Friday, 31 August 2012
By Nancy Leitz
Most of the kids who were under 10 on Greenway Avenue in Darby were terrified of Gussie. He was a "bad one," as they used to say in those days.
Chris was eight and Steve was six-and-a-half when they first became targets of Gussie's wrath. He lived around the corner on 6th Street and when he found out that there were two kids younger than he was on Greenway Avenue he wasted no time in swaggering around to see if they were worth tormenting.
Gussie didn't want to be bothered unless there was plenty of amusement for himself in his bullying of younger kids.
So, one day Chris and Steve were playing on our sidewalk and this big kid suddenly appeared and began to tease them by stealing their ball and refusing to give it back. He held it just out of reach and high in the air so it was impossible to get it back from him.
He was hoping they would cry but they didn't cry, they just kept trying to retrieve the ball from him, but he was having too much fun keeping it away from them.
Unable to bring either of them to tears, a very frustrated Gussie used the only recourse he knew and that was to hit them. They both ran into the house and he just turned on his heel and went around the corner to 6th Street and home.
After that, it became a daily game of trying to find a place to play ball or ride bikes where Gussie wouldn't find them. They tried the alley in back of our house but after two or three days of peace back there, Gussie discovered them and began his taunting and bullying once more and eventually chased the kids back into the house again.
Next they tried the athletic field that belonged to the high school but that was tricky because the field was completely surrounded by a chain link fence that was very difficult and even dangerous to climb. Like the giant in Jack and the Beanstalk, Gussie smelled the blood of the Leitz boys and was waiting for them wherever they went to get away from his meanness.
One spring afternoon, I went into the kitchen to get a glass of iced tea and on the table was a glass full of water with all sorts of nasty things floating in it. There were orange peels, broken tea bags, egg shells, apple cores all mixed in the water. I don't really remember what I thought about it; I just poured out the water and threw the other things in the garbage.
The next day I again found a glass of water on the table. This time it contained a broken up cigarette, a moldy lemon removed from the garbage, some wilted lettuce and a piece of chewed bubble gum.
Now I was curious. Who was making these glasses of terrible water and why?
Chris and Steve were in the living room watching Action In The Afternoon with Chief Half Town and Sally Starr when I went in and asked them if they knew anything about the glasses of garbage I was finding. They both shouted,"It's Gussie Water, Mom. Don't throw it away, we need it. We have it all ready in case Gussie comes to the door and asks for a glass of water. That's what we will give him."
They waited for two weeks making new Gussie Water every day and every day the concoction was more vile than the day before. They were like two mad scientists, experimenting and searching for the worst ingredients they could find and rubbing their hands together with glee when they found a rotten leftover like a pea with fuzzies on it or a piece of moldy bread. All they needed were lab coats to be official and maybe a petri dish.
Every day they prepared the water and waited and hoped for Gussie to knock on the door and ask for a drink but he never came to our door so they ventured out to play again and sure enough, there he was, ready to attack them. But, I was on top of the situation by this time and chased him off so the boys could play.
The next evening after dinner, I walked around to 6th Street hoping to speak to Gussie's parents and ask them to stop their son from tormenting Chris and Steve. I walked up on their porch and was just about to knock when I heard a terrible commotion inside the house.
Gussie's father was giving him a severe beating and yelling and swearing at him in a complete rage.
Startled, I rushed away from the house and went home. It has always been on my conscience that I did not report the family to the authorities but in those days you were told to mind your own business in any case of domestic violence, even violence toward a child.
How I have always wished that I had called the police. I don't think there were any Children's Protective Services such as we have today and I don't know if the police would have told me the standard "Mind Your Own Business" or whether they would have gotten involved, but I know I would feel better today if I had tried to help Gussie.
At least I knew what made him the bully that he was. With any luck he did receive some help and counseling so that this behavior didn't carry on to another generation.
Thankfully, Roy's job took us to Virginia shortly after this so we cheerfully left Gussie behind but we often mentioned him and wondered what twists and turns his life took as he grew older. I like to think that his mother left that terrible husband and took Gussie with her to a better life.
To this day we all wish Gussie had come to our door and asked for a glass of water. I'm sure the look on his face when he saw what Chris and Steve had prepared for him would have been priceless!
Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink.
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