This is part two of a memoir about a bully I encountered as a kid. “Gregory Garrison” was the tormentor of Saints Peter and Paul Elementary School in Merrillville, Indiana. CLICK HERE to reach part one.
Another day we were playing softball at recess. Our recess field was asphalt, just like a parking lot. I guess there wasn’t much maintenance involved. The only soft ground in sight was off of school property. My buddy Rick was playing catcher for both sides. His job was mainly to catch the wild pitches and then throw the ball back to the catcher. We were just having fun. I don’t remember all of the kids who were playing, but I remember Rick Kadar. He was my next-door neighbor, my best friend. We walked home from school together, shared secrets about girls we had crushes on, played kick the can after dark. We were about as close as two boys can be.
During recess some big kid got a hit and was wildly running around the bases. James McDevitt in the outfield caught the ball on a bounce and heaved it to Rick at the plate. Rick was a good ball player; better then the rest of us really. He played little league. He and his older brothers and dad played catch almost every day in the back yard. Rick was good.
The kid who got the hit was a couple years older than us. It probably would have been embarrassing to be thrown out at the plate.
The ball didn’t quite reach Rick on a fly; it bounced a few feet in front of him. He was the only one of us who actually owned a catcher’s mitt. He anticipated the bounce and placed that big old dusty mitt in just the right spot. The big kid was barreling down the third base line toward the plate. Rick caught the ball and was reaching out his mitt in the direction of the runner. The big kid was fast but he was clearly going to be tagged out.
Just as the big guy was about to connect with Rick’s mitt, Rick went sprawling on the asphalt, elbows and knees scraping roughly on the ground. Standing behind him was Garrison with a smug look of satisfaction on his face. Rick was writhing on the ground, clutching a bloody knee, a look of pain in his scrunched up eyes. Garrison held out his hand and the big kid gave him five as he crossed the plate. “Yeah! I guess that makes you safe!” Garrison said.
Sister Anastasia rang the brass bell signaling the end of recess. The kids went to line up (in a silent single file line – you may be sure). I helped Rick get to his feet. His pants were torn. His mom could have put on one of those iron-on patches, but they would never be dress pants again. “Oh, man! These pants are brand new. My mom is gonna kill me!” Rick and I came from working class families. Both of us had three older brothers. Most of our clothes were hand-me-downs from them. Ruining a new pair of dress pants was no small deal for either of us. Rick had to go to the “nurse”- the school secretary. I knew he was probably in for more pain, as the treatment of the day was iodine. Ouch.
Later, Rick said to me that he told the secretary that he fell down as the reason for the “accident”. We would never have told on Garrison. That would have been suicide.
There were many other times when a dark glance or a threatening gesture made me miserable. When I think of how many kids Garrison terrorized, it frightens me. How many children had sleepless nights or scary dreams because of him? I know I had plenty. The guy lived to bully, as a predator perpetually looks for prey. He seemed to live for the obscene pleasure of making children cower in fear.
One of Garrison’s favorite people to taunt was Andy Kirk. Andy was what we call today, the chief maintenance engineer. In those days we called him the janitor. Andy was old. I imagine he was retired from something else and just worked around Saints Peter and Paul for a little extra money. It couldn’t have been much.
He did all kinds of stuff around the school from mopping up the cafeteria to cleaning up vomit, to monitoring the students on the playground. It was in this capacity that Andy Kirk had constant contact with Gregory Garrison.
His favorite trick was standing behind Mr. Kirk and mocking him. Garrison was merciless. And while he wasn’t funny at all to me, his cronies thought he was funnier than a clown in a circus. When Mr. Kirk was sweeping, Garrison would copy him from behind with exaggerated movements, crossing his eyes and swinging his head from side to side. He didn’t look anything like Mr. Kirk, but the fact that a Junior high aged boy would dare to mock a grown-up like that brought forth peals of laughter from Garrison’s pals. Mr. Kirk would tell him to stop, and report him to Sister Anastasia. The Sister would call garrison’s mom and dad but his parents seemed powerless to do anything about his rudeness or his pranks.