nodded at my father, who nodded back.
Mister Garofalo answered, “We have had two reports by students that Randy has assaulted two students and stolen money from them...”
“That’s a lie!” yelled Candy Pants, who jumped to his feet.
His father grabbed him and said, “Shut up!”
“Randall would never do that. It’s a lie, you heard him say it,” said his mother.
Mister Garofalo told me to tell my story again, and by now I had said it enough I was able to do it quickly. My parents just sat there and stared at the Holdens silently.
Candy Pants’ mother was oblivious to it. “That’s just this boy’s story. Where’s this other boy? There’s no proof of this. They are lying just to cause trouble for Randall.”
Mister Garofalo looked like he was about to say something when I said, “He’s got my money in his pocket. Look in his pockets.”
Mrs. Holden began to argue, but Mister Holden simply grabbed Candy Pants by the back of the neck and stood him up. I think he knew what he would find, but he turned out Candy Pants’ pockets and dumped the contents on the conference table. In his right pocket was my $10 bill.
“I gave Randall that money this morning!” announced Mrs. Holden.
“Then why is my name on it?” I asked. Everyone turned to stare at me. “I wrote my name on it last night. Why would he have my name on his money?”
Mister Carson picked up the bill and looked at it, and then had me show him the signature. He then showed it to Mister Garofalo.
“I think that settles it, don’t you?” commented Mister Garofalo.
“He gave it to me,” said Candy Pants, not realizing he was contradicting his mother’s story.
“You’re a thief and a liar, Candy Pants!” I said.
That’s when it got really crazy! In showing Mister Carson and Mister Garofalo where I had written my name, I had to go from between my parents to over where they were standing, and I had to stand next to Mrs. Holden. “How dare you, you little shit!” exclaimed his mother, waving her arms. That was when she punched me.
I don’t think she meant to punch me. I think she was just angry and waving her arms around and I was in the way. But that’s what happened. She swung her arm and the back of her right hand caught me in the face and knocked me to the floor. I was more surprised than hurt, though I noticed my nose was bleeding when I got up. That didn’t matter, though. Mom had launched herself at Mrs. Holden and had punched her! Now Mister Holden had his arms around Mrs. Holden from behind and Dad had Mom by the waist and they were trying to keep them separated, and Mister Carson and Mister Garofalo were stuck in between them. It looked like a bar fight in a western I once saw!
They got the women apart, and Mom grabbed a tissue and began to work on my nose, but Mrs. Holden said something dumb and Mom went after her again, only this time Dad was able to grab her first. Mister Garofalo decided to get them apart, so he sent the Holden family off with Mister Carson, and said, “That’s it. He’s expelled, immediately. Clean out his locker and get him off the school grounds. I’ll call the Board of Education this afternoon.”
“You can’t do that!” yelled Mrs. Holden.
“I can and I have. Get out now before I call the police!”
The school nurse was brought in to look at my nose (diagnosis - a bloody nose) and that gave the Holdens enough time to escape before Mom could go after them again. By now half the day had been wasted and I had blood down my shirt, so I was sent home like Bo.
I wondered what was going to happen now. I didn’t think I was in trouble, but I wasn’t really sure. Dad seemed actually sort of happy as we left. “You’re a good kid, Grim. You did the right thing. I’m proud of you.” Then he grinned at Mom. “I have to get back to the office. I think I’m taking you out to dinner tonight!”
“You’d better!” she said.
“Please, don’t hit me!” he laughed. He kissed Mom and then drove off, and Mom drove Bobbie Joe and me home.
1994 to 1996
Later that day Dad came home and announced that Aunt Laurie was coming over for the night to babysit for us. “Go put on something nice. We’re going out tonight,” he told Mom.
“How nice?” she asked.
He laughed and gave her a wink, and Mom laughed and went upstairs. Aunt Laurie came over while Mom was upstairs. Aunt Laurie was married to Uncle Dave, and she brought over our cousins Dave and Jerry. They came in with sleeping bags and backpacks, which was pretty cool. We were going to have a sleepover! Jack and I took them upstairs to our room. I came downstairs about a minute before Mom came back down.
Aunt Laurie asked Dad, “So, where are you going?”
“I made reservations at the Sherwood,” he announced.
“Woo hoo! Fancy! Planning to stay out late?”
“Where are we going?” asked Mom, who had just come down the stairs. She was wearing a fancy dress and high heels, like she was going to church, only a lot fancier. I had never seen her wear a dress without a back to church, and it was a lot shorter, too.
“The Sherwood. Give me a few minutes to clean up,” he told her, and he ran up the stairs.
“What’s the Sherwood?” I asked. “Is that like Robin Hood?”
“It’s a restaurant in Matucket,” answered Aunt Laurie. To Mom she asked, “So what’s going on? What’s so special? The boys said that a bunch of kids got kicked out of school today.”
That sort of figured. Dave and Jerry were eight and seven, and they went to Matucket Plains, too. I guess that with two kids sent home and a third kicked out, it was all over the school.
“Ask Graham, he knows all about it,” said Mom. “What’s Dave up to tonight?”
Aunt Laurie laughed loudly, a braying sort of laugh that had most of us groaning. “He’s behaving himself, if he’s smart. He told me he was heading over to the Novelty Lounge for the vegetarian buffet.”
Mom snorted and laughed at that. I knew where that was. It was down on Boxer Street in Matucket, and had signs outside for ‘Girls, Girls, Girls!’ and ‘College Girls!’ I asked about it but both Aunt Laurie and Mom ignored me.
Dad came down the stairs after a few minutes and he had changed. Most days he wore a pair of jeans and a shirt and a tie, but now he had on a suit, like on Sunday for church. Mom kissed us and then she took off with Dad, after telling us to behave or else.
Aunt Laurie grabbed me and asked me what had happened at school, so I told her what had happened. She gave a loud laugh when I told her about Mom and Mrs. Holden getting into a fight. “No wonder your father is taking her out to dinner. He’s afraid she’ll punch him next!”
Even I had to laugh at that idea, since Mom is about half the size of Dad. Aunt Laurie made a big pot of mac and cheese with cut-up hot dogs cooked up in it. She stayed up late, and put us to bed.
Mom and Dad came home the next morning, and Mom was carrying her shoes in her hand and laughing a lot. She was still wearing her dress from the night before. Aunt Laurie laughed and said, “Can we say ‘Walk of Shame?’ I’ll call you later. I want all the sordid details.”
Mom turned red and headed up to her room. Dad simply smiled and looked at me. “Ready to play football?” We had a game scheduled against the Central Matucket Colts.
“Yeah, sure. What’s a walk of shame?” I asked.
Aunt Laurie just started laughing, and then called Dave and Jerry. They needed to get home and check on Uncle Dave. She said, “You’d better ask your mother that one.”
Okay, I was totally mystified. I went upstairs and knocked on the door to my parent’s room. “Mom! What’s a walk of shame?”
Down the stairs I heard Aunt Laurie laughing again, and Mom stuck her head out the door. “Out! And tell your Aunt Laurie she’s not funny!”
I went back down the hall, shaking my head. Dad passed me on the way. “Say goodbye to your Aunt Laurie and then get ready. We’ll go as soon as I change.”
Mom and Dad were giggling the rest of the weekend. Man, parents are weird!
We got to the game in time for me to sit out the first quarter. I did get to play the second quarter. Since this was my first year playing football, the coach kept moving me around to try and figure out what position I would be best at. I had several chances to play defense and that seemed to work pretty well, maybe because I liked tackling people. I kept imagining it was Candy Pants carrying the ball and I was going to get back at him! Coach Washington told me he would keep me on defense for a few games to see how that worked. It could also be because the two times I was on the offense I dropped the ball both times.
I didn’t much care. I was having fun, and everybody gets time on the field. That’s the rule, so after the halftime I spent some more time on the bench and then went back in the game. I knew I was learning. This was my first year playing, and I was on the small side for Pee Wee teams, but some of these guys had been playing since they were in first grade and already knew what to do.
The weekend after Candy Pants got kicked out of school, I asked my dad about the meeting at the school. “Dad, during the meeting at the school the other day, it looked like you and Mister Holden knew each other.”
He nodded. “I know Gary Holden. I have for years.”
“Oh. How come?”
“Business.” I must have given him a confused look, because Dad worked for the county, not for a business. “I work in the codes department at the county, reviewing blueprints and building permits and things like that. Mister Holden owns a company that builds houses, so I’ve met him a number of times because of that.”
“Oh.” I guess that made sense, although I didn’t know what codes or permits were.
“That was the second Mrs. Holden, the one your mother got into it with,” he added.
“What happened to the first one?”
“She died about ten years ago in a car accident. They had two children, but one was grown and in college when the accident happened, and he moved away years ago. The second was in the accident, too, and she died. This is his second wife, and Randy is their son. The first boy turned out okay, but he moved to California or someplace out west. Randy’s a real pain, I gather. That wasn’t the first time he had done this.”
Dad nodded. “Mister Carson told me that he got kicked out of East Matucket Elementary last year for bullying and stealing, too. I don’t know where he’ll go now. Maybe they’ll put him in Saint Catherine’s and let the nuns get a crack at him.” He chuckled at that idea. Saint Catherine’s was the Catholic parochial school in Matucket, and had classes from kindergarten through the eighth grade. After that they went to either Matucket High or East Matucket High. Either way, I wouldn’t have to worry about him for years.
Monday morning everybody wanted to know what had happened at school on Friday. From the moment I got to the bus stop until the end of the day when I got off the bus, everybody wanted to know what was going on, and everybody knew all about it, and everybody was wrong! I heard that I was kicked out, that the three of us were in a gang, that we were fighting in the office, that we had all been arrested. Then they wanted to know why Bo and I were back in school! I mean it was just crazy! Bo grabbed me at my locker as soon as I came in.
“Grim, you have to do me a favor. Please! Please!”
I gave him a funny look. “Sure. What?”
He had been speaking quietly before, but now it was almost a whisper. “You can’t tell anybody about what happened in Mister Garofalo’s office…you know…”
My eyes opened wide at that. Bo didn’t want me telling he had been crying and pissed his pants! “Don’t worry. I was just as scared as you.”
He sagged back against the lockers in relief. “Thanks! You have no idea the shit I would get over that.”
I grinned at him. “Maybe I just won’t talk as long as you pay me your lunch money.”
Bo’s eyes popped open. “You…you wouldn’t…”
“Shit, Bo, you need to learn to take a joke! No, I’m not doing that! Shit!”
“That’s not funny! That’s just not funny!” he protested.
“Hey, get this. I was talking to my father. He said that Vice Principal Carson told him that Candy Pants got kicked out of East Matucket Elementary last year for doing the same thing over there.”
“Yeah, holy shit!” I agreed. After that we split apart and went to class. He was in Miss Berkley’s class and I was in Mrs. Campbell’s.
That morning they had a special program down in the gym. There was a stage at one end of the gym, and when they set up folding chairs it doubled as the auditorium. The whole school had to attend, and Principal Garofalo talked about bullying and about the need to report anything like that. He didn’t give any names but as soon as he started talking, it was like everybody in the gym turned to look at Bo and me. I looked at Bo and he just rolled his eyes and shrugged, and I did the same. Needless to say, that just made sure that nobody talked about anything else.
It also set up a frenzy of name writing! Once I told people that the reason I nailed Candy Pants was because I had signed my money, everybody started signing stuff! The trick was to figure out a way to sign something in the most impossible place, so that it couldn’t be found. Of course, afterwards everybody started testing each other, and showing each other where they had hidden their signature, which sort of cancelled it all out. Jack told me that it was happening in the second grade, too, though they didn’t really understand it. That night at dinner Jack told this at the dinner table, and I suggested we sign Bobbie Joe on the back with somebody else’s name. That got me a laugh from Dad and a rap on the head from Mom.
Things settled down a lot after that. Once Candy Pants was gone I was able to get back to my regular job of trying to get away with whatever I could sneak past Mrs. Campbell, Mom, and Dad. I knew some kids liked school, but I think that recess was my favorite class, that and gym. It was funny. In gym we played football but it was flag football, not tackle. Everybody had to wear these silly belts with colored flags Velcroed to them. If you grabbed somebody and pulled a flag off, that was a ‘tackle’ and you had to stop. Meanwhile on Saturdays I was allowed to throw a shoulder into somebody’s numbers and pound them into the ground!
Mister O’Connor and the bank had a big party down at Chuck E Cheese at the end of the season and we could eat all the pizza we wanted. By then Coach Washington had me playing defense all the time. I still hadn’t been able to catch a ball. It was sort of like when we played baseball. I could hit okay, and I threw okay, but they always had to put me out in right field because I would always drop the ball, and the coach figured I was less dangerous out there. I still liked tackling people, and I was either on the line or running around as a linebacker. Either way, I got to hit people and tackle them!
Looking back on it later, that whole time was very simple and easy. At home it was mostly Jack and me doing stuff, since Bobbie Joe was so much younger than us. I mean, Dad could take us fishing, but if Bobbie Joe went, he just played with the worms and insects we used for bait. If Bobbie Joe did come with us anywhere, Mom had to come with us, since he would get into everything and wander everywhere. Dad’s fishing boat couldn’t hold all five of us very well. He was always telling Mom he needed a bigger boat and Mom would always tell him we couldn’t afford the boat he already had. They never really settled the argument, either, even after Dad bought a bigger bass boat the following summer. He used to store the fishing skiff on a small trailer in our driveway, and he would park his pickup truck on the street. The new boat and trailer were a lot bigger, so he stored them behind the county road department building. That was a gigantic Quonset hut type of place where the county stored all their heavy equipment, and it had plenty of open space back there.
That was actually kind of a neat boat. It was a lot bigger than Dad’s old fishing skiff, and it had a really big outboard motor on the back. The skiff had a dinky little motor that had a hand throttle and Dad would let Jack and me drive it around, with him up front watching us. This boat actually had a steering wheel that made the motor move from side to side, and it went a whole lot faster! We could just rocket across Lake Matucket when he had that thing going, and it was big enough that all five of us could sit in it. Mom called it ‘The Money Pit’, and said a boat was a hole in the water you tried to fill with money. Then again, every once in a while she left us with Aunt Laurie and Uncle Dave and then she and Dad went somewhere with the boat and came back a day or two later, and she was giggling a lot then.
It was curious though, in that Dad went fishing but didn’t go hunting. A lot of our friends’ fathers did both, and a lot of trucks had gun racks in the back. Jack once asked, “Dad, Duke’s a pointer, right?”
“And pointers are hunting dogs, right?”
“Right.” Dad was looking at us curiously by then.
“But you don’t hunt,” said Jack.
Dad smiled. “Nope.”
“So what’s Duke hunt for then?”
Dad grinned. “Leftovers!”
Mom laughed and added, “Yeah, he’s a pointer. He always points towards the dining room table!”
I laughed at that, since once Duke heard his name he popped up and looked over towards the dining room. “Dad, how come you don’t hunt?” I asked. “You fish but you don’t hunt.”
He gave a wry shrug. “I don’t know. I just never learned, I guess. My father never hunted either, but he taught me about fishing.”
“Yeah. Maybe we can ask him to go this weekend and he can teach you two some stuff.”
Grandpa happily came with us, but he didn’t do a lot of fishing. Instead he mostly told stories about Dad, and they passed a small metal flask back and forth between them, and later Grandpa took a nap on the bank where we tied up the boat. Mom gave Dad an earful after we told her. Papa never went either fishing or hunting, but he had a flask just like Grandpa’s.
We got through the fall and winter and spring, and then fourth grade was over. I only had one more year at Matucket Plains. When August hit, school started and I was able to start playing football again, and at ten was still playing Pee Wee ball with the Matucket Cherokees. Jack was looking forward to joining the team next year, when he turned nine, but by then I would be playing for the Midget team, the Matucket Spartans. On the plus side, said Mom, they held their practices at the same place and time as the Cherokees did.
In any case, fifth grade was a lot like fourth grade, in that we stayed in our classrooms, except when you had to go out to your locker in the hallway. Now I had Mrs. Venuto as a teacher. Jack had Mrs. Coswell, who I had had in the third grade. We got that a lot. He usually ended up with the same teachers I got two years ago. Next year, we were told, things would change when I got to Matucket Middle School. Then you would go to different classes for different subjects, and you might get mixed up with different kids for each class. I didn’t quite understand how that worked, and when I asked Mom, she didn’t explain it to me very well, or maybe I just didn’t understand.
Of course, that assumed I was going to Matucket Middle School next year. Mom seemed to think my grades weren’t very good. I mean, I had Cs, and those are average, and that meant I was just like everybody else, right? But no, she wanted me to do better, and was constantly threatening me with taking me out of football if I didn’t do better. At least the season was over before our report cards came out. I got my bottom warmed when I brought mine home, and afterwards she made me do all my homework in the living room before dinner, while she watched me. Man, that sucked!
It didn’t help any that Jack had better grades than I did when I was in the third grade. She kept telling me that and Jack kept being a jerk about it, so I ended up punching him. He punched me back and we went at it pretty good, and then Mom grabbed us and spanked us both and grounded us for a week. Bobbie Joe thought this was all quite amusing, so we yelled at him and chased him away. The really sucky part was that Jack and I had to share a bedroom together. Bobbie Joe had a small bedroom next to Mom and Dad’s room. Jack and I got a larger room at the end of the hall near the stairs. For a few days we made a line down the middle of the room with masking tape, for his side and my side. We measured the room to make sure that neither of us had more space than the other, even drawing a line out the door. He had to use the side of the door with the hinge and I got the side with the doorknob. Dad told us to “Knock this shit off or I’ll give Bobbie Joe your room and make you and Jack sleep in the baby room!” That made us settle down, and a few days later we took the tape up and threw it away. Actually, we just kind of scuffed it up walking over it and Mom made us clean up the mess.
Duke turned out to be a good hunting dog after all. He came in one night from doing his business, crying and yelping up a storm. He had managed to hunt down a porcupine! His mouth was full of porcupine quills and Mom had to hold him while Dad pulled them out with a pair of pliers. I thought it was pretty cool, but Jack took one look and as soon as he saw a drop of blood, he ran off to the bathroom and tossed up dinner. Dad simply commented, “Well, at least we won’t have to pay for medical school.”
“You can be quiet,” she replied.
Dad simply snorted and laughed. “The only blood I see here is Duke’s so I am guessing that the porcupine won.” He looked at me and smiled. “You know how porcupines kiss?”
I had learned to ignore Kelly O’Connor by that point. She never mentioned my having to kiss her knee to anyone, and she pretty much ignored me, too. She would always hang around with her friends on the bus, and she always sat about three rows ahead of me. By the time I was in the fifth grade, she was sitting with the other kids in the fourth grade seats. She still came to the Pee Wee football games with her parents, but now she was involved, too. She had become a cheerleader, and they came to the games in the same colors (purple and white) that the Cherokees did. None of us on the team could figure out cheerleaders though, and we thought they were silly. What are cheerleaders even for? On the team we didn’t need to be cheered up, since we already liked to play football. Maybe they were to cheer our parents up, but they were already yelling for us anyway. Sometimes they yelled too much, and some mom or dad got thrown out by a ref. That was always funny. One time, Bill Gorsky, one of our safeties, yelled at his mom for being embarrassing, and he got benched by Coach Washington for being rude. There is no justice!
Finally, in May of 1996 we graduated from Matucket Plains Elementary. Mom and Dad both came, and it really felt silly wandering through with these robes and mortar things on our heads. The robes were all too long and we kept tripping over them, and nobody could keep their mortar things on their heads, so everybody was walking down the aisle with one hand holding the head thing on and the other hand holding up their robes. We all had to sit on the stage while Mister Carson and Mister Garofalo made speeches and the band played some songs. Since the best band members were the older students, and we were on stage, it was pretty awful. Afterwards everybody made us stand around and take pictures. It was really hot, too, since Mom made me wear pants and a dress shirt and a clip-on tie underneath it. I even had to wear my Sunday School shoes. I didn’t understand that; nobody could see under the robe, so why couldn’t I wear shorts and a t-shirt and sneakers? I couldn’t wait to take it off. Afterwards I stripped off the robe and the tie, and Dad took us to Pizza Hut for dinner.
That was it for elementary school. Now we had an entire summer free and then it would be off to Matucket Middle School.
1996 to 1999
In August football started up again. Matucket Middle School didn’t have a real football team, only flag football, so I was still playing Pop Warner football. I turned 12 on March 1, so now I was in the Midget League team, the Spartans. At 12 I had jumped over the Junior Midget team, which was ages 10, 11, and 12. The Midget team was ages 12, 13, and 14, so I could probably play there until I got to high school. I knew Matucket High played real football, and that was what I was looking for. Dad once said that Pop Warner was the farm team for Matucket High.
For Christmas my parents bought me a set of weights. I wanted to get in shape for the summer. I really liked being a linebacker and getting to tackle guys, and Coach Washington had told me that when I got to the Spartans I was going to be facing some really big guys. I needed to put some muscles on my muscles, he told me. Dad had to show me how to lift the weights. It was a set of lightweight junior barbells with five- and ten-pound weights you could combine on the end of the bar. Jack couldn’t even lift the bar, but I could do that, along with a five-pound weight on each end. I couldn’t lift them very far, but I could get them off the floor. I had to promise Dad that I wouldn’t work out unless he was there to help me.
Then I asked him if junior barbells grew up to become adult barbells. He called me a smart-aleck and swatted me with the dishtowel.
I guess it worked. I lifted those weights all through the end of winter and through to the summer. Coach Fusco knew I played linebacker from my time with the Cherokees, but he told me he thought I was a little small. I asked him (pleaded with him) to give me a shot during our first practice, so he did. He put me in as a middle linebacker during an inter-squad scrimmage, Spartan offense against the Spartan defense. The ball snapped, the quarterback stepped back and looked around to throw it, and the offensive line came apart because they screwed up their assignments. I ran through a hole in the line and was still accelerating when I sacked him. I hit him so hard I lifted him up off his feet before we slammed to the ground!
The quarterback, a guy named Darrell Johnson, was cussing up a streak from underneath me and the offensive and defensive lines were pushing each other around. Coach Fusco stepped into the middle and yelled at us to shut up and knock it off. “What kind of football was that? I ought to send the lot of you back to Tiny-Mites so you can tear flags off each other! Reaper, this is your own team! He’s your quarterback! Try not to kill him! Johnson, quit your whining! What are you going to do when somebody your size hits you?” He pointed at the offensive line. “What happened with you guys? You’re supposed to keep those guys away from your quarterback. You’re not supposed to be napping on the ground!” He pointed down to the opposite goal posts. “Everybody gives me a lap, and while you’re running think about how you’re going to do your jobs in the future! Now RUN!”
We ran! We also got better. We simply had to come together as a team. That we managed to do by the first game, which we won, 6-0. It wasn’t much, but it was a win. I stayed as a linebacker, too, though you have to sit out a bunch of plays in Pop Warner. Everybody on the team gets to play, no matter whether they are a Hall of Famer or Joe Fumblenuts. They actually have rules about how many plays everybody has to play. Still, when I was playing, I was a linebacker. I wasn’t big enough to be a tackle on the line, but I was fast enough and strong enough to take somebody down if I could get to them.
Football took up all of August, but it wouldn’t be over until October. School had started and now I was going to Matucket Middle School. That was actually in downtown Matucket, near Matucket High. Matucket Plains was outside of the city of Matucket, in the town, at least that’s what Dad told me. He said there was a difference between the city, town, and county lines, though everybody went to the same schools. He showed me on a map that the Matucket School District covered all of Matucket County. Inside that there were six districts for elementary schools. Three of them fed into Matucket Middle School. Matucket Plains Elementary was in a suburban area south of Matucket, Martin Luther King Elementary was right in the middle of Matucket and was all the city kids, and Joseph Wheeler Elementary took care of the kids outside Matucket on the northern and western sides. Then he pointed out East Matucket. They had three elementary schools feeding them, East Matucket, John F. Kennedy, and James E. Carter. To further confuse things, Saint Catherine’s was in Matucket also, and they had both elementary and middle school grades there. Then there were several really small Christian schools, which were different from Saint Catherine’s. The craziest part was when he told me that not all of the school boundaries aligned exactly. You might have gone to John F. Kennedy over in East Matucket, but your address might be for Matucket Middle School, not East Matucket Middle School.
Now, I had a longer bus ride to Matucket Middle and the school was going to be a lot bigger than Matucket Plains. It had to be, if three elementary schools were feeding it! At Matucket Plains each grade had two or three classrooms, so if three schools were sending two or three classrooms to Matucket Middle, each grade might have six or seven or eight classrooms! Then we were supposed to move around to other classrooms! I sure hoped they had a map! All I knew for sure was that I was supposed to report to my homeroom, whatever that was, in Room 214, and Mrs. Blaine was the homeroom teacher.
I knew everybody on the school bus. The bus stop was still out in front of Kelly’s house, but we went half an hour earlier. Even the older kids I knew, since they had gone to Matucket Plains a year or two before me. Once we got off the bus at Matucket Middle, I was in Never-Never Land! There were a lot more buses, and a lot of kids I had never seen before. Most of the black kids had gone to Martin Luther King Elementary and there were a lot more than had gone to Matucket Plains. Some of the kids from Joseph Wheeler looked like real hayseeds, too. That part of the county, Dad had told me, was very rural.
Bo Effner found me staring at the school. “What the fuck do we do now?” he asked.
“How the fuck should I know?” I replied.
There was some sort of teacher standing near the door and he heard us. “Welcome to Matucket Middle School, gentlemen, and watch your language. Now, what’s your homeroom?”
“214,” I answered.
Bo said, “213.”
“And your locker numbers?”
We had to pull them out of our new binders. In my backpack I had a brand new padlock.
“213 is right next to 214. Go inside and up the stairs and to the right. They’re about halfway down the hall.” He pointed us inside. “Your lockers are in the hallway outside them.”
“Thank you,” we both said, but by then he had turned away to help somebody else.
Bo and I went inside and up the stairs. The halls and stairs were packed with people, some of whom, the shorter ones, anyway, looked as lost and hopeless as we did. 213 was right after 214 on the right side of the hallway. We found our lockers and stuffed our stuff inside, and then split apart with a vow to try and find each other at lunch. If we could find the cafeteria. I hoped somebody had a map to this place!
A woman about Mom’s age was waiting in Room 214 when I got inside. She had a list of names in her hand and a pencil, but otherwise was smiling. She looked at me and asked, “Mister…?”
“Your last name?”
“Oh! Reaper. I’m Graham Reaper,” I told her.
From the back of the class somebody laughed and said, “It’s the Grim Reaper!”
I knew that voice! I turned and waved at Braxton Bragg Hughes, known simply as Brax. He waved back. Then I had to return my attention to the teacher. “Welcome, Mister Reaper. You sit…there…third chair, second aisle.” She pointed to a seat in the middle of the room.
I headed to the assigned seat and sat down. It was a bit chaotic for the next ten minutes, as students trickled in and were assigned, sometimes getting their seats wrong and sometimes showing up in the wrong classroom. Meanwhile everybody was talking and trying to be heard over the din. Eventually we were in our assigned places and Mrs. Blaine called for silence. First thing that happened was we all had to stand and say the Pledge of Allegiance. Then there was a long BONG sound and everybody looked at the ceiling where a speaker was. So far it was just like Matucket Plains. The voice on the speaker was the guy who had told Bo and me to stop cussing, and he was the Principal! Oh, crap, what a way to start! He gave us a welcome speech and made a few announcements.
After that Mrs. Blaine explained how the homeroom system worked and that she was both our homeroom teacher and one of the English teachers, so we might have her for English class. She handed out photocopied school maps and went over school rules and then there was another BONG and she said that was the start of the first class. Everybody started searching through their notebooks for their schedules and we all scurried out.
That first day was a bit of a zoo, as we went searching for classrooms and stumbling around looking for things. A lot of our classrooms were on the same floor and wing, but not all. Likewise, for a lot of our classes everybody in a class would go as a group to the next class. That meant we didn’t get a lot of mixing up moving around. That night I told Mom and Dad about it and how confusing it was, and they gave me a bit of a smirk. “Just wait until you get to Matucket High,” Mom said. “By then you’ll end up taking classes with different people.”
“And some days the schedule will be different than on other days,” added Dad. That sounded truly horrifying! It was bad enough already even though most of what we did was the same every day, and Matucket High was four grades, not three, so it was even bigger!
I never did meet up with Bo during lunch. There were so many kids at Matucket Middle that they ran lunch in shifts. His lunch break was different than mine. Still, I was able to eat with Brax and a few other friends, and there were also some guys I knew from the Cherokees and Spartans. It wasn’t like I was lonely.
Some things had changed. Gym was now something where you went to a locker room and had to change into gym clothes and then do stuff. That room simply reeked! Some kids refused to clean up afterwards, and at the end of the day they smelled pretty bad. It wasn’t too bad for me, since I had been playing football for a while now and knew about locker rooms. Some guys just wouldn’t get undressed.
Another thing that was different was that the school band was so much bigger. In fact, it was too big, and we had two bands, junior and senior. You only got promoted to the senior band if you were any good. I played clarinet, and I figured I would be spending three years in the junior band. The same thing happened with the school chorus, and I knew a few guys who would never make it out of the junior chorus, either.
One very strange thing about Matucket Middle School was that they had school dances! They were limited to the seventh and eighth grades, and they had a fall dance, a winter dance, and a spring dance. You were actually expected to go to a dance with a girl! I told my family that at dinner the night it was announced. Jack said he wanted to throw up, and I agreed with him. Mom gave us both an unpleasant look. Dad nodded and agreed with us, saying nothing good would come out of going to dances with girls! He got the ‘Mom’ look next, but it didn’t seem to bother him. At least I had another year to go before that happened, and maybe I could come down with the flu or something by then.
One HUGE change occurred after school let out! Bobbie Joe was five years younger than me, so when I went into the sixth grade at Matucket Middle he started the first grade at Matucket Plains. Mom went back to work then. She was already working three nights a week in the emergency room, but now that we were out of the house, she said she was going back to work full time. She and Dad argued about that, but she told him they needed the money and he agreed. She would pack us off on the school bus in the morning, and then go to the hospital, where she worked in the emergency room. The big difference was that we got home before they got home. I was the oldest and got home earliest, so Dad gave me a key to the house! I usually got home about an hour-and-a-half before Dad got home. That was kind of cool, I mean, they trusted me with a key to the house, but I couldn’t stay late after school or anything because then Jack and Bobbie Joe would be locked out of the house. I did miss the bus once and had to run home, about three miles, and Mom threatened to take the key away and make us stay with Mrs. Wrybel across the street if I did it again. Mrs. Wrybel had never smiled once in her life! No way did I want to stay with her!
In any case, we got used to Matucket Middle School after a few days, or weeks in some cases. It was weird going from the back of the school bus to the front again, just like we were little kids back in the first grade. Some of the kids, especially the eighth graders, were really big! Mom measured us against the doorframe between the kitchen and the dining room every year, and drew a line across it with your name and age on our birthday. For me that’s March 1, and in the past year I had only grown one inch! Some of the guys seemed like they were two feet taller than me! I complained to Mom that I was never going to get any bigger, but she just smiled and told me not to worry, that it would happen soon enough. I sure hoped so! The bus driver kept the big kids from picking on anybody, but some of them were real jerks. At least the weights and football made me stronger, even if I was still short. I was only four-foot-ten, although I did weigh about 95 pounds. Mom said that was a little above average, but since I wasn’t fat, it wasn’t a problem. Some of the guys on the back of the bus had to be at least six or seven feet tall!
Around Christmas that year I got off the bus in the afternoon and found a new sight. Out on the corner of the O’Connor’s front lawn was a FOR SALE sign, with some real estate company’s name on it. That night at dinner I mentioned it to Mom.
“Mom, there’s a FOR SALE sign out in front of the O’Connor’s house. Are they moving?” I asked.
“Really? I must have missed that. I’ll have to give Sharon a call after dinner.” She looked over at Dad. “Did you know about that?”
He shrugged and shook his head. “News to me. Maybe they just want to get away from Thing One, Thing Two, and Thing Three.”
Mom laughed at that. “I can’t imagine why!” Two summers ago we had gone to Orlando for vacation and had gone to Universal Studios for a day, and we rode the Dr. Seuss rides, although that seemed sort of childish to me, and Dad bought us Thing One, Two, and Three shirts. Both Bobbie Joe and Jack had outgrown theirs, but mine still fit, just further proof I wasn’t getting any bigger.
After dinner Mom made Jack and me clean off the table, and she called Mrs. O’Connor. They talked for a few minutes, though I didn’t understand her side of the conversation, and then she told Dad, “They’re moving, all right. Seamus got transferred to Charlotte.”
“Charlotte? Charlotte, North Carolina?” Mom nodded. “How’d he get transferred? He runs the bank!”
“Sharon says that NationsBank bought the Matucket National Bank and Trust, the entire thing, all the branches and all. He didn’t own the bank, after all, he was just the president of the bank. They want him to go to Charlotte and head up something new,” she said.
Dad made a funny face at that. “Well, good for him. A lot of times, when places like that get bought, the first thing they do is fire the old management and bring in new guys. When do they go?”
“As soon as they sell the house. Seamus has already gone and is staying at an apartment in Charlotte and coming home on weekends. He’s already looking for a new house, and when they sell, Sharon and Kelly will move there.”
I came into the living room from the kitchen, where I had heard this. “Dad, would you ever get transferred?” I asked. I didn’t like the idea of leaving Matucket.
“No, why?” he asked. “I work for Matucket County, so they can’t transfer me. There’s only one Matucket County around. Why?”
“Just curious. Would we ever move?”
“You never know. Maybe if somebody offered me a job for a lot more money.”
“How much more?”
He grinned at me. “There’s two different rates, the one where I have to take you three kids and the one where I get to leave you behind. That one’s cheaper.”
Mom started laughing at that, and I stuck my tongue out at the pair of them and gave them both a raspberry. Mom laughed some more and chased me out of the room by snapping her dishtowel at me.
The O’Connors moved away that following spring, which would have been in 1998. By then I was in the seventh grade and Kelly was in sixth grade at Matucket Middle School. Mom actually told me I should invite her to one of the school dances that year, since I was in the seventh grade and could go to the dances. I told her she wasn’t allowed, since she was still in the sixth grade. I didn’t know if that was true or not, but I still didn’t want to go to any dances. Mom made me go to the Christmas Dance, though I went stag, as she told me going by myself was called. I just hung around over to one side of the gym with Bo and Brax and a few of the other guys, while the girls hung around in a group on the other side of the gym.
Dad asked me about that when he picked me up at the end of the dance. “Well, you might change your mind by the spring dance. You never know,” he told me.
“I don’t know, Dad. That seems pretty far out there,” I told him.
“Oh, I don’t know. I think I was about your age when I started noticing girls. You’ll be thirteen then. Things might seem different by then.”
He smiled as he glanced over at me. “Just because. Boys start looking at girls at that age and they start figuring out they’re not so yucky after all.” I started to protest but he held up a hand. “I’m just saying, it wouldn’t be all that unusual. Now, if you ever want to talk to me about that, just ask. I won’t tell your mother or your brothers. You can keep telling them that girls are yucky.”
I thought about that a moment. “Was that how old you were when you met Mom?”
“No, I met your Mom in college, our senior year. Still, I think I went to my first school dance when I was thirteen,” he said.
“Uh, huh. My Dad rode us up to the school on the family dinosaur and…”
“Dad!” I laughed at that. “Grandpa says you didn’t have dinosaurs then; that you rode to school in a covered wagon!”
Dad laughed at that as we pulled into the driveway. “He said that? I’ll have to tell your grandmother that one, see what she says about having to circle the wagons.”
I kind of missed Kelly when she moved away. When she had started at Matucket Middle back at the beginning of the year, she had been as clueless as I had been, and she had asked me all sorts of questions then. I got used to her asking me stuff out at the bus stop. Maybe if she had been around in the spring I would have asked her to the dance, but she was gone by then.
I didn’t take a girl to the spring dance, either. When March rolled around and Mom measured me against the doorframe in the kitchen, I had grown only one more inch. I still wasn’t even five feet tall! Dad asked me about the dance and I had to admit to him that even if I had a girlfriend, which I didn’t, I’d feel really weird with a girl who was taller than I was. He gave me a sympathetic look when I said that. “Don’t sweat it. You’ll hit your growth spurt by your next birthday. I didn’t start getting tall until I hit the ninth grade, and then I grew almost a foot.”
“The ninth grade! I’ll be in high school by then!” I wailed. “I’ll be the smallest kid in the school!”
It was so depressing! The worst part was that I was actually starting to look at girls now. They were changing! They were getting taller and all of a sudden it seemed like they were getting bigger in places guys don’t get big in! Some of them had stopped wearing tights and were now wearing what Mom called hose, and sometimes they wore shoes, and not sneakers or running shoes. That just made it worse, since some of the shoes actually made them taller, and now they could look down on me. They might even wear dresses, and they all started wearing stuff under their t-shirts and blouses. Me and the rest of the guys would just sort of watch them as they walked around now, and if a girl actually talked to us, we’d get nervous. At least I got nervous.
I got really nervous when we got to the eighth grade and Becky Sorenson asked me to the Sadie Hawkins Dance in October. The girls would ask the guys for that dance. I still hadn’t grown any, although I had put on another five pounds of muscle from lifting weights and training for football. When she came up to me she was actually taller than I was, and I just stammered and started sweating. It got worse. That week I started getting zits. My face broke out all over in acne! No way was I going out in public with anybody! I turned her down, along with Terry DuBois and Shanna Siemens. I skipped out on the dance completely.
Mom got me some acne cream and my face calmed down enough that I actually took Becky to the Christmas Dance in December. She was still taller than I was, but for some reason, I didn’t care, maybe it was because she was looking really pretty. Dad drove me over to her house to pick her up, and Mister Sorenson was going to drive us home. Mom made me wear a tie, a real tie and not a clip-on, though I didn’t have to wear a suit. Dad gave me all sorts of grief on the ride over, like telling me to hold her hand gently, and that I had to walk up to her front door and bring her back to the car, and that I couldn’t just beep the horn and wait for her to come down the driveway. Also, I had to open the back door for her, and then I was to sit in the back with Becky, and not up front. He was still giving me all these rules as we pulled up to her house. It was a real relief to get out of the car and go up to her front door!
Becky looked really pretty! Her mother opened the front door and let me in. I was wearing clean khakis and a white dress shirt and a tie, and my good shoes, and I had my winter jacket on and no ball cap. Becky was in the living room, and she had on a red and green dress, and hose, and these shoes that made her at least an inch taller. She even had some lipstick on, I think, and her hair was all brushed out and sort of shiny.
She was standing there looking at me expectantly. “Hi, Becky,” I said.
“Uh…” Now what? “You look real pretty tonight.”
“Thank you, Grim. You do, too. I mean, you don’t look pretty. You look handsome.” Behind her I heard a throat clearing, and Becky’s eyes popped. “Oh, excuse me. Mom, Dad, this is Grim Reaper. Grim, these are my parents.”
I went over and shook hands, and explained I wasn’t the Grim Reaper, just that my first name was Graham. By now I understood the funny looks and laughs my name caused. Her mother grabbed a camera off the mantle and made us stand there while she took pictures, and then I walked Becky down the driveway to the car and held the door open for her and then climbed in after her.
They had a coatroom of sorts set up out in the hallway outside of the gym, and I took Becky’s coat and mine and handed them over to the Dance Committee. I still hadn’t held Becky’s hand, and my palms were feeling really sweaty at that point, so it would have probably been pretty gross if I did hold her hand. Actually, Becky was the first person to initiate contact. Once we entered the gym, she saw some friends and waved at them, and then grabbed my arm and dragged me over to them. It was Bo Effner, who was with Tammy Taylor, and Brax Hughes, who had told me he was coming stag but was standing there holding hands with Shanna Siemens.
I guess things went well. We sat out the first set and talked, but by the second set Becky wanted to dance. Dad had told me that if I took a girl to a dance I would actually have to dance with her. “But I don’t know how to dance!” I had protested.
“So what? Nobody there will know how to dance! I’d bet Becky doesn’t know how to dance.”
“What if she laughs at me?”
Dad rolled his eyes. “Give me a break! Your mother laughs at me all the time! Listen, take her to the dance and dance with her. If it goes well, the next time you can take her to do something you like to do.”
Anyway, during the second set I danced with Becky, several times, and I even danced with her on a slow dance, where I actually had to put my arms around her. She felt very soft against me, but I felt very strange at the same time, and I didn’t know where to put my hands. By then the room was pretty warm, and they had a bunch of doors open to the outside, although the teachers were stationed there to keep us from leaving.
Mister Sorenson came to the school about 10:30 to drive us home, and I sat in the back with Becky. This time I actually held her hand, and when they dropped me off, Becky giggled and leaned over and kissed me on the cheek. That left me sort of stunned, and I went inside moving on autopilot.
Both Mom and Dad were waiting for me in the living room. “How was the date, Romeo?” asked Mom.
That brought me back to reality. “It wasn’t a date. It was a school dance.”
Dad responded, “Trust me, it was a date. How’d it go?”
“That was a date?”
Dad looked over at Mom and said, “Good Lord! If the other two are this bad, we’ll never see any grandchildren!” Mom just laughed. Dad turned back to me and repeated, “Yeah, it was a date. How’d it go?”
“Did you dance with Becky?” asked Mom.
“Uh, yeah, we danced.” They quizzed me some more before I could escape up to my room and get ready for bed. I wasn’t quite sure yet how I liked dating, if that’s what this was, but I got a real funny feeling when Becky kissed my cheek and held my hand. I thought about that when I got up to the bedroom, and I started getting kind of hard, you know, and I couldn’t change clothes with Jack around in that condition.
“I’m sweaty. I need to take a shower,” I told him. I grabbed some stuff and headed down to the bathroom, and locked the door when I got inside. I did feel sweaty, but I also felt something a whole lot different, and when I thought about how Becky had felt when we were dancing I got even harder. I turned on the water and got into the shower and committed the Sin of Onan, and that felt so good I did it again! I had to stop then since the hot water was running out. I knew I was sinning, because Pastor Griffin over at St. Joe’s Lutheran called this the Sin of Onan. I wasn’t exactly sure who Onan was, but it sure seemed like he must have spent a lot of time sinning. Afterwards I went to bed, and I slept pretty good that night.
Pastor Griffin considered a lot of things sinful. He was brand new, and in addition to being the pastor, he also taught the boy’s confirmation class. You took this when you were in the eighth grade, so that you could be confirmed and take communion and be an adult in the church. Pastor Griffin seemed to consider his life’s work to be reversing the teachings of Health Class at school. There were a lot of things on Pastor Griffin’s list of sins. Even worse than the Sin of Onan was the Sin of Sodom. I wasn’t at all sure what that was, and Pastor Griffin refused to explain it. He just told me to read the Book of Genesis.
On the plus side, the Lutherans don’t have to put up with crazy preachers. Unlike the Catholics, we actually had to go out and hire pastors. They would come in and interview with the Council of Deacons, and then they would get a chance to audition, with guest sermons and the like. If you did well, you could get hired, with a contract and signing bonuses. Dad compared it to the NFL, only with Jesus, which got Mom to stewing for a bit. Our long-time pastor, Pastor Bishop, was now Bishop Bishop, after he got a promotion. Pastor Griffin was hired on a one-year contract, and it wasn’t too long before a lot of people realized Pastor Griffin was a whole lot stricter than they wanted. In fact, Dad called him “a fucking nut job”, which Mom scolded him for saying, even though she agreed with him. He was put on waivers at the end of the season, and the Deacons started looking for a new quarterback.
Other things began changing that year. A couple of weeks after the Christmas Dance it was Christmas, and I got the usual clothes. After opening the presents, Mom made all of us start trying on stuff to make sure it fit. She had bought me a pair of pants, and when I came downstairs wearing them, she gave me a funny look. “Grim, come over here and stand in the doorway.” That was weird, since my birthday wasn’t for another couple of months. I stood in the doorframe and Mom pulled out a pencil and a ruler from one of the kitchen drawers. “Now, stand up straight.” She put the ruler on my head. “Stand up straight, no slouching.” After a few seconds she marked the doorframe with the pencil and ordered me away. “It’s what I thought. You’re two inches taller.”
I looked at the mark. “Two inches?”
“Those pants are going to have to go back. You’ve already outgrown them. I thought you were outgrowing your pants a couple of weeks ago for the dance, but I thought they were older slacks. You’re starting to grow, Grim.”
“Really? It’s about time!” I exclaimed. “I’m not going to be a midget?”
Mom laughed at that. “No, you’re not going to be a midget. I wasn’t too worried about that, Grim.”
Mom began buying me bigger clothing and hemming up the pant legs so that she could let them down when I got too tall for them. Anything I outgrew was saved for when Jack got to my size, but we had been doing that for years. He usually groused about that, but Mom and Dad didn’t care. On the other hand, Bobbie Joe usually got new clothes, since by the time Jack and I had worn them, they were worn out. (Jack once claimed he was suffering from middle-child syndrome, so Dad asked if he wanted to suffer from busted-butt syndrome.) By the time of the Spring Dance I had grown another two inches, and was actually taller than Becky, even with the tall shoes she was wearing. That was pretty cool.
1998 to 2001
Some other stuff happened at Matucket Middle School that proved important. For one thing, by the eighth grade we started to differentiate with some of our classes, like they did in high school. We all took a standardized test, one of those things where you have to fill in the circles with a Number Two pencil. That was done near the end of seventh grade, and would be used to assign you to classes in the eighth grade. “That would be the smart classes versus the dumb classes,” commented Bo Effner.
I nodded to my friend. “Maybe so, Bo, but I would bet that if you were assigned to the smart classes that meant you were smart enough to know the guys in the dumb classes could bounce you off a wall.”
He grinned back. “Yeah, maybe they would be, at that. You’re looking awfully smart, there, Grim!”
As it turned out, Bo was one of the kids assigned to the smart classes, which consisted of Algebra and Biology. The rest of us, which included me, simply took Math 8 and Science 8. We would get that stuff when we got to high school. Mom wasn’t all that happy about it, since she saw what I scored on the test and simply sighed to Dad. Dad gave her a wry smile and said, “So he’s not going to meet hot chicks at Georgia Tech, I’m guessing.” That was where Dad went to college. Mom had gone to Georgia State, where she became a nurse.
“Right now I think I’d settle for M-Triple-C,” she sighed. That was Matucket County Community College.
I didn’t think it was that bad. I mostly got B’s and B-‘s, with the occasional C+ tossed. I figured as long as my grades were good enough to stay on the football team, I was happy. That was looking probable, too. While Matucket Middle School didn’t have a football team, Matucket High did. The eighth grade would be my last season playing Pop Warner football, because after that I could play for Matucket High. That assumed I would be good enough. Pop Warner is big on giving everybody a chance to play and not keeping records and statistics, Coach Fusco told us more than once that Matucket High would be playing this for keeps. If you weren’t good enough, nobody was going to make them put you in for so many plays a game. Instead you’d be riding the pine until you quit. That was not my plan, not at all! I wanted to play!
Towards the end of that last season, a couple of guys the same age as Coach Fusco showed up and talked to the Coach. They both had on high school sports shirts, and they spent a lot of time talking to Coach Fusco along the sidelines during the games, while he was often pointing at each of us. They were actually taking notes on us! After the game (we won, of course!) Coach Fusco ordered some of us over to talk to them at the end of the bench. I noticed that everybody sent over was in the eighth grade, like me.
“Fellows, I want to introduce you to Coach Halifax from Matucket High School and Coach Melman from East Matucket High School. Most of you fellows will be going to school at either Matucket or East Matucket next year, and you might be interested in talking to them if you plan to try out for the football team,” said Coach Fusco. With that he split us into two groups based on our current school, and divvied us up between the two coaches.