There were these two particular truck drivers who were also regular customers at Heise Station. They both came in daily on their separate runs from El Centro to Los Angeles, hauling whatever crop was being harvested at the time. Both big guys, like the pile bucks, they liked to drink beer like the pile bucks too. On one occasion they were both sitting together in a booth, and at the counter sat a tall, lanky pile buck from Texas named Bob and a Border Patrolman named Julio Sanchez. Julio was real short—about five-five—and carried a big pistol in his gun belt.
The two truck drivers were arguing about something when I heard, “The hell you say!”
And then I heard, “ . . . your ass!”
They stood up. More cussing and some shoving. One guy threw a punch, and I heard a beer bottle break. I could imagine broken beer bottles crashing through the big plate glass window or one of the glass pie cases.
I heard Uncle Ernie shout from the kitchen, and then I saw little Julio Sanchez move toward the altercation. I didn’t know a human could move so quickly. It seemed like just seconds before he had both huge truck drivers on the floor and handcuffed, and he wasn’t even breathing hard. He just shrugged and smiled. He didn’t talk much, but he made a phone call, and the Sheriff came again, this time without the ambulance, and took the two miscreants out—off to the hoosegow. They were back the next week in their usual booth, but never caused any trouble after that.
My first day at school in Westmorland was a very exciting time for me. New kid in a new school. New teacher. New everything. I even got to ride a school bus for the first time. I had to cross the highway out in front of Heise Station to get to the bus stop. I let Mom wait with me the first time, but after that I did it on my own.
I got my first Spanish lesson on the bus that first day. As soon as I sat down, another kid came up to me and said “Kitty combotty?” There I was, the new kid from back East without a word of Spanish, so I just smiled and nodded my big, dumb Michigan head, not realizing “kitty combotty” was really the Spanish “Quiere combate?” Translation: do you want to fight?
Before I knew it, I was rolling on the floor of the bus, locked in mortal combat with the little Mexican kid. I was never one to turn away from a fight, in fact, Mom said I always seemed to enjoy the prospect. I gave the kid all he wanted until a couple of older second-graders broke it up and spoiled all the fun. The bus driver told Mrs. Howenstein, my first-grade teacher, and she wrote a note home to my parents.
When I got home that evening after my first day at Westmorland Elementary School with my note from Mrs. Howenstein, I told my folks I knew how to speak Spanish and related the “kitty combotty” incident. I didn’t know it at the time, but I had just disarmed Mrs. Howenstein’s note, and I didn’t even get into trouble. My dad took me aside that evening after dinner and told me what were the facts of life for me at that time.
“Don’t go looking for fights,” he said, “but fight if you have to and always fight to win. Get in the first punch if you can. And don’t come home crying, ‘cause I’ll give you something else to cry about.” I don’t remember my dad ever hitting or even spanking me, but I never came home crying either.