Mugged for a Dollar and Change

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It has always struck me how different the world sounds after a big snow – like the snow has absorbed all the ambient noise. It was getting close to Christmas 1975. We’d had a cold winter, and there was five or six inches of snow on the ground.

I gathered my allowance money and pulled on my large blue parka and rubber boots for the walk to the grocery store at the end of the block. My mission was to buy my Dad something for Christmas.

As I crunched my way along in the snow, I noticed a couple of big native boys standing outside the store. They looked at me and said something. I felt nervous, but said nothing and tried not to look at them.

I bought a little Bic lighter and put it in my inside pocket of my coat. I looked at a few comics on the magazine rack and then decided to go, hoping those big guys had gone. Unfortunately for me, they were still out there.

About twenty feet past the store, one of them stood in front of me and told me to give him my money. I hesitated or said something other than yes. I was really scared. I remember getting punched or shoved, and then having my face pushed down into the snow as I dug in my pocket for whatever change I could find. I remember being on the ground as they gave me a couple of kicks in the ribs. I scrambled up and walked away with what little dignity remained in me. I was out of breath, wet and disheveled, and gasping a little with the shame of it.

In real terms, this little altercation was the small-change equivalent of what happens to adults all the time in a city. It was shocking to my 9 year old mind, and I consoled myself with the realization that they hadn’t gotten Dad’s gift, which was still tucked safely in my inside coat pocket. They had only gotten a little pocket change.

When I got home, Dad saw that my hair was wet and messed up and that my parka was shoved around on my body. I’m sure I had some kind of shameful look on my face as well. I already felt like I’d let him down. He could see it immediately. “What happened to you?” He almost yelled it. I just replied “I was mugged.” Mum, for some reason dressed only in her blouse and a pair of nylons, shrieked “Oh No!” like it was the end of the world as we know it. That just made me feel even more embarrassed.

Dad wanted details, but all I could recall was that there had been these two large native boys. As I relayed the encounter, Dad became more and more furious. He grabbed his jacket and grabbed me and said that we were going to find the boys who did this. That was really the last thing I wanted to do. I think I’d just have soon crawled under my bed until the whole thing blew over.

As Dad marched along to the store, I tried to keep up. Feeling a great relief, I saw that the boys were long gone. We turned around and headed back home, passing by Peacock Court, the motel next to ours. Dad walking up into the Court with me in tow, and he eyed suspiciously a group of native boys who were standing out front of someone’s front door.

“Is that them?” Dad asked. I couldn’t for the life of me remember but I told Dad that maybe one of them was the guy. Dad went up and started yelling at the largest kid, berating him for picking on a kid smaller than him. I felt as embarrassed as hell, and slowly realized that I may have fingered the wrong guys. The large kid kept eye contact with my Dad through most of the verbal defense, claiming innocence, but looking a little shaken. I just wanted to get the hell out of there, and after a few more minutes, we did.

In hindsight, I’m certain the boy Dad chewed out was not the one who had thumped me, but was in fact the older brother of Sheldon, a boy who would soon become a good friend of mine.

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The memoir and family history of E. John Love