Looking back sixty odd years, I now realise that the wisdom Sam gave me only came after our friendship which started in a fight, ended in us becoming good mates and started our own “hero’s” journey. I suppose until our scrap he was just another kid in our class, neither one of us a perfect student, both of us lonely for our own reasons. His were much sadder than mine, as I found out later.
Who started the fight, I don’t know, that sadly Sam’s hitting me, my nose is leaking blood, and he’s throwing punches on me and over me. A ring of lads around us screaming and yelling, and I’m on my back on the ground, looking up at him. He steps back, I’m now on my feet and boxing properly, landing punches where they should land and he’s backing off. But there was something about him that stopped me from continuing to score. And, prefects had appeared and both he and I are now in trouble.
We were pushed and shoved across the quadrangle to “The Beak’s office – our headmaster was big and scary. I think we both tried to clean up a bit before he came out of this office. The prefect was amusing himself by telling us what he expected our punishment to be and he wasn’t far wrong. “Who started the fight?” the Head asked. “I did,” said Sam. “I don’t know why” (Sam hadn’t even been asked that). Three strokes each was the punishment and what seemed to be a year later, we were back in our classroom.
I must have asked Sam the reason he had hit me. Whatever he said didn’t make any difference to the start of our new friendship. It was sometime later after sharing many adventures that boys enjoyed, that Sam told me his secret way of what we would nowadays call Self Help. We had made catapults using old bike inner tubing for the rubber sling, a forked tree branch with the cut rubber fastened to it and a pouch in the centre of the rubber to hold the stone.
We shot at targets, even at birds, but having hit one and finding it crippled and bloody, then watching it die while we tried just about everything to help it fly again, we never shot anything living again. What we had done made us both feel ashamed. It was at this time Sam told me how he used a bathroom mirror. He told me he would say to that face in the mirror things like: “Am I right or wrong?”, “What should I do?” and other questions. When he shared this with me, I started to do the same thing. I still do. We built a treehouse on the vacant block of land behind his house.
It took us some time to build, out of bits of old wood, rope and wire. My dad, before he left me, lent us his hammer and nails, so the finished house was pretty good. We even had seats. My mum gave us old cushions. And so we became pirates, explorers and readers of great books – Robinson Crusoe, Tom Sawyer. And I, for a while, was Huckleberry Finn. We talked in that treehouse about everything and how, now that I knew about looking into a mirror and seeing the good kid you wanted to be, it gave you some sort of strength and a goal to live by.
I am using now, adult terms to describe the doorway that a young kid called Sam gave me to be “mind-wise”. I came to understand much too soon how much he needed his mirror. I lived three streets away from Sam. He was always welcomed by my mother and although it was wartime and some foods were in short supply, she’d usually have a piece of cake or pie for us to share.
My dad asked me what’s Sam‘s home was like. I didn’t tell him because Sam wouldn’t have liked me talking about it. Just once only had only been with Sam in his home. His room was full of cardboard boxes overflowing with clothes which I could see were not his. His bed seemed to be just an old mattress on the floor with only a blanket and some cushions which must’ve been his pillows. There was nothing in that room that seemed to be his. His mother – even I could see that she was drunk, dirty and had bruises on her arms and legs – was crying. I didn’t know then that I’d have to get used to my mum’s tears some months later.
His Dad was in the kitchen drinking beer with a radio onto a racing station. When he saw me looking at him he swore at me and told me to bugger off. Sam dragged me away, and then he ran off to our treehouse. I went home, and that was the last I saw of our treehouse. His Dad burnt it down that afternoon and their whole family moved to somewhere else.
My life changed too about this time. My dad left home like Sam, I had to learn to live in the world around me, yet still remain the person I wish to be. Sam‘s discovery of being your own hero and his example to me, was and is a lesson that I’ve learned and I’m proud now to tell in print.
“Sometime in perhaps 1939 Sam and I would have been 10 years old, first year in secondary school. Plenty of action around the world and plenty in our lives, but much more in Sam’s. He seemed more grown up than me, then I found out why. Did we ever meet again or try to? No. But I learned a helluva lot from him, so “thanks Sam!”
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