Eddie Grant was the shortest boy in our fifth grade class at school. He came from a family that I suppose some would say was from the wrong side of the tracks. Poor, and somewhat plain in looks; not ugly exactly, just unusual looking with his large nose, and hair that was neither straight nor truly curly; and a little on the chunky side.
He was being raised by his grandparents, which at that time was unusual. He said his mother lived in California and she would come back for him as soon as she got settled. He never mentioned his father, so I never knew if he was in California too, or maybe he was dead.
He seemed lonely and desperate to fit in with the kids at school, never really achieving a friend status with anyone. I felt sorry for him. He wanted to be everyone's friend, but he just tried too hard. He was thought of as obnoxious to most of the other kids; always telling lame jokes and joining in on conversations that he wasn't a part of.
When teams were chosen during recess for games on the playground, Eddie always found himself the last one picked. Although he always smiled as he ran over to join the team, as if he had been one of the first called, I know it must have hurt to be the last. He wasn't really good in sports like baseball or basketball; he wasn't coordinated and his short legs kept him from running around the bases or making the hoop shots.
Few of us in class were from wealthy families, except for Lori and Jeannette (Jenny) Albright. They were first cousins and both behaved richer than they really were. They wore all the latest fads in clothing and boasted about vacations in places most of us would never see. They were snobs to most everyone who they perceived tohave less than them.
It was true that their families had more money than allot of other's in our small little town of Westwood. The majority worked in the furniture mill and lived paycheck-to paycheck; squeaking out a living on minimum wages.
Lori and Jenny's parents owned most of the land in and around town. Lori's dad had a large peach orchard and she lived in a big two story white house that made my house look like a tiny shack. I guess my house was a tiny shack, but I never thought of it that way until the class had an Easter egg hunt at Lori's home.
Her mom was a den mother for our class; she baked cupcakes and decorated them with colored jelly beans and there was a refrigerator that sat in a building where the baskets of peaches were stored for selling, filled with sodas and icicle pops for us. I had never seen a refrigerator outside before, so I assumed they must be better off than the rest of us. There was prizes for the kids who found the most eggs, or the ones with special decals that meant you got a quarter. I was happy that we got to take our found eggs home with us. That meant mom could make egg salad out of them and I'd have an egg salad sandwichfor breakfast. Eddie did find an egg with the special label on it. He beamed when Mrs. Albright handed him his shiney new quarter. Lori and Jenny just made a face and went to try and find one for themselves.
Eddie hadn't started in first grade with us kids, he had only come to live with his grandparents that year. Lori and Jenny had made him their target from his first day in class.
During lunch hour Eddie had presented the server witha voucher for his meal. Vouchers were handed out to the poorest kids whose family couldn't afford the twenty-five cents a day for lunch. Lori and Jenny stood behind him giggling and whispering. If Eddie heard them, he never showed it.
"Look at him, he can't even afford to pay for his lunch." Jenny said.
"No wonder, he doesn't even have parents. He lives with his grandparents. They're so old they're probably on welfare." Lori laughed as she handed her quarter to the server.
Eddie took his tray and walked over to a table where the boys sat.
"Mind if I sit here?" Eddie asked.
"It's a free country." replied Roger Freeman. The boys went back to their conversation as if Eddie wasn't there.
After he finished eating Eddie got up to return his tray. He walked by Lori and Jenny's table and just before he got past it, Lori stuck her foot out causing Eddie to trip. His tray went flying and Eddie landed face down on the floor. As kids will do, the lunch room erupted into a roar of laughter.
Eddie got up and looked toward Lori, his face red with embarrassment.
"Sorry, I was stretching my leg and didn't see you there," she laughed.
Eddie said nothing to her; instead he headed for the restroom to wash off the remnants of food that had splattered his shirt.
From that day forward Jenny and Lori would pass Eddie in the halls and purposely bump into him, causing him to drop his books. They would snicker and make some remark.
"God, you're so clumsy Eddie. You should watch where you're going."
Looking back, I really think if those two girls had left Eddie alone, he might have actually made friends with some of the kids in class. But because so many kids wanted Lori and Jenny to like them and include them in their little click, they joined in with the bullying of Eddie.
It was around Christmas and we were all looking forward to being out of school for two weeks during the holidays that day. Mrs. Porter asked her class to take turns standing up and telling what their plans were for Christmas and include what they hoped to get on Christmas day.
Most of us talked about going to our grandparents after opening our gifts and the majority mentioned wanting bikes. The boys wanted a new basketball or a catcher's' mitt, while the girls wanted Barbies and new clothes.
Eddie's turn came and he stood in front of the class and told us he was going to California for Christmas.
"My mom sent me a ticket, and she said she had a big Christmas tree with lots of surprises for me under it. She said I might have to get another suitcase before I come back just to carry all the stuff I'm getting."
Eddie stood there looking so happy and I for one believed him when he talked about his mom.
Then Lori spoke up, "Going to California for Christmas. That's funny Eddie. I heard your mother is a prostitute and no one knows who your daddy is, not even your mother. I heard she dumped you on your grandparents and just took off. So that makes you a liar and everything you just said is a big fat lie."
The look that came into Eddie's eyes will forever haunt me. He stood there frozen, the tears flooded from his eyes and his hands clinched into fists. He looked around at the class, who sat silent; I guess even they thought this went too far.
Mrs. Porter told Lori to wait for her in the hallway outside the class. Lori protested she had done nothing wrong except to tell the truth about Eddie and his non-existent mother. But, after a stern repeat of Mrs. Porter's instructions, she sulked out of the classroom.
Mrs. Porter put her hands on Eddie's shoulders to comfort him. He quickly jerked away and yelled,
"My mother is not a prostitute! She lives in California and she is coming to get me; we'll live together real soon! You'll see, you'll all see!" With that said, he ran from the room. He didn't return to class that day. I can only guess he ran the half mile home.
Lori was taken to the principal's office and finally returned with her eyes red, as if she had been crying. Her parents showed up at the end of the day to pick her up, which was unusual, since she always rode the bus home.
I had been bullied by Lori and her snobby cousin, so I secretly took delight in thinking she was in trouble with her folks. They had made fun of my hand-me-down clothes, and the fact they were not in style anymore. I had more spunk than Eddie though, and I had knocked Jenny down on the playground and clawed her arms with my fingernails, pulled her hair and torn her fancy new dress.
I got sent home, but my dad didn't give me the whipping I thought I'd surely get for getting into a fight.
After I told him some of what she'd said to me, he just looked at my scratches and said,
"When you go back to school tomorrow, don't have a single band-aid on those scratches. Don't let her know she hurt you."
I remember that her parents called mine, but nothing came of it, so I guess my dad filled them in on things Jenny probably had conveniently forgotten to include in her version of events.
I wore no band-aids, but Jenny had about six of them on her arms and hands. She never bullied me again after that.
Eddie wasn't like me though. He was shy and besides he could hardly get into a physical fight with a girl.
After we came back from the holidays, Eddie seemed different. He never mentioned going to California during Christmas to visit his mother. He really didn't talk much at all anymore. He kept to himself, not even standing in line anymore to be chosen lastfor games during recess. It was like he just quit trying to make friends with any of the kids.
He especially tried to avoid Lori and Jenny in class, the lunchroom or in the halls. I'd watch him turn and go the other way when they were around. They seemed to leave him alone too, at least for awhile anyway.
Then, one day as the school year was soon coming to a close for summer break; Jenny snuck up behind Eddie and poured a glass of cold water down the neck of his shirt. Eddie had been sitting on the edge of a desk talking to one of the boys. When the cold water streamed down his back he lunged forward, causing the desk to flip over; hitting another boy on the foot.
The boy was J.T. Capel, and he was bigger than any other boy in our class; due to the fact he had failed several grades so he must have been around thirteen years old at that time. No one bothered J.T. because they knew he had a mean temper and would fight at the drop of a hat.
While Jenny was still laughing at the "joke" of pouring the water down Eddie's back; J.T. grabbed Eddie by the collar and punched him in the gut. It didn't seem to matter to J.T. that Eddie hadn't purposely caused the desk to land on his foot.
Eddie jumped up and since the way out of the room was blocked by J.T. he ran to the back of the room and ran in the closet, shutting the door behind him.
"Ok, you little coward…you want to hide in the closet; well that's fine by me. I'll just lean against the door and sooner or later you'll want out."
I guess Eddie decided that he might as well come out and get the shit beaten out of him, because he began to yell for J.T. to let him out of the closet.
J.T. opened the door of the closet about two inches, and Eddie stuck his hand out the gap in the door.
"Come on J.T., let me out of here." Eddie shouted.
I don't know if J.T. didn't see Eddie's hand or if he just didn't care, but he slammed his body hard against the door; smashing Eddie's fingers between the door and the casing around the door.
The scream that came from Eddie at that moment, was one that sounded like a wounded animal. Someone pulled J.T. away from the door, and Eddie bounded from the closet in a full run. He was still screaming as he ran into the main office building where the school nurses office was.
We learned later, after the school secretary came back from taking Eddie to the Emergency Room, that J.T. had broken all four fingers on Eddie's left hand. His grandparents came to the hospital, and Eddie was out of school for several days.
J.T. was expelled from school for the month left of the school term, and dropped out of school before the next year began.
I suppose Lori and Jenny decided to leave Eddie alone after that. They didn't tease him or knock books from his hands, or pour water down his back anymore.
Eddie did make a couple of friends later on in high school. He worked after school at a local garage and his two friends, Bobby and Richard, would hang out with Eddie on the weekends. They were two of the basket ball players for the school team, and very popular with the girls.
It was an unlikely friendship they shared, but Eddie didn't care if they used him to pay for the gas in Rick's car and get them beer by talking his older co-worker into going into the store to get it for them, since Eddie waspaying for that too. Eddie finally had friends, and that is all he ever wanted.
Then, one night in the summer of nineteen-sixty eight, the year before we would all graduate high school, Bobby and Rick talked Eddie into leaving work early that Saturday to hang out with them.
They drank beer, cruising the local fast food joints, and then decided to drive down to a teen hang out spot by the Legion Hut. Kids often went there to hang out and drink. It was way back in the woods, about six miles outside the town.
After the party began to break up and the three boys had drunk some more, they decided to head home. Rick was behind the wheel and apparently speeding as they round a sharp curve about three miles from town. He lost control of the car and ended up turning over several times before coming to rest against a large pine tree.
According to police reports, Rick had been semi-ejected from the car; but his foot was caught in the door as the car flipped. He died at the scene of severe head trauma and multiple body injuries.
Bobby was alive and made it to the emergency room, living long enough for his parents to get there before passing away from his injuries.
Eddie seemed to have come out the best, having been thrown well away from the car and winding up in the grass by the roadside. He lay on the gurney in the emergency room waiting for the doctor to come in. He was talking to the nurses and alert, but as the doctor came into the room, Eddie's condition suddenly took a turn. He died on his way to surgery of internal injuries, a ruptured spleen and a large gash in his liver.
The school faculty and students mourned the loss of their two star basketball players and a few even mourned for Eddie too. The school yearbook that year was dedicated to the three young boys.
For the first time in Eddie's whole school life, he was recognized in a respectful and dignified way. Its just a shame it took his death to make that happen.I wish that I had stood up when people bullied Eddie, but I didn't and I will always feel regret about that.
I didn't attend Bobby and Rick's funerals. There were allot of people there from what I was told. I went to Eddie's instead. At his funeral, there were a handful of students, including me, and his grandparents. Beside them stood a middle-aged woman, and when we all walked back to our cars, I noticed her car had a California plate on the back.