There was a new kid in our town. Like small towns everywhere in the early 60’s we were a settled-in group (you’d probably say, “in-bred”). The same kids were in Washington and Lincoln grade schools, from K – 6th and collected to become the 7th grade at Jefferson School. A presidential bunch with nobody fooled. The athletic teams, organizations, and clubs all had kids we had grown to know like the back of our hand. We “rough-housed,” wrestled, established pecking-orders, and thoroughly tested each other in more ways than I can detail in a family newspaper.
I always wanted to be in the know. Flaunted it. By now, I knew all these guys. Being a new kid, by way of contrast, is a balancing act. You wave your arms to keep from falling, trying to establish that you’re not afraid of anything and aren’t ashamed to admit that you’re not the smartest in the room.
Next was 8th Grade. The new “army-brat” kid wanted to join the football team. As usual, there was a period of flirting with him as he was exotic, hadn’t spend his whole grade school career around us, we weren’t bored with him. He was cool, mostly because he was new and different. Locker room and playmate acceptance can evolved quickly. This kid could play, and we liked him. He held his own in wars of snapped towels, and we all had been doing our best to just miss each other with fakes and the occasional ugly flicks of the wrist. We weren’t mean, just teen aged idiots trying to prove we were fearless.
I remember telling the new kid to “put ‘em up,” and assumed a boxing pose. The two of us stood on locker room benches, naked and dripping from the shower. My boxing knowledge didn’t include that his fists would come anywhere near me, and thankfully they didn’t. But bip/bip/bip: he made three quick shadow jabs, faster than I could blink. We hometown kids didn’t know a jab if it bonked us on the nose, and he had learned to box on Army bases. Speed bags. Three times towards my head. I ducked, flinched, and promptly fell back off the bench into the open door of a steel locker. Cut my arm. Blood, sure. Twelve stitches, sure. But, wait, here’s the kicker, I never did mind. The new kid knew how to box. I had set my own fool self up, by pretending I knew how to do something I had no idea about. His skill was entirely more interesting than my bravado.
I decided then and there that the transplanted kid who’s gone from place to place just might grow up a little tougher or maybe smarter than your average sedentary home-grown types. Since that day I have always believed new kids a tad more glamorous than we who never had been elsewhere. We can accept them, and figure out what they bring to the table. They might teach us a thing or two. Welcome the new kids with open arms. It proved an incentive for me to go on adventures and as I’ve only lived in Maine for around five years, I am counted as a new kid by many Mainers, even now. Who knows I might have a thing or two to teach them. Here’s hoping.