Prairie Memories by Gary Heintz: My Uncle, the Fight Manager
My Uncle Herm was on the staff at the training school in Plankinton in the late ’50s-early ’60s. We used to visit Bev and Herm a couple of times a year. A big attraction for me was the gym that Uncle Herm gave me unlimited access to, allowing me to shoot baskets all day long. I was thirteen, a freshman in high school, and big for my age. Basketball consumed me every fall and winter.
I was alone in the gym one Saturday afternoon when Herm came in, followed by about twenty boys of all ages. As I shot baskets at one end of the floor, Herm gathered the boys around him at the other, bringing two boys into the center of the circle. One boy was bigger and heavier and appeared older than the other boy. Herm pulled out two pairs of huge boxing gloves, handing a pair to each of the boys, instructing them to put them on. I started getting interested in what was going on at the other end of the gym and stopped shooting, climbing up on the edge of the stage to watch the proceedings. At Herm’s signal, the two boys starting boxing, the bigger boy quickly getting the better of it. It was obvious to everyone this was a mismatch. The smaller boy started crying and quit fighting. There was no cheering around the circle, this was apparently more than just a boxing match. I listened to Uncle Herm question the boy, asking why he quit fighting. The answers he gave seemed obvious; the other boy was bigger, older, tougher. It wasn’t fair. I was enjoying the drama while I sat on the stage, swinging my feet back and forth. Herm reminded him that he had picked on another boy the day before who was smaller than he, did he think that had been fair? The boy countered with another reason the boxing match wasn’t fair. His opponent was older than he was. Uncle Herm, not skipping a beat, asked him how old he was. “Seventeen”, he said. Herm pointed at me and said ”Gary is thirteen, what if you fight him? “ What did Uncle Herm just say? I quit swinging my feet, suddenly taking a real personal interest in the conversation. I held my breath for what seemed like hours until the boy, seeing that I was also bigger than he was, declined Herm’s offer. Herm was making his point to all the boys in the circle. He drove home the fact that picking on someone smaller than you could have its consequences, that there would always be someone bigger to challenge you. Herm dismissed the boys and they quietly filed out of the gym.
Uncle Herm never said a word to me that day, and until I mentioned it forty years later, it was never a subject of conversation. I told him how impressed I was with the lesson he gave the boys about life, and how I was sure glad the boy hadn’t taken up Herm’s offer to box me. He chuckled, saying the boy figured he had brought in a “ringer,” and wouldn’t take the bait. I asked, “What if he had?” Herm said,” I would have bet on you,” smiling as he walked away. Gee, thanks, Uncle Herm.
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