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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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Tales from the old-timer

Bullying in the Good Old Days



What does an old geezer of 87 years know about bullying in the 21st century? Much in the news lately nowaways are suicides of kids who have been hounded verbally or physically because they are “geeks” or suspected homosexuals. Back in the 1940’s as it remains today, an unavoidable group dynamic called establishment of the “pecking order” was going to happen one way or the other and couldn’t be stopped.

Bullying happens among boys and girls right along, though boys more often than girls use physical methods, and if we were bullied we knew somehow that an appeal to parents or to school teachers or administrators would do no good, and possibly make things worse.

It takes hi tech forms today with name calling and verbal abuse through texting or with electronic devices.

I was a sort of runty, freckle-faced redheaded kid in grade school maybe five feet tall and experienced the phenomenon of sometimes having an older boy being “after” me, so the trip home from school required a “rabbit” type alertness to the whereabouts of the older boy who was “after” me. Crossing the bridge to the east side of Peshtigo where I lived was a narrow artery where you could be ambushed by a bully.

The boys’ restroom at school could be a hazardous place, as teachers did not patrol it, and bullies like Billy Dyper could give you some grief. One time Dyper pinched me really hard there and I hauled off and punched him in retaliation.

This led to what was a sort of formal challenge to a fist fight, with clearly defined arrangements. The fights were always held on the alley north of and parallel to French St. Word got around and the usual procession of guys on bikes and afoot gathered to watch. Dyper was half again my weight and he knocked me down three times, and though I threw a lot of haymakers I never landed a good punch. I was beaten, and Dyper honored an unwritten law and let me surrender. A boy named Billy Snyder told me the next day that he was disappointed in my performance as he had formerly thought that I was “tough.”

At different times both Donny Stillmont and Roger Snyper were “after” me, but the hunt ‘got boring’ and they both lost interest.

In high school things were usually less physical, but mostly subtle ways of establishing superiority prevailed.

I asked one of our lady friends at church today if girls faced bullying in the old days, and she said “absolutely”, both physical and verbal attacks.

One time I had a pair of new cowboy boots, and was standing on the bank of Bundy Creek behind Peshtigo High School, and a bully named Warren asked me if my boots were waterproof. I said “sure” and Warren shoved me down the bank into 3 feet of water and I spent the afternoon in 6th grade class with wet feet. I didn’t even consider telling the teacher, or my parents when I got home.

I remember a scene under the porch of the old East Side School when Billy Dyper was torturing another kid who had a sort of stammering problem. Dyper kept jabbing the boy with a sharp stick and kept mocking the victim calling him “Charlee! Charlee!” None of us watching tried to intervene. Another time in the alley a bully named “Bunny” Keefer was knocking a boy down time after time, then ordering him “GET UP!’ and knocking him down again.

Sometimes the fist fights were behind the old school gym before the high school was remodeled to enclose the first old gym, about 1936, using federal money in the FDR presidency for the renovation.

One time two of my classmates,Teddy Kozuszek and Chester McGregor had a fist fight by what was then the East Side football field after a game, that lasted a long time. They declared a truce and agreed to resume the fight after supper. They got back together an hour or so later and decided to quit the fight after all. Teddy was on the University of Wisconsin-Madison boxing team.

Such was life back in those “teenage jungles” I grew up in.

Even adults then and now establish a “pecking order” in their groups, but the dynamics of it are more subtle than among schoolkids.


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