Harry E--- was a good friend, despite the fact that he punched me in the face on the playground at the junior high. Except maybe for the time I was distractedly watching a sixth grade girls’ softball game and took a hard-driven, foul ball to the cheek and jaw, Harry's punch was the hardest I'd ever been hit, up to then. For some silly seventh-grader reason, Harry was spinning around with his arms extended, doing twirls. I came out the gymnasium door and took his centrifugally accelerated fist right in the face. I wasn’t knocked down but it stunned me pretty good. The look on Harry's face and his stammering apology confirmed it was an accident, so we let it go at that. After all, he was one of my best buddies.
It was through Harry that I met Billy Bee. They were cousins. They lived a couple of doors apart over on Ambler Street. Harry moved to Quakertown first. Billy Bee came a little later. They were from up in coal country; someplace like Hazelton or Shamokin ("It ain't burning but it's sure Shamokin," my dad used to say. It was Centralia, PA that was burning, of course). Harry showed up in my class down at the Neidig one September. Billy Bee arrived soon after. Two new guys in the neighborhood my age was an exciting prospect, but also set the groundwork for juvenile conflict.
We lived by the creek across from the school. My 'gang' considered that whole area as pretty much ours. It included the footbridge, the woods along the creek and Mr. Etter's fields and old chicken coops. We didn't have any 'power' over the school grounds, of course. That was public domain. It caused a few 'turf war’ style arguments over the years, though.
The incident happened the first time I met Billy Bee. Harry brought him down to the creek to mess around. I forget who built the raft. Maybe they did and dragged it all the way from their place. At any rate, they launched it in the Licking Run just below the footbridge.
I think it was me, my brother and Eddie Z---. We were on the bridge. Harry E--- and Billy Bee were trespassing on our turf. Harry seemed cool enough, but I didn't know Billy Bee at all, and he was a little bit of a smart-mouth. We acted tough, mocked and yelled at them. They did the same thing back at us.
When they got on the raft, as anyone our age would have, we decided to throw rocks at them while they were poling along with sticks in the shallow, slow moving creek. At first we just threw at the water close to them, to splash them. One or two might have hit the raft, but that was just bad aiming. The problem was, they both started yelling at us, and then, Billy Bee gave us the finger.
It made me mad; or maybe I just wanted to reemphasize my leadership role with my gang. I took a small, maybe inch and a half diameter, flat, sharp-edged skipping stone; the type that curves real nice if thrown right. Harry and Billy Bee were about ten yards downstream, standing on the flimsy raft. They were getting pretty mad at us, too.
I aimed a little to the right and let the rock sail. I didn't put everything I had on it, but it arced just perfect. It went straight for half the distance then curved to the left. As it got closer, it hooked sharply and dropped right into the 'strike zone'. Coming in at about a 45 degree angle it hit Billy Bee on the top of his head and skipped off into the creek.
Billy Bee got a horrified, round-mouthed, bug-eyed look on his face. He reached up to the top of his head. He didn't say anything, even when the blood started running down his face. But, when he pulled his hand back and saw it, he screamed. Harry was yelling by then, too: "You hit him. He's bleeding!"
Naturally, we ran as fast as we could. Eddie sneaked on home. I don't know where my brother went. I went over to Doosey's and hung out for a little while before going home the long way. I came in through the back door, glancing over at the footbridge. Harry and Billy Bee were long gone. Nobody was home. My mom's car was gone.
I noticed a bloody towel on the floor near the front door. There were wet spots and mud on the runner and entry carpet and it looked like blood spots on the tile floor. The front bathroom was a mess. Stuff was thrown out of medicine cabinet and there was a bloody washcloth and spattered blood spots in the sink.
I got 'the rest of the story' (in a loud, angry tone), when my mom got home from the hospital. I hit Billy Bee right on the vein on the top of the head that bleeds a lot, cutting it open two stitches worth. It was gushing so badly that instead of trying to get home, Harry and Billy Bee went to the nearest house for help--my place.
My mom was known for freaking out. A blood drenched kid showing up at the door put her over the edge. She had Billy Bee lay down on the floor, tried to get the bleeding to stop but couldn't. She sent Harry home to raise the alarm and took Billy Bee up to the emergency room. When Billy Bee's mom showed up, mine came home looking for me. I was grounded for quite a while.
I see how it could have created an adversarial relationship and complicated the balance of power in our neighborhood, but a little like Japan and the U.S., Harry E--- and Billy Bee became two of the best friends I've ever had. Even up into senior high school, Billy Bee would occasionally remind me of the time I beaned him with a rock and he nearly bled to death. Since we're all old men with balding heads now, Billy Bee has a scar to showoff and a tale to tell to his grandkids and at class reunions.