I had turned away from both of them, not wanting to watch as the two of them traded blows. There is a unique sound made when a balled up fist strikes someone's face. You can almost judge the severity of the damage inflicted just by hearing that sound. Without turning around to see, I knew that the fight was suddenly over. I had also heard the slight click that teeth make when they are suddenly forced into contact with each other. That was immediately followed by the soft moan that takes place as air is suddenly expelled from an unconscious person's mouth. The last sound I paid attention to was the one a body makes as it strikes soft ground with all the force of accumulated gravity. I didn't want to know who was the victor, and who the vanquished. Close family members should never fight with each other, that is what I'd had drilled into me by my father ever since I was old enough to know what fighting meant. Now that I was older, I understood that this rule was more often honored in the breach than in compliance.
My cousins, Billy and Donald, had just performed yet another breach. Billy was fifteen years old and just coming into his own physically. He'd never be tall, but his latest, and final, growth spurt had raised him above five foot nine, and he had finished being a welterweight, moving up to middleweight, at around one hundred fifty eight pounds. Donald, like his father, my Uncle Donald, was more than six feet tall and weighed every bit of two hundred pounds. He was eighteen years old and had just gotten home on a leave from the Army. He had completed basic training and would soon be enroute to Illinois for some technical schooling in electronics. I was only twelve years old myself, and I knew that there would soon be hard feelings surfacing as a result of what had just occurred in the woods behind the houses where we all lived.
Margaret Tracy, Billy's sometimes girlfriend, was the bone of contention that the two cousins were fighting over. Cousin Donald held the belief that, since he was older and bigger than Billy, he had an unquestioned right to make a play for her affections. Margaret was of a similarly held belief, and had done less than nothing to discourage Donald's interest. Even though Margaret was only fifteen herself, she was physically well developed, and wise beyond her years in the art of attracting and holding male attention. Billy's position was also quite clear, Margaret was his property, and he'd protect what was his from all comers.
Donald was completely familiar with Billy's oft stated position, he just didn't believe that Billy would be foolish enough to try to enforce it against him. Army basic training had made him stronger and tougher than he'd been when he had joined up. Billy would have to be insane to try to pit himself against Donald. Unfortunately for Donald, Billy never paid attention to things like age, size and training. He had one speed, all out, and one simple fight plan too. He'd try to hit you until you were no longer standing or else he was no longer able to lift his arms to throw a blow.
It was an effective plan, and in this case, as in most others where he was involved, it led him to success. After Billy passed by me en route to having a little talk with Margaret, I turned around and headed right back into the woods. Cousin Donald was just coming to when I got back to where he lay.
"Jackie, what the hell did he hit me with?"
"Just his fist, Donnie. One punch was all I heard before you came crashing to the ground. Billy is tough isn't he?"
"Jesus, I'd say so! My jaw is already aching and I can feel a couple teeth are knocked loose. I guess I better look elsewhere for a little gash while I'm home on leave."
"I'd stay away from Margaret if I was you. She'll try to keep you interested just because she likes seeing Billy getting upset."
"You think she knew it was going to turn out like this? With Billy whipping me?"
"I don't think she much cared Donnie. She and him are always fighting, and then making up right after. You aren't the first one that's tried taking her away from him."
Donald got up and walked out of the woods, with me following close behind him. I was only a couple of inches shorter than him, but I weighed one hundred pounds less. My father used to tell me to stay indoors if a strong wind was blowing outside. He pretended to be scared that I'd get blown away because of how skinny I was. I walked Donald over to his house and then walked home to see if there was anything to eat for lunch. We ate everyday at my house, but we sometimes skipped a meal if our money was too tight. There were six mouths to feed in our house, and my father's always came first. That wasn't his idea, it was my mother's firm rule. We needed to keep him strong and healthy, if we had any hope of surviving ourselves. We didn't miss very many meals though, and there was always bread and margarine if you got too hungry. There was jelly too, but that was usually saved to be put on the buttered toast my father ate every morning.
As soon as Uncle Donald got home from work, he found out about the fight, and about Donnie getting his ass handed to him on a silver platter. The whole street could hear Uncle Donald yelling at Donnie, demanding to know how he could accept getting whipped by a little boy. Fifteen minutes after the yelling started, Uncle Donald and Donnie came back out of their front door. Uncle Donald was still shouting, but he was also dragging Donnie along with him towards my Uncle Bill's house. Donnie wasn't happy at this turn of events, let me assure you. I was leaning against our porch railing watching the whole spectacle unfold.
My father picked that exact moment to come driving up in his old 1937 Pontiac, the one with it's own rumble seat in the back where the trunk usually would be... There was also a one square foot hole in the rear floorboard, caused by weather rust, and all of us kids used to spit down it when we were going somewhere with our parents. I turned and watched my father get out of the car. He was in his dress blue uniform, with all the red stripes on his sleeve with the rating and hashmarks denoting his years of service. If you hadn't ever gotten in trouble, during your Navy career, the hashmarks were gold, not red. None of my father's friends had, or wanted, gold hashmarks. He always looked good in his dress uniform, and got lots of looks from the women in our neighborhood.
Just as my father was getting to our porch, Uncle Donald starts banging on Uncle Bill's front door. "What's going on Yutch? Am I missing something?"
"Billy knocked out Donnie with one punch and Uncle Donald is mad about something."
"One punch? Are you sure he was knocked out and not just stunned a little?"
"I walked back in the woods where he was laying, and it was a couple minutes at least from when he got hit. He was just waking up when I bent down to check on him."
"Doesn't that just beat all? Fifteen years old and knocking a full grown man out already. Reminds me of me when I was his age. What's for supper? I don't smell anything cooking."
"Ma's over at Aunt Margaret's right now, and they're boiling some lobsters that "Tood" traded mom and Aunt Margaret for." He rapped me lightly across the top of my head. "I meant Mrs.Gates, pop, sorry."
"What did she trade for this time?" While we're talking back and forth about supper and trading, fifty feet away from us, my Uncle Bill is telling my Uncle Donald to get off of his porch. He's telling him nice, but, at the same time, he's blocking the way, and preventing Uncle Donald from going inside his house. That was when Aunt Margaret and my mother, two of Uncle Donald's sisters, came to the front door and got themselves involved in the discussion.
Seeing my mother, my father stepped off of our porch and started walking towards all of them. "Hello Donald, Bill, what's going on here?" My father loved to foment trouble, especially among all of his Murphy in laws. He and my Uncle Donald had a long history of conflict and mutual dislike. Actually it was more like two stags vying for dominance over the herd.
"That little shitass Billy, sucker punched my Donnie, and now Bill won't let me in to see him to find out what the hell he thinks he was doing." Donnie turned around and looked right at me. He looked nervous and pretty unhappy to find himself caught up right in the middle of it all.
"Bill, if I was you, I'd let Donald see Billy and we can get to the bottom of all this and maybe finally be able to put on the feed bags. Don't worry about anything bad happening to Billy. I'm sure Donald only wants to ask him a few questions. Right Donald?" My father gave my mother some kind of a signal with his head and she went back inside to go find Billy. Aunt Margaret stayed right where she was standing. In less than a minute Billy comes to the front door and pushed his father aside enough that he can squeeze through so that he is standing directly in front of Uncle Donald.
"You want to see me?" Billy was half a foot shorter than Uncle Donald, and was outweighed by at least seventy pounds. In addition, everyone in the family knew that Uncle Donald and my father had tangled on a couple occasions, without there being any clear winner. Uncle Donald was the toughest Murphy of them all. He had four living brothers who'd all attest to that, as well as any number of people over the years who thought they could back him down from a position that he held or espoused.
"What the hell do you mean by punching Donnie when he wasn't looking? You think you're a Jap or something?"
.... There is more of this story ...