Unwisely, I’m about to report on a part of my character that many people are going to find less than admirable. More refined readers may wonder why in the world I would make a public record of it in the first place.

Well, this isn’t the first time I have reported such unwise things. Many of those who follow this blog won’t be a bit surprised.

This story goes back to a high school incident that I have never written about but have thought of countless times. Something irresistible is driving me to post it here.

Cecil Sykes was one of my finest friends in high school. Hundreds of miles have separated us for most of our lives. In the few times I have seen him since graduating from high school—twice over the last two years, we both greeted each other with great warmth and good cheer. He was a fierce, award-winning basketball player, muscled and powerful, and he often appeared in the Clarksville Leaf-Chronicle sports pages high off the floor going after a rebound or bringing the ball down with elbows flying. In our school’s first-ever district tournament championship win, in three games, Cecil pulled down fifty-one rebounds! Fierce, like I said. 

Cecil Sykes, left, and me as freshmen at Montgomery Central HIgh School in Cunningham, Tennessee.

Cecil Sykes, left, and me as freshmen at Montgomery Central High School in Cunningham, Tennessee.

Off the court Cecil was and still is a happy, peaceful soul. He always had a smile and a pleasant word for everybody. I never saw him angry. He was popular for many good reasons beyond his basketball stardom. He was and still is a fine individual. One of the best.

But high school boys in particular can do some bizarre things.

Cecil sat at a table behind me one day in the cafeteria in our early high school years, sometime around late October, as I recall it. From a serving of beets on our lunch trays, Cecil decided to pick up a thick piece and throw it at me, unsuspecting. The beet struck me behind my left ear. I reached up to wipe the beet juice from my head, ear, and neck as I looked around and saw Cecil laughing hysterically, waving his red hand at me as our nearby friends at both tables had a good laugh. No teachers saw this happen.

I stayed calm, laughed with everybody, and yelled to Cecil that I would remember this prank. I didn’t know what I was going to do to get even, but it would be something.

On the day before Thanksgiving our lunch consisted of turkey, cornbread stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie. (This sentence just made me very hungry, as I write in late morning.) Contrary to many, I almost always liked school lunches, as a student and years later as a high school teacher.

Realizing that Cecil was sitting at a different table that day, I was struck by what I thought was a great idea. I placed a fork full of cornbread stuffing across the fingers of my right hand, curled them up enough to hold onto it lightly, got up from the table and walked over to where Cecil was sitting.

I approached him from his left side, placed my arm around his neck as I leaned over to whisper in his left ear. He turned to hear what I was about to say.

“Cecil, do you remember a few weeks ago when you hit me behind the ear with a piece of juicy red beet?”

He instantly started laughing as I raised my right hand and shoved the wad of cornbread stuffing into his right ear. Surprised, he reached up to grab his ear as I walked away, laughing over my shoulder. He looked at his hand, looked up toward me, and began a gentle laugh himself with a look of, “Okay, I deserved it.” He worked for a few minutes trying to remove the cornbread stuffing from his ear as his lunch mates looked on with a mixture of laughter and pity.

That ended our food fight. Cecil never changed in his good humor and friendship toward me. We both just laughed about it, and in my memory neither of us ever mentioned our stretched-out food fight again. Since I feel to this day that my retaliation was overly harsh, I would have been embarrassed to bring it up.

In those rare times I have seen Cecil since graduation, he and I have always had lively and fun conversations. Neither of us has ever mentioned that food fight, but I always remember it when I see him.

Something about my retaliation has seemed like overkill ever since the day I took my revenge. I still feel mildly embarrassed about it. I suppose what I did was a variation on hitting someone in the nose after being hit on the shoulder.

Now that I have made this long-passed incident public, it is now mandatory as a minimal courtesy that I make sure Cecil sees this story. He deserves a chance to be heard publicly here, if he chooses.

A few days after I sent Cecil a copy of this story, he called me to say I had written it pretty much as he remembered it. He said, “About 3-4 years ago I couldn’t hear very well in my right ear. I had it checked and they found what looked like petrified cornbread dressing in my ear.” 

Cecil also said he had to think about a response for a bit before he called. So that’s the story.

Related posts:

A Problem Child Among Serious Boys

My Teenage Driving—Stupidity Made Clear

Birth of a Memoir

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