« A Pet Peeve | Main | A Mind Gone Astray »

Monday, 23 November 2009

Tommy's Timber

By Herchel Newman aka Herm

After three scores of living, many events lose their grip on the memory cells. Childhood play days run together and you may not recall losing your first baby tooth. Something may shake your mind to recall some events, but others are scorched there; such as the mind-shaking event I had with Tommy Hickman.

I was in the third grade, so the year must have been 1954. We lived about six blocks from Second Avenue Elementary School. Rain or shine, hot or cold, we walked Summit Avenue to school, home for lunch and back. It was inevitable that mischief would trip us up now and then.

Tommy sometimes walked with the kids who used High Street which was busier, but just as often he walked with us up and down Summit Avenue. Don't know where he actually lived.

In ‘54 he would have been known as a rascal. I don’t know if he was big for his age or if he’d been left back a year. I’m sure he must have had a change of clothes, but I only remember him wearing brown bibbed corduroys. He had unbrushed crooked teeth and his voice had a hoarse quality to it. His hair was never combed or brushed, and I think he must have thought water was just for drinking.

Tommy, had a lot of energy, even for a kid. Always jumping around, laughing and telling some sort of tale. I liked him, but there was one thing he did that irritated me. He couldn’t talk to you unless he was touching you. Hand on your shoulder, arm around your neck, poking you in the side, patting on your head; he was an irritant.

At the corner of Second and Summit was a small used car lot. All the cars were black or gray. A little old man stood out there oftentimes as we waited to cross the street. At least he looked old to us kids. He was a stumpy character with oversized clothes. His right eyelid was permanently closed and he was always singing some song with chorus lyrics of “Long long ago, Long long ago.”

I tried to be on the side of the kids where Tommy wasn't, but this day it didn't work out. Tommy was his usual self with all his antics. He was talking about nothing, but loved to hear himself. Just as I feared, he started joking and jostling me. After a bit I just couldn’t take it anymore. I grabbed his hand and shoved it away from me. "Will you get your hands off me!?" I gave him my best glare. Like I said, Tommy was bigger than any of us, so no one had ever done anything like that before.

All heads turned in unison. It seemed to be the audience he was after. He said in a singsong tone, "Oh, you act like you wanna fight me!" The stumpy little man behind him turned and began walking away, his voice fading - Long long ago, long long ago...

Tommy, stood tall and began ranting. He wasn’t much looking at me, so I knew it was for everyone’s benefit and amusement. "I’m somebody you don’t want to mess with because I might get angry. When I get mad and angry I might have to bring out my timber."

By this time the light had changed and some of the kids had begun to cross the street, yet looking back over their shoulders. Tommy had mesmerized them. Losing his audience, I guess he figured he’d better move his act along. Mesmerized myself, I turned back to listening to his oration and watching his antics which were picking up speed.

"Oh oh! I feel myself getting mad. He drew his arms in tightly to his chest and began to turn around like a turbine engine starting up. Around he went faster and faster. The faster he went the dizzier I got.

He started to growl like a mad dog. I thought, 'What in the world is he doing?!' Suddenly he started to yell at the top of his lungs. We thought he had gone crazy. "Watch out, here comes my timber." He stuck his right arm out rigid like a board and screamed, "Timber!"

I saw it coming but was too entranced to move. Tommy’s fist hit me on the left side of my head and I toppled over like a lumberjack had just chopped me down. It was all so quick it took me a while to sort it out. I didn’t even have time to cry.

When I looked up Tommy was standing over me. I couldn’t make out the ribs of his corduroys or the lines between his crooked teeth. He was swaying back and forth in slow motion, but I heard him say, "I told you to look out for my timber."

Everything came back into focus when I heard a horn blow and tires screeching. Tommy, had run off across the street against the light and almost got hit.

There was no follow-up trouble. I mean there was no safety patrol kid to make a report to the principal. I didn’t tell my big brother and certainly not my parents. The following days filled themselves with other more up to date stuff for kids to talk about.

I wonder what ever became of Tommy Hickman. I think good thoughts about him and hope life came around and picked him up, because I’m sure there were bigger timbers out there than Tommy’s.

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Instructions for submitting are here.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 02:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


Unfortunately, bullies are everywhere. I had my share of them when I was a child, so I avoid them now....LOL

My son was bullied to the limit in elementary school because he was different. I was told, by the vice principal, that bullying was just part of growing up. Several years later came the Columbine High School massacre.

Excellent writing, Herm. Ann

Great story...and so well told!

Like many, I was bullied in school, and over the years as I've occassionaly had the chance to talk about it with others, one thing always stands out --one always remembers the name of the bully. Herm's was Tommy Hickman, mine was Dick Gertz, it alsways strikes me as ironic that this act of violence becomes indelibly etched in one's memory. bill

Herm - Nicely written story.

Unlike the other comments, I have trouble associating this behavior with bullying. As a youth I saw kids being bullied, and this doesn't seem to fit.

Tommy appears to me as a big kid with self-esteem problems and obnoxious habits. Then someone (you) stood up to him and took a punch in return.

Your last paragraph illustrates how much more mature than him, you were.


I appreciate all your comments. One never knows what chords a story and the way it's told will strike in the reader.

I told this story to my wife and children while acting out Tommy's part. They said they were entranced as well. When I hit the floor the laughter exploded.

This was an event. Sandy, my last paragraph reflected my memory of the guy who really bullied us.

About the time he decided he needed to make a change in his life, he met a tragic end at the hand of someone who resolved to get even.

The comments to this entry are closed.