From Whence I Came

May 5th, 2010

By Larry Ennis

I have long tried to understand what motivates some people to feel that they have a license to treat their fellow man with so little respect or kindness.

My parents were mild-mannered and humble southern people. My mother was a Baptist and saw to our Christian up-bringing. That simple and innocent statement is more than enough to set some people off and into a tirade. I’m not trying to convert anyone. I’m simply telling you a little about me.

As long as my people stayed among our own kind we had little if any real problems. Everyone pretty much respected one another and life, though Spartan at times, was very good. But alas, like all people in ages past, the desire to move on was just too damn overpowering, and move on we did. Call it beginners’ luck or dumb luck, we wound up in one of Southern California’s true natural wonders. Catalina Island was the Garden of Eden, and we were smack in the middle of said Garden.

Nobody cared if we were Southerners or Baptists. The place was just too perfect to let petty differences screw it up. I can only recall one instance when someone was actually mean-spirited beyond being just plain rude. Turns out that fellow thought my family were Okies. We won’t get into the Okie versus California thing. If it perks your interest, you can read John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. It will lay out the whole sordid mess for your mind to ponder.

Sad to say, we were enticed to leave Eden, not by the devil but my mom’s desire to be close to her parents — a moment of weakness long regretted by the entire family. So we moved back to Alabama, but it was short-lived. No jobs meant no money coming in. Pretty simple to figure out that another move was in order. This time we headed north.

Everyone in the South who didn’t move to Michigan thought that all those who did move went to Detroit. That wasn’t always the case, my friends. Lots of us ended up in Pontiac or Flint or maybe even Royal Oak. Ford, GM, and Chrysler were hiring anybody who walked through their doors. My dad hired on at GM Truck and Bus in Pontiac. Things looked good; we were off to a good start. However, it was not to last.

Adolescence and getting fat were about to make my life pretty complicated. “Obese” was not the buzzword it is today. Fat people got called fat with little if any consideration for why they were fat. Of course, a fat kid knew all the reasons why he or she was fat. We tried to explain to others about things such as gland disorders and bigger than normal bones.

I started junior high in 1953. The school was named Eastern Junior High (nobody used the term “middle school”). By the start of the second semester I was up to 212 pounds. It took little time for me to realize that fat kids were fair game for every bully and his brother, literally. My mom told me to just ignore the bad treatment. The old turn-the-other-cheek approach, though noble, is totally useless. It just guarantees that you’ll wind up with two bruised cheeks instead of one. The next approach is to try and hide out in plain sight. Pretty soon the fat kids resign themselves to the life that fat kids have to endure.

My parents, bless their hearts, may have added to the problem because of their desire to make sure that my baby brother and I never faced a lack of food. That theory is probably incorrect anyway because everyone else in the family was slim and trim. I guess I had to be the exception to the norm.

Fat kids become the school clowns. I found that funny fat kids fared better than the ones that cried a lot. To weep out in the open was to invite even harsher treatment from your tormentors. I was doing stand-up comedy before it became popular. Fat kids learn that their teachers care very little about their particular being fat problems. I did have two faculty members who responded in a positive manner when I reached out for help. I doubt I could have survived as well as I did without their encouragement and understanding. I found that adults outnumbered young people when it came to being my friends.

Fat kids who manage to survive the constant badgering become very good students. With little if any social acceptance the fat kid has two choices, dismal failure or above average success. I managed to end up in the latter category. To me it was all about self-esteem and self-respect. If such had not been the case my life would have turned out much differently. Before this segment of my life had passed, I had learned that I could accomplish just about anything I set out to do. I forced myself to succeed so I could prove to myself and people around me that I wasn’t stupid.

During my life as a fat kid I accumulated several tormentors whom I have never forgotten.

Two of the fat kids’ worst bullies were the Hamburg brothers, Mike and Eddie. Mike was my age and his brother was two years my senior. They transferred to Eastern during my eighth-grade first semester. They made my life miserable for all of the semester. Finally, the time came to end the reign of terror these two brothers had released on me. I accidentally slammed my locker door on Eddie’s right hand and broke a few of his fingers. With Eddie on the injured list, Mike laid low, but I managed to catch up with him in wood shop. As much as I wanted to get even I had be careful not to overdo it. The fat kid was out of necessity becoming mean and nasty.

Like many other things in life, I had to make a conscious effort to change or suffer the consequences of not changing. I asked my mom to help me lose the weight that was making me into something I didn’t want to be. I didn’t want to start high school under the same cloud that followed me all through middle school. Her answer was to arrange for me to see a doctor who had a practice near our neighborhood. He put me on a one thousand calorie per day diet and said it was the only way. No appetite curbing drugs, just plain old doing without. He felt that over-eating was simply a lack of self control. His examination of me didn’t find any cause for me to be overweight. Having establishing that fact meant that self control and I had been strangers long enough.

I feel I’m safe in saying that kids exposed to the ridicule that being overweight brings become marked by the experience. I surely was. My entire daily intake of food based on one thousand calories left me starving at the end of each day. I weighed-in each morning and ate two boiled eggs. Lo and behold, my weight started to drop. The first sign of progress was incentive to try harder. After all the grief suffered during the days of being obese the losing of weight consumes you. Along with this obsession for losing weight comes a real danger of carrying it beyond safe limits.

I had started my diet with the doctor in late March when my weight was 212 pounds. By late August my weight had dropped to 146 pounds, and I couldn’t stop. The folks in our neighborhood thought I had a terminal illness because I looked so bad physically. When all my hair fell out, it really convinced everyone I had cancer. Still, the desire to lose weight was foremost in my mind. I had crossed over into being irrational. Believe me, I wandered in the wilderness for a while.

After what seemed like an awfully long time I started to break the hold of my desire to be slim and accepted. I started high school late in October because of my problems. I had one good piece of luck almost immediately. The new principle at the high school had been one of my friends at the middle school. His name was Francis Staley, and he was my lifeline on more than one occasion.

All these events took place many years ago. I’m still around and still fairly sharp. I suppose that proves something good or maybe positive, depending on how you define life.

If your child or grandchild is a little round person instead of a lithe and lean beauty, please respect and love the child inside the round body. Remember the worm, the cocoon, and the butterfly.

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One Response to “From Whence I Came”

  1. d |

    My grandson and my daughter were and are fat kids. The abuse is no different now,only worse,a lot of these kids commit suicide. My grandson struggles daily,he seems to check out. He is bullied daily,but has begun to be very funny and is getting friends.He is a loving,sensitive boy who will probably not stay that way.I can only imagine how awful his school life is. I do understand that due to being horribly bullied all my young school years,because of Bugs Bunny. From the south,also,I had buck teeth,and the abuse never stopped until I was in 10th grade and my braces came off.My life was a living hell and my tormenters never grew tired of the B.B. jokes,my older brother fought a lot,in my behalf. I never learned to joke about it, and it is still painful to me. I overcame the embarrasssment of being alive,somehow,and did well.
    I think a weaker girl would have done herself in,now seems a lot more do. Children are the cruelist of people and don’t seem to get it. You can talk and talk,and seems if they aren’t bullied,they are the bullier. This country needs to take a long,hard look at bullying. A boy in our local,country school,recently killed himself and none seemed to care. No one spoke,no one did anything for that poor kid. This happens way too often,for no reason at all. Seems kids need to feel superior to someone,to feel good about theirselfs. I don’t understand it either,Larry.

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