I started 9th grade at East Junior High School in Warren, Ohio after all previous years living on the farm and going to a small public school. This was the “city” – well, that’s what it seemed like. It was August and I remember moving into the large apartment above my dad’s grocery store, riding my bike – wow on the side streets, so much fun, sneaking up to Isaly’s for a malt and playing kickball with the neighborhood kids.
And then school hit. Labor day was a quickly diminishing memory. I was thrust into 9th grade in a pretty large school. I was told I was in Track 3 (4 was the dumb kids) because they couldn’t be assured my education was up to the standards of the school system. English class was English 2200 or some name like that, where you proceeded on your own in a programmed work book for English grammer. Now that was so demeaning. After all, I had Mrs. Goist for 7th and 8th grade English, and I could diagram sentences far more complex than anything this book had.
And that was the start of it. The school, the city, the students. And I noticed the black kids always stayed across South Street at the East Jr. Dairy and the white kids visited the Homewood dairy where we bought popsickles on the way home almost every day as we walked home. I said “we” because some how, I managed to connect with some others, especially Paul and Steve Costianis and Larry Kirk, my new friends from the neighborhood.
I was not a big kid, and I must have looked a lot like a deer in the headlights when Larry Code, a black kid in 7th or 8th grade pushed me into my locker and asked “hey, lend me a nickel”. This wasn’t a friendly request as I recall, and almost instinctively (how’d I know to say this anyway?) as I pushed back exclaiming: “Meet me at the dairy after school” and the whole place lit up like a media event. I was scared and that wasn’t the half of it, because as I walked to the dairy after school, it was not the usual crowd of kids angling for a Popsicle, it was the WHOLE SCHOOL there filling up all four corners of the street area, and only a small opening at the rear of the Homewood Dairy, where I encountered Larry Code one more time – this time, it wasn’t just a nickle, this was for blood. He got one punch in, and I put him down with several rapid punches to the head and face. It was over that quick. I was weak-kneed, could barely stand up – exhausted completely in a minute or two.
Walking home, my friends were so supportive and I know I had defended my honor well. I had a minor scrape with my mom over fighting but I knew my dad was proud as hell. I don’t know what became of Larry Code, and I know, today, even though I don’t react this way much if at all, that Larry Code arrived in my life to teach me what honor is, so that I don’t have to continue fighting to get it. I might fight to survive in a dangerous threat, but I’m not out looking to prove my honor.