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James R. Stout

Jack and Raymond: Back to Back

              Raymond was an “old” nine-year-old. “Old” meaning he was wise for his young years. To his younger brother Jack, he was not only wise, but also a fierce protector of his younger brother. Jack was just six-years-old at the time and looked up to his big brother for wisdom and guidance. He needed both given the life that the two boys had inherited. The summer of 1929 in Shreveport, Louisiana was the third summer that the two boys spent at the Genevieve Orphanage. They, along with two sisters, were sent to the orphanage in 1926. Things would get much worse for both of them in the years to come given the depression that began in late 1929 and other factors related to a corrupt state government and the lack of compassion by too many adults for orphaned children at the time. But on this particular day in July of 1929 Raymond and Jack were playing a game of stickball on the playground of the orphanage with several other boys.

            One thing that Jack was learning was that you had to be tough to survive in the world that he lived. Another thing that Jack became acutely aware of was that his brother Raymond was not only tough, but also had garnered a reputation for being someone that you didn’t mess with. But on this day, there were three new boys that hadn’t learned that lesson yet. They were about to be schooled by the “Green Boys”. The stickball game was going along pretty well until there was a dispute over whether or not a pitch thrown by Jack was meant to hit the batter or not. Jack certainly didn’t try to hit the other boy, but he had, and the boy was one of the new boys. Thaddeus Walford was the boy’s name. Only he didn’t like being called Thaddeus. He preferred “Thad”. Thad was large for his age of 8 and considered himself a scrapper and then some. He didn’t put up with much and he certainly wasn’t going to put up with this little towheaded skinny kid hitting him with the baseball.

            “I’m gonna make you eat that baseball, kid. You just watch me!” screamed Thad as he picked up the baseball and headed for the makeshift pitching mound. Now, Jack was no scaredy cat, but he could see right off that he was outmatched by the size of Thad. Thad’s two pals, the other two new boys at the orphanage, decided it might be fun to get in a few licks on the little pipsqueak, so they headed towards the mound to give their pal Thad a hand. Not that Thad needed it.

            Well, that was a mistake. A big mistake. Jack looked at the three boys approaching and then realized that like magic, Raymond appeared at his side. Raymond had been playing at first base.

            “Jack, you remember what I told you about getting in the first lick. No talking about it. Just take the first action on ole Thad there and be sure to make it count. I’ll be right here at your back.” Raymond told his little brother.

            As was common of boys the world over, the remaining group of boys started to form a circle around the Green brothers and their approaching adversaries. They were primed for a little blood sport. As Thad got to the mound, he put his hands on his hips and started to tell Jack what he was going to do to him.

            “Shut that piker up now, Jack” said Raymond.

            Jack took a deep breath and then did what he was told to do and taught to do by Raymond. In what must have appeared to be roughly the speed of light, Jack balled up his left fist and gave an over-handed round house punch smack on the nose of one Thaddeus Walford. Things got real interesting after that. Thad dropped to the ground holding his nose with his now bloodied hands and never had a chance. Jack dropped down on top of Thad, pinning his shoulders to the ground, and started to pummel Thad’s face and neck with punches from both hands. He was barely aware of the action going on behind him.

            “Help me! Help me!” came the cries. Only they were cries from Jack instead of Thad. Jack figured he was going to get beat-up bad when Thad recovered. Jack just didn’t understand that the fight had gone out of Thad with that first punch. What seemed to Jack to be several long minutes, but was in reality no more than a few seconds, had passed and he was lifted off of Thad by two big hands belonging to Mr. Ferris, the handy man and janitor at the orphanage. The first thing that Jack did was look at the man who everyone liked because of his kindness and understanding and then Jack said, “He was gonna beat me up and I had to defend myself. Watch ‘em cause he’s liable to go after me now.”

            “Jack, I think you don’t have much to worry about. Look at the other boy.” Said Mr. Ferris.

            Jack looked down at Thad who was a bonified mess by that time. Covered in a mud of blood and dirt from his neck up, Thad was whimpering and crying like a little baby. He looked back at Mr. Ferris with a puzzled look on his face and could hardly believe that the worst thing he had gotten was a couple of scraped knuckles. About that time, Jack looked around and there was Raymond, beaming from ear to ear, proud as punch that his little brother had been victorious. Also, on the ground were the other two new boys. One was holding his stomach and the other was nursing a fat lip. Raymond had pretty much dispatched them with two punches.

            “Now you boys shake hands and forget whatever it was that caused you to take to fighting.” Said Mr. Ferris.

            Thad shakily lifted his right hand and Jack cautiously took it and they shook hands. Raymond helped the other two boys up off the ground then handshakes were exchanged all around.

            “You boys go over there to the water spigot and clean yourselves up. I won’t mention this to Mrs. Hamilton if you won’t.” he said with a smile.

            Raymond walked over to Jack and put his arm around his shoulder and said to the other boys standing around, “You sure don’t mess with MY kid brother!”

            Later that evening after supper the two boys were sitting on the front steps of the orphanage and enjoying a rare cool breeze. Jack sat with his head propped up by both hands while Raymond laid back on the top step on his elbows.

            “You know, Mrs. Hamilton’s liable to hear about the fight anyway.” Raymond said.

            “Yeah, I know. That’s what worries me.” Said Jack.

            “You listen hear, little brother. If she asks you about it, then you tell her that it was all me. Ain’t no use in both of us getting in trouble. She’s always worse on you anyway because you’re younger.” Raymond warned.

            “I can’t do that, Raymond. I was the one that hit Thad with the ball in the first place even if it was an accident. And it was me that poked him in the nose and made it bleed.” Jack replied.

            “You do what I tell you little brother. Have I ever steered you wrong? Now, I mean it. If she asks about it, then blame it on me.”

            Jack just grumbled something under his breath and left it at that. Then he changed subjects.

            “What was Mama like, Raymond? I mean, I kind of remember her, but not really. Was she a good Mama?” Jack asked.

            Raymond sat quiet for a few minutes as if he was collecting his thoughts and then he said, “Jack, she was a good Mama. She just had more on her plate than she could handle. She didn’t want them taking us kids away like they did, but all the strength had gone out of her and she couldn’t stop ‘em from doing it. Besides, we’re probably better off at this old place than if we’d gone to live with Aunt Mattie or Uncle Robert. Them two are just mean. There’s sumpin’ wrong with them two.”

            Jack seemed to accept the explanation and before long he reached over and poked Raymond in the side with a big grin on his face. Jack was a kidder. Sometimes his good nature was catching even for his more serious-minded big brother. Raymond pretended to ignore the poke and then as he stood up, he reached over and tousled Jack’s sandy blond hair.

            “Let’s get inside before we get into trouble. Maybe I’ll read you one of those stories about that Dr. Dolittle or some of that book “Smoky, The Cowhorse.”. Raymond said.

            “Yea! I like that book about Smoky!” Jack replied.

            The two brothers walked back inside of the orphanage that they would call home for some years to come. There was a special bond between these two brothers and even mean ole Mrs. Hamilton could see it. It would be a bond that would last for life.

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