The figure on the park bench looked familiar through the windshield. Sure enough, it was my cranky crony, Ebeneezer Griper, resting in the warm spring sun. I parked along the curb and walked toward him but it was obvious Eb was deep in thought and wasn’t aware that I was behind him.
“Howdy, Eb!” I exclaimed. Eb jerked as I broke his trance. “For cryin’ out loud,” he snapped, “you darn near scared an old man to death.”
“Sorry, Eb,” I said. “So what brings you into town on a beautiful day like this?”
“The need to get away from Hilda.”
“So you are running away from home?”
Eb adjusted his perspiration-stained seed corn cap. “Aw, quit it. I just came here to think,” he said gloomily.
I sat down next to him. “So what are you thinking about?”
“Well,” he drawled, “I read in the paper that a little girl took her own life because her classmates teased her so much about being fat. That made me feel awful.”
“That is a tragedy. Kids can be cruel.”
“Yep,” he said thoughtfully, “I was thinking about my own school days and how some kids got teased a lot.”
I nodded in agreement. “I don’t ever want to hear ‘fatty, fatty, two-by-four’ again, I can tell you that!”
“Quite a few kids in my class got teased,” Eb recalled. “There was a weird looking kid named Billy who ate boogers and a chubby kid named Sammy who had a problem with breaking wind in class. The louder the teacher yelled the louder we laughed. Then Sammy would get to laughing and well…”
“I get the picture,” I said.
“Then there was Velma who was as homely as a mud fence and Betty Lou who reminded me of Olive Oyl. She cried when Buster told her if she drank strawberry pop she’d look like a thermometer. There was a girl named Victoria who was so heavy she had trouble sliding into her desk. The prettiest girl in the class — Sally was her name— she used to treat those girls like dirt. Like Buster, some of the boys weren’t nice to them either.”
Eb stared toward the horizon for a few seconds and then continued, “Then there was Clarence — the smartest kid in our class. He wore thick glasses and stuttered so he got teased, too. And they loved to tease the class runt.”
“What was his name?” I asked.
Eb glared at me.
“Oh!” I said knowingly.
Eb hooked his thumbs behind the bib of his overalls. “Funny thing,” he said slowly, “things worked out okay for most of those kids.
“Sammy became a doctor out East. Clarence retired as the head of a big manufacturing plant in Colorado.”
“Whatever happened to that kid named Billy?”
“Billy?” Eb paused for a second, swallowed hard and then continued, “Billy died in Korea. They say he jumped on a grenade to save the lives of his buddies.”
“And what happened to those girls?”
“Velma was a true ugly duckling story. She ended up being a college homecoming queen. She and her husband raised five great kids. Betty Lou became a nurse. At the last reunion before she passed away she had the best figure of any of the gals in our class. Victoria is a millionaire. She owned a chain of queen size shops.”
“And what about the looker? Sally, was it?”
Eb snickered. “By our 40th class reunion she’d been through three husbands and some boyfriends in between. She looked like she had died and forgot to check out.”
“And the moral of the story?”
“Parents oughta teach their kids not to tease. If history is any kind of a teacher, the little snots that do the teasing could learn a lot from the kids who don’t fit their idea of perfection.”
“Amen!” I responded. “But what ever happened to the class runt?”
Eb turned to me with an evil grin and crowed, “He joined the Marines and got tough. Nowadays he’s just a rough tough cream puff.”
Arvid Huisman can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.