I remember one time in 8th grade, shortly after I had moved to Cedar Falls from Mankato, Minnesota. I was in Peete Junior High and was sitting next to Orv. He looked at me a few times and scared me to death. When he spoke to me it was always with a sneer and threat. I remember one time he and a bunch of his friends had cornered a friend of mine in the lockers. Now the lockers were set up in rows that that extended out into the hall. There were small lockers set on top of each other. Coats were to be hung in the large space under the lockers. I’m sure the mastermind who designed the lockers thought the teachers could see under lockers and that would be good enough to stop any of the monkey business that might happen in the secluded part, way in the back. It was certainly an interesting design, and a huge failure. A group of persons could go back into the lockers and do who knows what. With so many legs and feet to see, no one would be the wiser. Well, as I said Orv and a group of his friends had cornered my friend in the back of the lockers. I heard the loud sound of someone fist connecting with someone else and the next thing I saw was my friend flying out of the lockers completely horizontal to the tiled floor. I was concerned about my friend but at the same time was pretty impressed. I figured my friend did have a wise mouth and probably deserved what he got.
Each day the stories about Orv grew bigger and bigger. It was said that he could lift a car off the ground standing in the front of it. The person who told that story had his listener’s rapt attention as he told of Orv walking to the front of a car, grabbing onto the bumper and lifting the front half of the car into the air. Cars have gotten smaller and lighter since then but in 1964 they were heavy and everyone left believing the story to be true.
Orv had a way of walking. You could see with each step he made, he commanded attention. There wasn’t a wasted pound on him, and as he walked, you knew it. He had a swarthy dark complexion and long wavy black hair that reminded you of Danny in the movie Grease. I remember one time in 11th grade he came out for football. He played fullback and was given the ball. He wasn’t fast but everyone got out of his way except our big linebacker. This linebacker was easily 6 feet tall and weighed close to 200 pounds. Orv didn’t put a move on him, he just ran at him. When they collided Orv was still running and the Linebacker was headed backward, in the air. It was simply amazing but Orv quit the team. The rumor was that it interfered with his 8 hour night shift at the John Deere Tractor plant in Waterloo.
It was about then that our class’s attention turned from the local Hoods to the very real problem of guys from Waterloo schools dating our girls. From then on the Rumble in the park was always going to be with the guys from West High School in Waterloo and it was always at Mandalay Park and it never happened. It was about that time that everyone started carrying sticks for self-protection. Now I don’t know if this is true or not but I may influenced that. My family had relatives who were missionaries in Africa. They probably hadn’t been there for 30 years but I remember that they brought back some gifts for my dad when he was a boy. There was a strange tooth brush that was made out of a curved branch with a frayed end. They brought a war hatchet that looked every bit like you would imagine a tomahawk to look and they brought with them a walking stick. This walking stick was about 18 inches long, a couple inches round and had a face carved into it. I was told by my dad the purpose of the club was to be carried by the elders as they walked around the village at the end of the day. It looked peaceful enough but it was carved out of Iron wood and it certainly could be used as a club. I have no doubt it would lay a person’s head open if that was the need at the time. I kept these things on display in my room and told everyone who would listen of their purpose. It was about that time that people started carrying sticks or clubs in their car in case they happened to run into the boys from West.
Each stick was different. One of my friends carried a sanded down 2 by 2 with wire wrapped around the end. He told of the time he was jumped by four guys from West. He reached under his car seat for his stick. He did some damage and drove them off. Or so he said, some of his stories were more entertainment then real fact. Unlike the stories about Orv, which we believed to be true, my friends stories were very entertaining but probably didn’t happen.
My stick was in fact a boomerang cut out of ¾’s inch ply wood. It was big and cut at a 90 degree angle. Actually it was cut and sanded down during my ninth grade boomerang phase. A ¼ inch boomerang always came back but broke in the first day or so. We tried to cut a big one out of thicker plywood to solve that problem. The ¾ inch ply wood didn’t break, but didn’t come back either. When you threw the boomerang it flew about five feet above the ground and then at about 25 feet out it went straight up in the air. I took it to the park and threw it different ways to try to make it come back but it always went about 25 feet straight out and then up in the air. I never figured I would actually throw it at anyone but it was sure scary looking and I think that was the idea. One time I did throw it. I was driving my 1949 fire engine red Plymouth convertible. The top was down, it was a sunny day and school was just out. I was following a bunch of my friends who were in a car about 25 feet in front of me. They were slamming on the breaks, making faces and generally being a pain. So I slammed on my breaks and quickly grabbed my big boomerang from under the seat, stood up and threw it at them. I can still see their faces turn from goofy grins to looks of abject horror as the boomerang flew toward their back window. It came very close to them and then, just as I knew it would, it went straight up in the air as their car peeled off. I ran and got the boomerang and got in my car and headed home. If I saw kids behaving like that today, one or all of them would be in jail, but it was a different time or maybe I was just younger.
We didn’t hear about any more episodes with the sticks as that phase ran its course. However, I did see Orville Morris every day in school. I always believed that he probably did work at John Deere because Orv could easily pass for 25. From then on I only heard occasionally about him and how he slept through class. I saw him most days in the halls carrying the books of a girl he had gone with throughout Senior High School. Then I graduated, and I never thought I would hear about Orv again, but I did. We had a 30 year class reunion and into the room walked Orville Morris and his wife, the girl he had walked the halls with every day in high school. My wife said to me, “Who’s that.” I turned, looked and a shudder went up my spine. I said, “That’s Orville Morris.” Sherry said, “He doesn’t look so big and bad.” She went over to talk to the couple. I gulped and went over too. It turns out his wife was an RN. Orv had retired from John Deere and they raised foster kids for many years. It was a good life.
Later my wife said to me, “What a nice man, he’s just a pussy cat. I can’t believe that man is the same person you told me about, that you were all so scared of. He’s just a nice person.” I said, “But that’s Orville Morris.” She just laughed, as I thought, if she only knew.