Dear family, friends, teammates, classmates, benefactors of the parish and all ye ships at sea. It is time for another story, keeping with my pledge, based on the pleas of some of you, to keep the stories coming.
To one of the faithful, who emailed, I can’t do every story about Picks, but I will get him in there from time to time. I have over a hundred or more rehashes and am trying to take some time to write new ones. However, as I get older, it gets harder and harder to remember and conjure up the magic of a good story. I will try though.
Today’s story is based on another true event from my boyhood in EG. I disguised the names and some of the facts and events from around the story so as not to embarrass anyone. When you read it you will understand why. Things happened and people were hurt.
I know one boy, who kind of held the premise, relearned that you have to stand on your own and not be influenced by the mob, gang, pack. Doing so molds your character.
In this case he didn’t, but he learned one heck of a lesson.
Sooooo, without further ado, I give you:
A Stone for Angel Gomez
Now this is the Law of the Jungle, as old and as true as the sky.
And, the wolf that shall keep it may prosper; but, the wolf that shall break it must die.
As the creeper that girdles the tree trunk, the Law runneth forward and back.
For the strength of the Pack is the Wolf;
And, the strength of the Wolf is the Pack!
– Rudyard Kipling
Today’s story is going to be a “stretch.” This incident really happened but I am going to retreat to “Greenwood Cove” to tell about it in order to protect the innocent, the not so innocent, and the truly guilty.
Some of the older people may remember The Mexican Camp. It was located off Rocky Hollow Road about where the road dips to meet the railroad tracks. You could go through the yards of just about any house on Greenwich Boulevard and be standing right above it.
Even back then, migrant workers roamed the states looking for work, and the nationality of some of them gave the place its name. I don’t remember much about it except I was warned not to go around there. Of course, I didn’t follow that instruction to the letter, but mostly I stayed away.
The camp was a collection of shacks, old box cars, where some took up residence and truck trailers, which migrant workers for the railroad, used as temporary homes while they were up north doing their jobs. Most of them were single men. But, some brought their families, and this is where Angel Gomez came and entered our lives. . . .
Who knows what ills afflict mankind? What is it that pulls him to the herd? To the group? The mob? The gang?
When alone, a person will not do some of the things that come so easy to him when he is an anonymous figure surrounded by a group of like-minded people. Alone, most people are mild, reasoned, even meek.
In a group they feel protected and supported, and will act out on things they would never do alone.
Back in the ‘50s in Greenwood Cove, teen groups or gangs, spawned by the new, loose movie culture, and maybe egged on by the new rock n’ roll music, started forming and exhibited a rebelliousness not seen before.
Different neighborhoods had their own loose-knit units, maybe not as formal as the Gangs of New York City, but still gangs in their own right, groups that hung out on Main Street, made adults uneasy and caused them to think of ways to offset the pull of this new sub-culture, fueled by the new music and the spirit of teen rebellion against the established order of the day; the Puritan, uptight authority of 1950s America.
Angel Gomez entered our lives here in Greenwood Cove at just about that time. He badly wanted to fit in, but he came from a culture different from what most teens in Greenwood Cove were used to. And though he was not outwardly shunned, he occupied the lowest spot in the pecking order of the group, which meant that he got “pecked on” and picked on, more than usual.
Unlike most of the workers in the Mexican camp, Angel’s father had brought his family up north with him. They came in a ratty, broken down truck, which had a ramshackle plywood camper built in the truck bed. When they got to Greenwood Cove they went directly to the camp and backed their mobile “home” up to one of the abandoned box cars that sat in the field. It had no wheels and sat flat on the ground.
This combination truck/box car was Angel’s home while he was in Greenwood Cove, and was a constant source of embarrassment to him.
Angel’s mother kept things pretty clean, in lieu of the circumstances. They set up living areas in the boxcar and seemed to have a routine down pat from years on the road.
They used the camper for both storage and sleeping quarters in the summer, and slept in the box car in the winter. Mrs. Gomez got water from a nearby water pump, and cooked over a makeshift grill. Inside she used a metal contraption similar to our smaller grills today. Whatever it was, she made it work and the family settled down to a loose existence here.
Angel, and his brothers and sisters, two of each, went to the local schools, and they joined Our Lady of Love and Mercy, or OLOLM as the locals called it in a sing-songy Old MacDonald way.
Angel was a classmate and fellow member of CYO so he was around our group most of the time. However, his attempts to fit in quickly set him apart as someone strange and different. He had a nervous tic, a funny laugh, was not athletic and was prone to making strange comments and laughing out at the wrong times.
But he was there. He wouldn’t go away. So the group took him along, but at the same time, made him the object of most of their pranks and jokes, some of which were quite cruel.
Father Joe, the assistant pastor, did his best to shield Angel from the hurts, and spent a lot of time counseling him. It seemed to work. Slowly, Angel got a grudging acceptance from the group.
Father Joe also talked to us, or, maybe threatened us some, but whatever, life settled in as it is want to do. Father Joe and some men from the church had just finished a project called the “Born Again Barn,” an old horse barn they remade into a teen center. The hope was this would combat some of the influence of gangs and the streets and give the teens a place to go and hangout and stay out of trouble.
The “BAB” as it was called was really something! It had a large dance floor of polished hardwood complete with a jukebox, a card room, a pool room, and ping pong room on the bottom floor and a game room, TV room and paperback/comic book reading room on the top floor. Outside there were two basketball courts.
It was a great place for teens to gather and enjoy.
Father Joe felt this was the solution. The answer to the teen gang problem. But, in actuality, one of the gangs sprang up from the “BAB.”
The Crusaders were born there. A loose-knit gang of Catholic boys, they wore the silk jackets they had earned by winning the CYO basketball championship. They were led by a couple of the older, tougher boys who had their own agenda. They smoked, drank and ran some nefarious activities, many of them planned right there at the “Born Again Barn,” right under the noses of Father Joe and the Pastor, dubbed “Be-Bop” Brady.
Good thing Father Joe didn’t find out. He had a way of administering a muscular Catholicism to Catholic boys who strayed. The Crusader activities weren’t what he had in mind when he resurrected the “BAB.”
If he ever found out he would NOT be a happy camper and we would have to pay. He would scatter us like Jesus scattered the money changers in the Temple. We would be flying everywhere, and with no wings, the landing would be hard. He would have made us pay. So, thank God, the Son, and the Holy Ghost he did not. In nomina patria, fili, spiritu sancti, amen!
Now the Crusaders were led by Banger and Volta, two of the older boys. Though they were both athletes, they smoked and drank, and claimed to have sexual prowess, which put them a step ahead of the rest of us in the Crusader hierarchy. Most of us were still trying to figure out the mysteries of the fairer sex and were not as experienced as we talked.
Banger and Volta usually planned our group’s activities and set up some of the more lawless plots, which included shoplifting cigarettes, boosting hubcaps and polluted quahaugging, which garnered money for beer, chew, or whatever they desired.
Banger and Volta, also pretty much determined who was “in” and who was “out” with the gang. Poor Angel was usually “out.”
One day the gang was coming back from one of its nefarious activities and took Greenwich Boulevard for reasons unknown. While walking the Boulevard, Angel did something which caused the displeasure of Banger and Volta. Most likely he let loose with one of his hyena-like laughs. Or maybe it was one of his nervous tics, which set off the older boys.
Whatever it was. They set on Angel tripping him and pushing him. Then they decided to “pants” him. That meant they would hold him down and take off his pants, forcing him to go home in just his underwear.
Angel was having none of this. He broke free and started running. He went through one of the yards of a home on the boulevard and headed for the embankment, which led to the Mexican Camp.
Led by the shouts of Banger and Volta, the gang took off after him. Angel made it to the embankment and was headed home when Banger picked up a rock and threw it at him. Volta and the other boys followed suit.
Not one rock touched Angel as he fled like a frightened deer, until one slim hand reached down and picked up one of those skipping rocks. The heart in the body of the thrower did not want to hit Angel, but the pull of the gang was strong. He was part of it, so he launched his throw way to the right of where Angel was fleeing.
The owner of that hand launched the rock with full force but it was way off the mark. It looked like it had no chance of hitting Angel. Maybe the thrower wanted it that way. The gang could never know.
But, as if guided by some magic, unseen hand, that skipping stone reached its apex and started to bank left. By the mystery of mysteries. By the law of attractions. By whatever law causes things to happen that you don’t want to, the stone started on a downward path towards Angel Gomez. The stone shot down like a hawk after a rabbit, veered into Angel’s path and struck the back of his skull, splitting it open like a ripe grapefruit. Angel went down as if he had been shot and he stayed down, motionless.
The boys, now fearful, ran down the embankment. Angel just laid there, blood flowing like the Mississippi.
One of the boys ran to get help. Soon there was a rescue truck, and firemen, and police everywhere. Angel was worked on, patched up and put on a gurney and into the rescue truck. It took off sirens wailing. The police questioned the boys, but though they all admitted to chasing Angel, and throwing rocks at him, no one owned up to launching the destructive missile.
It being small-town Greenwood Cove, where news traveled faster than lightning, Father Joe heard almost immediately. He brought all the Crusaders in for one of his patented talks.
He did not roll up his sleeves but the incident had repercussions that went beyond the act that the gang had perpetrated. Father Joe took the boys to the hospital to visit Angel. Though the boys were apologetic, their sorries were forced and not natural.
The stoning had been the last straw for the mental state of Angel and he had to go “away” for a while. Father Joe organized the parish so that food, clothing, money and other essentials reached the Gomez family to help them in this hurtful time. One of the most active participants in that drive was the owner of the arm and hand that launched the fated missile.
Father Joe then got back to admonishing the Crusaders. He was very stern and let the boys know what sorrow their actions had caused. Angel had suffered a nervous breakdown and that brought out other problems in the life of Angel Gomez.
Those talks had a great effect on some of the boys who learned that sometimes you have to stand up against the group, the established order, and not just follow blindly to be accepted. It was a lesson that most of the boys took to heart. One, I know for sure, did.
The story had somewhat of a happy ending. Angel eventually recovered. He and his family left Greenwood Cove and went back to the Southwest. Angel went to work on a ranch in New Mexico, where his Uncle Luis was the foreman. In a quirk of fate, or maybe God’s hand, the owner of the ranch died and left the ranch to Angel’s uncle. When the uncle passed away he left the ranch to Angel, who worked it up to a profitable enterprise.
Today Angel is a very wealthy ranch owner and lives just outside of Las Cruces, New Mexico.
Surprisingly, almost every one of the boys involved in the incident straightened out to become productive citizens, except one.
The instigator of that far-away episode lives in a shack down in the cajun country of Louisiana. He built a cabin on stilts, so though the recent hurricanes damaged his boats, he managed to wait them out, and will go on being a shrimper down in the Bayou country. His life did not pan out as successfully as Angel’s, so maybe there is some justice in that.
Father Joe passed away, and I assume he is up there with the “Big Guy,” His Son and the Holy Ghost. Hopefully, he is happy with the way things turned out.
The boy who threw the rock, he is the writer of this story. He learned much from the incident and since has a record of constantly standing up and against “the crowd” and trying to right the wrong(s) he did in the past. Much was learned from that incident, the incident of the stone. The stone for Angel Gomez.