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Tales from the old-timer

The Bullying Problem



One time many years ago a cousin of mine and his buddy, who was a cousin in law, went out to Eddie Leveille’s house when 12-year-old Eddie was home alone. They weren’t on a friendly visit. They were teasing and mocking at Eddie, who was much younger, and it was marginal bullying. Eddie decided he had had enough, and went and got his dad’s shotgun and ran his tormentors off. When my aunt, the cousin’s mom, protested about Eddie’s shotgun threat, Eddie’s mom, another paternal aunt, stoutly defended Eddie’s use of the shotgun.

Eddie was picked on quite a bit during his school days, but he had a successful life in the US Navy, college and professionally, as well as in the tricky business of matrimony.

This is not to belittle the current emphasis in schools on elimination of bullying, but that, too, can be overemphasized.

I have a book, “Phraseology,” which defines “Pecking Order” as a social hierarchy of birds, especially chickens, where a dominant bird may peck anyone down the line, but not vice versa - and once the pecking order is established there is little fighting within the flock, though some down at the bottom are missing a lot of feathers. Pecking is a translation of the German word “Grousan” derived from “cruelty.” A can peck B and both of them can peck everybody else. With girls I think it is a more subtle thing, mostly verbal and sometimes pushing or hitting, but the pecking order behavior works its dynamics on every school playground and where kids gather unsupervised.

We boys going to school in Peshtigo back in the 30’s had to cope with bullies. My dear friend Marshall Peterson’s mother, in an economy move, forced him to wear knickers to school one year, because when a boy is growing they will last a couple of years, the length being adjustable. Marshall told me he had to fight his way to and from school all that year, as knickers were out of style by then. A boy in my class that I will call Bobby Qualer (German for cruel person) was a bully and had many victims. One time he pinched the flesh of my neck between two fingers just to inflict pain. I punched him in retaliation, so according to the regular custom this was a challenge to a fist fight. A group of bike riders and boys on foot gathered to watch the fight, which was staged on the alley back of French Street in Peshtigo. Qualer was bigger and stronger and knocked me down three times. According to the unwritten rules I was allowed to submit and the fight was over.

Sometimes a victim of bullying has by custom the right to bully a lesser person, so my Cousin Eddie chased another kid who was lower down in the ranks, around the entire block by the school.

Another earlier time a group of boys including me watched as Qualer tortured a boy named Charlie, who was huddled under the porch of the East Side Elementary School, by poking him over and over with a stick, mocking at him with “Charley, Charley” as he jabbed him. None of us said anything or interfered in any way. Kids rarely told their parents about being bullied, nor teachers. The higher powers never interfered with bullying anyhow, in those days. Most of the victims learned to cope one way or another.

Bullies were said to be “after” one or another of their favorite victims. I had about three bullies “after” me at different stages in my school days. The bridge over the Peshtigo River was a hazardous spot as if you were an east side kid, your Bully could intercept you there. In winter you could cross on the ice, but in summer you were a dead duck! Victims were hunted like chipmunks!

Bullying among girls was also a reality but mostly more subtle, in the form of name-calling, pushing, or social ostra-cism. I remember the old kids’ mockery song. Maybe I’m wrong about that and maybe some former girl victim of bullies will set me straight.



**********

Smarty, Smarty, Smarty!

Thought you had a party!

Don’t forget what the teacher taught,

You’ll be sorry if you get caught!

I’m going to tell your mother,

To see if she don’t care.

You’re nothing but a smarty-cat

So there, there, there!


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Peshtigo, WI 54157
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