Because we lived on the outskirts of town, we had to ride the bus to school. I say “had to” because riding the bus for me often led to trouble, but that particular school year it led me to meet someone who would become a very good friend; trouble to come later. Prior to school starting, the moms in the neighborhood were informed where their kids needed to be in order to be picked up by the school bus. It wasn’t necessary, because all the neighborhood kids already knew; word gets around in the subculture known as kids. Our bus stop was across the road and the first day we stood with a number of other kids waiting for the bus to arrive. Entering the bus I noticed an open seat next to a boy that I didn’t know and for some reason decided to sit next to him. Before departing, the bus driver addressed all of us with the rules and regulations associated with riding her bus, including the “no fighting” prohibition. Unfortunately, I wasn’t listening to her and missed the entire section on “no fighting”; being more interested in finding out the name of this new boy sitting next to me.
I found out his name was Timmy, just like my brother. He lived up the road in the White Sands Motel, which I later found out was owned by his parents. He was smaller than me, with blonde hair that was much longer than mine, with wavy curls, similar in length and style to that of George A. Custer, but not as long as Wild Bill Hickok. I reference these two men because Timmy was a throwback to the old west; one of the reasons I was drawn to him. He said he was part Indian and I had no reason to doubt him. His dress was suited for his character; he wore pointed toe cowboy boots, jeans, and cowboy shirts with pearl snaps over the pockets and in the fall and winter he wore a buckskin jacket, replete with leather fringe. We immediately hit it off and agreed to meet after school.
Next to our house was an open field and on the other side of the field was a grown up area of shrubs and bushes and in the middle of this vegetation was a large dirt pile, presumably left over from the original construction of homes in the area. This was a good place for us to meet and a good place for Timmy to display his bona fides of claimed Indian blood. In this small area, an area that was secluded from all other eyes and ears, save nosy siblings, Timmy taught me the intricacies of tracking small game, rabbits mainly, building a snare out of twigs and grasses designed to entrap a bird and how to start a fire without manmade accelerants. He was adamant that we use as much of nature as possible, rather than any modern materials, in whatever we were doing. Timmy certainly appeared to be a descendant of the ancient Indian tribes that roamed North America prior to the advent of European settlers. I liked my new friend and what he was teaching me.
One day I was playing at Timmy’s place and as we headed out for more adventure we noticed alongside the motel something unusual on the ground next to the building. As we got closer we saw on the ground two baby birds. These birds appeared to be newborn and had yet to develop feathers. Their skin was a wrinkly gray and their beaks were bright yellow in color. They were chirping rather frantically and we recognized their plight immediately as the mother bird was nowhere to be seen. Not seeing a tree in the area, we deduced that these birds must have fallen from the roof of the two-story structure. I said to Timmy, “What should we do with these birds?” With Timmy as my mentor, I had developed a concern for all the helpless creatures on the earth; except of course spiders, snakes and other crawly bugs, which were fair game for my destruction.
Timmy gave me an answer that I didn’t expect, “We can’t return them to the nest, as the mother will reject them when she smells our human touch. Besides, it would be almost impossible and dangerous as well, to try to return them to the roof of this two-story building. Also, it wouldn’t be kind to leave them out here to die of exposure, so we are going to have to kill them.” Wow! Kill them! “Can’t we feed them and keep them alive?” I asked, concerned about killing the little creatures (funny how things change; going from torturing a helpless slug with salt a few years ago,to now trying to save baby birds incapable of saving themselves). Timmy further educated me, “Birds of this age can’t eat normal food, but rather eat the regurgitated food that their mother supplies. We can’t duplicate that as hard as we may try.” Timmy was indeed in tune with nature.
We decided that the killing needed to be clean and tidy, so Timmy ran to his garage to find a sharp-edged spade. While he was gone, I stared at the baby birds crying out for help, and the memory of the time I killed the baby pigeon a few years earlier came creeping back to the front of my mind, along with the guilt, and only made this process more difficult. When Timmy returned with the spade, we decided to share the responsibility equally; he would kill one of the birds and I would kill the other. We each performed our duties, me wincing and turning my head as the spade quickly decapitated the little bird. Timmy, being very formal about things, decided to bury the pieces, so we dug a hole and covered the dead birds with a layer of soil.
After this exercise I was pretty shaken, but Timmy wasn’t finished. Retrieving a pen and paper from his mother’s kitchen, he wrote out the following note:
“Timmy and Ronnie, on this 21st day of September 1969, did kill two baby birds. We both hereby swear to never tell another living soul about what we’ve done upon the penalty of death.”
Then Timmy pulled a one-sided razor blade from his pocket. “What’s the razor blade for?” I nervously asked. “We have to sign our names in blood and then burn the note and scatter the ashes into the wind,” he answered confidently. It seemed that he had done this before, although I hadn’t noticed any scars on his fingers. Being averse to any and all pain, especially needles at doctor’s offices, I was frightened at the prospect of cutting my finger with a razor blade, but I couldn’t let Timmy see my fear, being the rugged outdoorsmen that we were.
I suggested rather strongly that he go first, since I had never done it before and there might be a certain technique involved in slicing open the tip of the finger (or because I was simply delaying the inevitable). Timmy proceeded to cut his finger and signed his name to the bottom of the note. When it became my turn, I postponed it as long as I could, but finally cut my right index finger, just enough to get the blood flowing. I then signed my name next to Timmy’s and we found a place free of wind, lit a match, and burned the note until there was nothing remaining but ashes. Timmy ceremoniously took the ashes and threw them into the wind, never to be seen again. Having shared this with all of you, I realize that I am breaking the oath I took and that the chances of me being struck by lightning have increased exponentially.
Timmy and I became very close during that school year (staying the night at Timmy’s house was cool; we got a separate motel room to stay in, t.v. and all!) and the following incident speaks to that friendship and my loyalty to and admiration of him. Timmy did have one weakness; he hated to be made fun of (in that way we were similar) and it didn’t take much to rile him up. As I mentioned earlier, the school bus was more often than not a place for trouble and for some reason Timmy became the target of teasing by a couple of the other kids, one a good friend of mine, Rusty. Timmy didn’t take to the teasing very well and words escalated and things were said that wouldn’t be taken back. As a friend of both boys I became somewhat of a mediator, the guy with the white flag. As I went back and forth between parties it was clear that a fight was in order. My role was to arrange the when and where. I would be Timmy’s “second” and Rusty would have Joe as his second. The fight would take place on Friday at the bus stop.
I’m not sure it was intended to be this way, but Joe and I, defending our two combatants, exchanged a few words ourselves and so on the day of the fight it became Timmy versus Rusty and Joe versus me. Most of my other fights were of a spontaneous nature, so this pre-planned fighting concept took a little getting used to. I preferred the spontaneous fights; less time for nerves to eat up my stomach. Not wanting Mom and Dad to know, I kept it a secret; even from my siblings.
As the four of us exited the school bus that Friday, we stood on the grass and waited nonchalantly until the bus had turned the corner down the street, and then we commenced with the particulars. For a group of young boys, we handled it in a fairly professional manner. A few rules were discussed and then we each went to separate areas of the yard. Timmy and Rusty started first while Joe and I, not exactly sure why we were fighting, took a little while to get going. My attention was obviously on the opponent in front of me and I was handling myself pretty well, especially considering that Joe was a year older than me.
At one point I had my opponent on the ground in a defenseless position and while taking advantage of my situation I noticed out of the corner of my eye the other fight going on twenty feet away. To my shock and dismay I saw Timmy on the ground on all fours with Rusty mounted on him like a rider on a horse. Rusty was wailing on Timmy’s head, fists coming from both directions, and looked like a combatant on the Ultimate Fighting Championship. I couldn’t take it. That was my friend on the ground getting pounded on (it was also my friend on top of him doing the pounding, but that’s irrelevant) and I had to do something. I quickly left my opponent, battered and beaten on the ground, and ran to Timmy’s aid. Rusty didn’t see me coming, he was quite focused on what he was doing, and I hit him square on his left temple with a blow from my fist that knocked him off his opponent and onto the ground. When he had recovered, he stood up and looked at me with the eyes of one who has been betrayed and said meekly, “Hey, that’s against the rules.” He couldn’t believe that I had broken protocol and helped his enemy.
The fighting came to a screeching halt at about the same time the school bus came to a screeching halt. The bus driver immediately jumped off the bus and began grabbing whichever boy was in the vicinity. At this point we knew we were done for, but couldn’t figure out how she knew about the fight. Word gets around in the land of kids, school buses being known for gossip mongering. This was the first bus that I was kicked off of and wouldn’t be the last. Apparently it was against bus rules to engage in fighting (me not paying attention again), but in my mind, since we weren’t actually on the bus we weren’t technically breaking any rules. I was apparently wrong and learned to enjoy my walks to school. The four of us became friends again within a day or two. I have to say that I have never been involved in a better, more exhilarating fight, except the one behind the Safeway Cheese plant; but that’s a story for another time.
This story was an excerpt from Always a Little Heathen, to be released in the fall of 2014.