I am still in contact with a good number of student friends in North Georgia through a mailing list I started about 12 years ago at the urging of my sister and a classmate. We call ourselves Friends Forever and on this list is a fellow named Alan Dempsey. Alan was always like an older brother to me when I lived there, a welcome change from the extremely anti-Yankee attitude that prevailed at the time. He was also a real charmer of the ladies and this, of course made him the target of every jealous boyfriend.
Alan was also a scrapper and although you couldn’t find a nicer guy, he seemed to always be getting in fights and was pretty danged good at defending himself. Back in 1967, if you were caught fighting, a number of things were going to happen, but none of them involved dragging your parents to debtors prison, like is common today. First, you were going to get “pops” or a paddling and you may end up going to the gym and putting on boxing gloves and get pops from the coach to boot. In extreme cases of multiple acts of fisticuffs, you could get suspended or even expelled permanently.
The last time I saw Alan before we moved from Georgia, he was running across the breezeway and his face was bloody. He stopped long enough to tell me he had just successful “beat the fire out of someone,” and kept going, fearing he would get pops. Knowing Alan like I do, I can pretty much tell you the fight was by a jealous boyfriend. Alan wrote on our mailing list today, asking for more details of the fight I wrote about last week, so here it is:
Alan, it was Eldridge Bentley. Someone had (reportedly) paid him $10 to beat me up, and then go after my younger brother. I was his first target and in 3rd hall talking to a pretty girl when I saw a large crowd coming. Eldridge was in the lead and the oddest thing was I had missed the bus and rode to school with him that morning in his car and we had arrived early, easily beating the long bus ride of 20 miles. He was very strong and I was a full grown young man and he grabbed me by the front of the shirt and partially lifted me off the ground. My back was to the edge of the lockers and he said "Me and you are gonna fight."
I said, "Okay, but what for?" I'll never forget his answer, "That's none of your danged business," and he hit me. I bounced back into the corner between the locker and the wall and landing back on him, I wrapped my left arm around his neck and popped him in the face as hard as I could, maybe 6-10 times before he laid a wicked and wild hay-maker on the side of my jaw. His thumb went under my jaw, hooking it and cutting my neck while breaking his thumb and wrist.
It took me a few days and the help of a witness to figure out what happened when he hit me the second time. The strike turned my head and I slammed my nose into the corner of the locker and I remember being on the floor trying to get up, but not going down. I laid there for what seemed like a minute as my head spun, but was probably closer to five and in the meantime, the bell had sounded and first period already started.
I got up slowly and I remember staring at the pool of blood on the tile. I looked to my right and the teacher was in plain view, but to this day, I can't tell you her name, again a product of moving from school to school. I gathered up my books and went to my desk. My face and shirt were bloody and I couldn't breathe through my nose, as I thought it was broken. No one looked at me and the room was very quiet.
Now, let me back up a bit. A week before this happened another muscular bully insulted me in front of Mr. Crockett's classroom in the hallway and again I was talking to a pretty girl. I was in 10th grade and he was in the 9th and he also played football. Seems like his name was Bobby something, maybe my brother remembers. He said something really vulgar and I asked him what he said, as I had had enough, but being a Yankee from Ohio in North Georgia in 1967 made me lay pretty danged low, as there were just too many people who wouldn't mind seeing the Civil War end with a Rebel yell.
The fellow, who lifted weights and looked impressive, smacked me hard in the face and I was always under the ignorant belief that you let the other guy actually hit you before you fought back. I threw my books to the side and hit him with a left, then a hard right as he went off-balance and I knocked him onto the floor on his back in front of everyone. To my surprise, he grabbed up his books and took off and I grabbed mine and hurried into Mr. Crockett’s class before he arrived. Mr. Crockett was known for his ability to lift grown high school boys off the ground with his paddle and it was his answer for every altercation.
I now believe this was the impetus for the Bentley fight. The rest of that story I’ve already told and the odd thing was, I never got in another fight at Cherokee High School and everyone who was afraid of Eldridge Bentley steered clear of me and this is why you always resist a bully. They only feed upon the weak.
My brother sent me this note: “The kids name was Bobby Croft. I think he thought if he whipped you he would be some kind of hero. After the Eldridge Bentley fiasco, I was fishing at the little creek down from our house and Eldridge came along with his pole and sat by me. He told me what inspired him to fight that day. Our redneck neighbor from North Carolina, Mr. Lott offered him $5 apiece as a bounty to beat us up. Eldridge never got paid and he was sorry that he took the offer. He was the starting tailback on the football team and that ended his playing. I was walking in the 9th grade hall when I suddenly was picked off the ground from behind by the back of my shirt. Eldridge wanted to know where you were as he was going to go kick your butt and then come back for me. By the time I got over where you were Eldridge had already been there.”
Am I advocating fist fighting in school? No. I am advocating standing up for yourself and this may include learning to defend yourself, but it will for sure call for an adjustment of your attitude and that only comes by confidence, careful planning, or anger. The pen is indeed mightier than the sword, so friends, choose your path wisely.