Entrenched in verbal throws of a neighborhood conflict, ornery Linda Sterret took me off guard.
Between hurling walnuts and acorns, accusations and threats
of early primary years flew across the street from one front yard to another. Important issues about who was a friend, cry baby, tattle tale, smarter, prettier were at stake. It was a tribal insurrection of children. The age old power struggle of who belongs who does not.
I was hanging with the non catholic, new kids who were actually redheaded and freckled. Odds were stacked against them. This family had just two kids, a boy and a girl, neither having any athletic skills.
Playing at their house was different. We could be indoors in the summer. It was really quiet. Each kid had a room of their own. They had toys and didn’t have to share them with each other. The rest of us had several siblings, mostly younger. After breakfast and a small chore or two we were outdoors. Our moms needed us out from underfoot to take care of a babies, clean, cook and iron.
My usual friends took issue with the new kids, or at least Linda did. She was the pack leader, leveraging both her year older and cousin status as qualifications. I remember really mean things being said to the red haired boy in particular. I knew this was wrong and that the Linda led side was more powerful.
I rose up giving my confident retorts and slurs on the side of the new kids. My dad, the football coach/teacher had given me lessons about right and wrong, and standing up for underdogs, and being a leader for good. In response to the insult, “You Bunch of sissies, Go hide behind your mother’s skirt!” I fired back, “My mom doesn’t wear Skirts.” Spiteful, quick Linda replied, “She must look awful funny then!” as her posse laughed and jeered.
Embarrassed, wordless, beaten. That shook my confidence. My plan was to move on and be better prepared next time.