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patterns of ink

How fruitless to be ever thinking yet never embrace a thought... to have the power to believe and believe it's all for naught. I, too, have reckoned time and truth (content to wonder if not think) in metaphors and meaning and endless patterns of ink. Perhaps a few may find their way to the world where others live, sharing not just thoughts I've gathered but those I wish to give. Tom Kapanka

Friday, June 26, 2009

Chapter 28-A "There Was Magic in the Shoes"

[Three accidentally omitted paragraphs were discovered and added Sunday AM.]

The school year that followed the digging of the well--the year when Kathy was away at college--was the peak of my brother Dave's high school wrestling career, and by a wonderful twist of fate, with the help of some magic shoes, it became the peak of my career as well in a brief reversal of roles. But first... some background.

The term "middle school" has been in use for a few decades now. It refers to grades 6 through 8. But when I was a kid, they used the term "junior high," which was grades 7 through 9. There was only one school system that I knew of that had 9th grade as part of its high school and that was East Detroit.

(That city--at least that name--no longer exists. Back in 1992, the town fathers thought it would sound less like it was related to Detroit and more like it was a second cousin of Grosse Pointe if they changed the name of the city to Eastpointe, That's Pointe with an "e" on the end, which we all know makes it even ritzier. How cities and towns get their names is a fascinating study, but it's not the topic of this post. Suffice to say that more than a decade later, East Detroit/Eastpointe is still pretty much the same place. What's in a name?)
Anyway, East Detroit was the only school around that had a "freshman class" of 9th graders in their high school building. Had that been true of Brablec High School in Roseville, Dave and I would have gone to school together that fall of 1970. But as it was, Dave and Paul drove to the high school each day, and I walked a few blocks to Burton Junior High on 11 Mile Road.

[Back in the 90's, Burton was torn down to make room for a home-improvement store. It was a perfectly good school building, but the baby-boom was over and there were no longer enough students in Roseville to fill the two high schools and three junior highs it once needed. So it made sense to raze the school on the most marketable lot.]

The 70-71 school year would be my second at Burton without Dave, but he remained my "closest" brother in age and in common interests. One of those interests was the sport of wrestling--not TV wrestling--we'd grown up watching "Big Time Wrestling" with its collection of stars (Bo Bo Brazil and Leapin' Larry Shane were our favorite good guys while Dick the Bruiser and The Sheik were our hated bad guys.) That kind of TV wrestling was fake and we all knew it. (A peek at those links will remove any doubt that the old TV wrestling was staged and fell far short of the brutality of today's real cage fights.) No, the kind of wrestling Dave took up the winter of my 9th grade year gave new meaning to being his little brother.

The year before, when Dave went to the high school, George Ryder, one of his friends from church talked him into joining the wrestling team. Dave had been chopping wood and pulling stumps with Dad for a year by then. He was gangly and strong, and in excellent shape. Still it was not common to begin a career at the varsity level, but as luck would have it, the varsity senior in Dave's weight class had difficulty "making weight" (especially when slated to meet his toughest opponents). So right from the start Dave was varsity and faced some of the best wrestlers in the area, and while he did not win all of his matches, he gained experience in a hurry and chalked up enough "surprise" victories against unsuspecting more-experienced grapplers to earn himself a Varsity Letter his first year.

As always, Dad got involved in this process. His athletic background was league softball and Golden Gloves Boxing. Until wrestling came along, all of his training with us boys was on the ball fields of Huron Park or in the basement with the boxing gloves he'd given us for Christmas years before. (It was a time when most fathers considered it their duty to teach a son how to stick up for himself, not to pick a fight, but to know how to end one if it started. I'm not necessarily advocating this mind-set, just explaining how Dad had trained us when we were kids on the playground.) Those old boxing gloves were still in the toy-box downstairs, but our hands had outgrown them, and our ball gloves were tossed in the closet for the winter. But Dad took that same energy from teaching us those sports and began helping Dave with this one less familiar him.

On any given night of the week, if you looked through our living room window, you could see all the furniture pushed aside and Dad and Dave looking at wrestling books and practicing the moves. These sessions often turned into full-blown tussles that shook the floor and walls and prompted Mom to grab her knickknacks from the shelves. In time, I got involved, too. Though I was no match for Dave, I was not a bad "sparring dummy."

And so began my wrestling career. It was the winter of rug burns.

I adopted Dave's interest in this sport, and became the best "feather weight" in Roseville with the ribbons to prove it. I took first place in both of my wrestling annual tournaments at that included all three Junior Highs. Seeing my potential, Coach Nelson asked Dave to start bringing me along to the high school practices over the Christmas Break of that 70-71 school year. Wow! Me, a mere junior high kid weighing in at 96 pounds fully dressed, was invited to work out with the heroes I'd been watching on the mat for two years. I was both nervous and thrilled.

I had no proper warm-up gear to practice in. All the other guys were wearing sweats and layers of floppy cotton shirts, and I was wearing my official Burton Junior High P.E. uniform, This was back in the day when P.E. classes were very regimented. Show up on Monday without a freshly laundered uniform and a "strap" to pull out from under the right leg to "snap" when ordered by the teacher... and you got a swat with a wooden paddle right there in front of the whole class. The swat was bad enough, but the lingering proof in the shower room after class was the real punishment. We had never heard of "Red Square" in Russia. To us, the term referred to the big welt on the butts of kids who dared show up without their P.E. uniform or a jock strap on Monday.

I had never gotten a swat for no uniform and strap on Monday, and for all I knew high-school wrestling practice was the same way. Dave didn't give it a thought until I stepped from the locker room to the wide open gym where two huge mats lay side by side.

There I stood with white shirt emblazoned with a smiling bobcat head with white matching boxer shorts, white crew socks, and white tennis shoes. I looked like Mr. Clean Jr. on stage with the motley cast Dickens’s Oliver Twist. But the forty or so guys of all shapes and sizes were so busy rolling and sparring on the big rubber mats that they didn't seem to notice.

Dave came up and whispered, "I'll get you some warm up clothes for tomorrow, but don't worry about it. Nobody cares what we wear. Let me introduce you to the guys you'll be with today."

I spent the morning working out with other guys within ten or twenty pounds of me, and didn't do half bad.

After that first day of practice, I found a pair of old wrestling shoes in the trash. Did I say "old"? They looked like they had been accidentally drug for miles out a car door by the laces. These shoes were missing rubber and had holes from too much time on the matt, but they were only one size bigger than I wore so I took them home and sewed on denim patches with orange darning thread.

It was the 70's, and tie-died shirts and ripped jeans with patches were the latest craze. Sort of like they still are now--except now they no longer patch the rips... they just leave 'em gaping and kids pay fifty bucks extra for all the wear-and-tear. Back then, we had to wear-out our own clothes.

Anyway, I thought the shoes looked cool with their funky patches.

[If I had not found those old wrestling shoes in my mother's attic a few months ago while we were preparing for last weekend's estate sale, I would have forgotten all about them and this chapter would not have happened. If I had not found them and taken these pictures, readers may find it hard to imagine just what I began wearing with pride when I worked-out with Dave's team.]

Once Christmas Break was over and wrestling practice was after school, I had no way of getting to the high school from Burton, but working out with the team for two weeks gave me an unfair advantage in the Roseville Junior High Wrestling Tournament. I took home the blue ribbon for the second year straight.

It was a week later that Coach Nelson sent Dave home with some exciting news. They were going to face East Detroit the following week, and since that school began with freshmen, our school was allowed to invite 9th graders up from the "feeder" junior high schools.

"Me? Wrestling in a real meet against East Detroit? Of course, I'll do it." I smiled, but deep in my stomach, butterflies started clinging to branches.

I'll never forget the nervous feeling I had as Dave and I and Dad walked through the main entrance to East Detroit High. They were the shamrocks, and they had a big four-leaf clover emblem in the tile floor of their entryway. I accidentally stepped onto the shamrock, and a guy who was standing guard over the sacred spot told me step back not to cross over the shamrock. I did a little jig to side-step it, but it seemed like the floor of the front door was a pretty dumb place to put something so untouchable. I later learned it was only visiting teams that were not allowed to walk on the emblem. Still, my first step into the building only heightened my nerves.

To be continued...
Chapter 28-B will be posted next week as time allows.


Anonymous quilly said...

Hey! What do you mean "to be continued"!? Waiting from chapter to chapter is bad enough. Stopping in the iddle of a story just isn't fair!

26/6/09 1:11 PM  
Anonymous quilly said...


See how you muddled me?

26/6/09 1:12 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

After having you catch my mispelling of "bawl" a few chapters ago, I'm glad to see that you wrote "iddle." =)

I'm not trying to be coy in my timing. The next part is not quite finished and I'll be away from wireless for a couple days but hopefully, I'll get it posted before the 4th.

26/6/09 4:25 PM  
Blogger the walking man said...

To be continued...patiently waiting

1/7/09 5:04 AM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

TWM, Mark,
Thanks for your patience. This story happened not too far from your home.

3/7/09 4:06 PM  

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