Swimming season in South Dakota always reminds me of one of the most memorable episodes in my errant life.
Back in the Dirty Thirties when I was a small-for-my-age youngster, I had some crazy idea about becoming a prizefighter. With grand visions of winning a Golden Gloves championship, I hied off to the local gym to learn to bob and weave from the experts.
Shortly thereafter the word got around that I was taking boxing lessons, and that led to an unexpected confrontation. It occurred in the dressing room at Tripp Pool, then Yankton's municipal swimming hole (which, incidentally, had its own brand of Agent Orange).
One of the bigger boys – Harold Becker by name – decided to test me, and without malice threw a light punch in my direction just to see if I had really learned how to duck. I had and he missed, scuffing his knuckles on the dressing stall wall in the process.
It obviously hurt, and he swung again a little harder with the other hand. I avoided that shot, too — just as my mentor, Lloyd Holbrook, had taught me to do — and Harold got skinned up on the opposite wall.
In an instant, he changed from a jovial taunter to an irate foe. Suddenly without really knowing what we were fighting about, we were engaged in one of those old-fashioned boyhood slugfests.
Edgar Wieland, the lifeguard on duty at the Tainted Tub, chased us from the bathhouse and out into the street, through the parking lot. Immediately the pool emptied as some 300 kids (more or less) surrounded the two gladiators and effectively closed the road to all traffic.
As the crowd goaded us on, we flailed away in time-honored fashion. My arms were too short so I couldn't reach him to do any damage, and I had just enough newly learned skill to keep him from raining any telling blows on me (although I took a couple of hard raps on the top of the head as I covered up to protect my nose and my chin.
Then, as if by signal, our audience grew strangely quiet, and we paused in our pummeling long enough to see what had caused the quick change. Easing its way to ringside through the throng of barefooted swimmers was Yankton's lone police car, summoned by a call from a neighborhood lady who didn't appreciate the disturbance. I recognized the blue-clad officer immediately when he stepped from the vehicle. He was easy to recognize. He was my father!
Straight and stern; he promptly dispersed the onlookers and loaded the two of us into the car. There wasn't the slightest hint in his eyes or his manner to indicate that I was anybody but a complete stranger.
As we drove off, he headed out of town, not toward the jail as his two uneasy passengers had feared. Finally, I dredged up enough courage to askwhere he was taking us, and he gruffly replied: "If you two enjoy fighting so much, I'm taking you out to a cornfield where you can go at it until one of you drops."
The psychology achieved instant results. Harold and I shook hands and thereafter became friends until we grew up and went our separate ways.
I became a sports writer and I remember the verse I wrote some time after my battle with Harold Becker:
My head went east, my nose went west.
I felt a mallet strike my chest.
It didn't take me long to see
That fisticuffs were not for me!
© 2009 Robert F. Karolevitz