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Friday, 31 August 2012

Gussie Water

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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Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


Nancy, your stories never disappoint, even when the subject matter is sad. It is terrible to have a bully torment you, but even sadder to learn what made him a bully. I hope he got some help.

(Love the Gussie water idea!)

This story kind of broke my heart Nance. I've always had little tolerance for bullies...but there's usually a reason why. Wonderful story. Those glasses of water were priceless. ~Joy

When my son was being bullied at school, I was told by one of the administrators that it was all a part of growing up.
Unfortunately, that seemed to be the mindset back then.

Bullying continues to thrive now it seems even more so due to the technology, but at least people are talking about it and agreeing that it’s wrong.

Great story, as usual!

In the 1940s late one evening my father and several other neighborhood men discovered one of the local women with her children preparing to sleep in their car due to what is now called domestic violence.

The neighborhood men went and spoke to the abusive husband. As these were apartment buildings the husband understood that if there were any repetitions of the problem, the other men would know.

The problem corrected itself immediately.

Bullying can leave scars that last a life time. I am sorry for all the Gussies in the world and for their victims.

I can see that your sons inherited your sense of humor and creative talent; Gussies water. That's a hoot.

For kids to think up the water trick for Gussie means they were pretty smart. I hope they went on and developed that into something very useful for us all.

It must have given your boys a bit of mental freedom from the bully to be hatching an evil plan to thwart Gussie. I am pretty sure that if you stand on the porch of a lot of bully homes you would learn a lot about their actions. Good story as always my friend:)


We also always hoped that Gussie got away from that terrible situation. As I said, the authorities would do nothing in those days about abuse,so only his Mother could have helped him,and I hope she did.

Yes, those glasses of water were carefully thought out by the boys because they really did have hope that Gussie would come to our door for a drink.That was not uncommon in those days. Kids would come to your door because they wanted to come in and play with your boys and the water trick got them in for awhile.

Claire Jean:

Yes, you are quite right. Technology is one of the prime ways young people are bullying each other today.

The case of the boy who was filmed kissing another young man is a classic example of modern bullying.

They do much more damage with an I Phone video than with their fists.Shame on them!

Susan G.

I mentioned that the authorities would do nothing for any victim,wife or child, so like your Father and his friends, neighbors often had to step in and "Take Care" of the situation.

Thank Heaven they were there and cared or the victims of the abuse would have gotten no relief at all.


Yes, you would have to feel very sorry for the Gussie's of this World in those days.

At least today a relative or neighbor can report the abuse to Child Protective Services and have some action taken.

You know how much I enjoyed the boys making the "Gussie Water" by the very fact that
this happened 52 years ago and we are all still laughing about the various items they found to put in the water.


Yes, they did go on to bigger and better things than manufacturing vile water drinks. Chris today is a Chemist with a huge Chemical company and travels all over the World for them.

Steve owns his own Mechanical Contracting Business and is very successful.

Thanks for the nice compliment about their ability to think up such a clever scheme.


I'm sure you are right about that! Just the seriousness with which they chose the ingredients for the Gussie Water shows you the fun they were having picturing him coming to our door for a drink.

I agree with you about most bullies having a bully. It's a matter of breaking the chain and freeing the next generation of that terrible habit.

Also, where in the old days it was considered "None of your business what I do to my wife or my Kid", today the thinking is that it is everyone's business.

Another great story, Nancy. Thankfully we have moved on a little, but still need to make more changes, while realising it is our responsibility to speak up when we come across the bullies.

'Gussie Water' is brilliant!

Thank you, GM, for reading the story and for your nice comment.

I suppose you have the same "Bullies" in Ireland that we have here so you have the same problems with them.

Let's hope that both of our Countries can solve this problem with firm and consistant policies regarding
bullying! We should have ZERO Tolerance.

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