August 1989

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Harpending's Corners


Edwin N. Harris

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Husky Norris and the Wrestling Match

Dad had a small dairy operation and needed help on the hundred acre farm that he was working alone except for some part-time help from me and work-sharing with our neighbors. His three draft horses were his only power other than the one-cylinder International gas engine that sat on ground skids, and was used mostly to power the tilt-table buzz saw. The saw cut the wood that we hauled from the woodlot at the west end of the farm each winter. Rural electrification on our hill was several years away. Dad did not know that he was fighting a trend that would soon eliminate the small family farm as a viable form of living. It was 1930 and he would lose, but for now he only knew that he must struggle on. So he hired Gaylord "Husky" Norris.

Husky, a black-haired, round-faced lad of eighteen, was good-natured, good looking, with a physique that gave substance to his nickname. A bit over six feet tall, weighing a good 200 pounds, he was still quick and powerful. Strangely, his father, a scrawny little man, was also nicknamed Husky. Young Husky's mother had died when he was twelve, and he was usually in need of a home. For the next year he would live with us, sleeping in the west room over the woodshed that also served (in the hot days of the year) as a summer kitchen. I, at age twelve, would naturally follow Husky around a lot as he worked.

On a spring day Dad sent me out to help Husky drive a row of fence posts for a cattle lane fence to the pasture near the woodlot. A team hitched to a boxed wagon carried the wooden posts. The wagon floor also provided a platform for Husky to stand in while he drove posts into the ground with a huge wooden mallet called a "beetle." My job was to stand on the ground and hold the posts vertical for Husky to strike.

Whether the horses moved we'll never know, but when Husky unleashed a mighty blow—he missed the post. Instead the beetle struck a glancing blow along the side of my head, deflected into my left shoulder, and sort of drove me, not the post, into the ground. Husky carried me to the house, unconscious, with a bleeding head and a badly beaten shoulder. Terrified and crying, Husky's anguish was only slightly relieved when I stood up, dazed but alive.

Since the injury was not deemed life-threatening, no doctor was involved, and I went to bed for a week or two to recover. Some thirty years later I had bothersome problems with that shoulder and sought help. After reviewing the X-Rays the doctor commented, "Sometime you broke that shoulder, right?"

"I might have," I replied.

The bright blue skies of October brought the 1930 Dundee Fair, a high point in the community's year, and "Whitey" Trumbull had brought his usual wrestling exhibition team from Geneva. On the wooden platform outside his tent Whitey would challenge the crowd to pit one of their best against one of his "rasslers," or himself.

In previous years such brave men as Carlton Hess, my Uncle Deak Florance, and Oscar Pederson had offered up themselves for the local crowd, and for the most part had served them successfully.

This year Whitey began working with a small group of spectators who stood on the grass in front of his tent, Whitey standing on his raised platform in the bright afternoon sun. As he harangued the locals he began to pace up and down the planks, waving his arms as he suggested that perhaps they were short of the kind of men needed to face his challenges, and that perhaps he would pack up his tent to move to a town of braver men. The crowd grew until the late comers were standing in the dirt road that split the midway of the fairground. Husky Norris stood near the rear of the crowd until Whitey offered a cash prize of fifteen dollars for any man that could stay in the ring unpinned by Whitey for ten minutes. Whitey spotted Husky as he slowly edged his way to the front, and turned his attention to him until the spectators did the same. Now Angelo, Whitey's mean-looking associate, appeared dressed in black wrestling leotards, grinning evilly. The crowd grew incensed and accused Whitey of being too yellow to back up his original offer of himself. They did not like the bulkier Angelo, but at the same time began to encourage Husky.

Urged on by the crowd, Husky could not resist the offer of a cash prize of fifteen dollars and hopped upon the platform in front of the tent that enclosed the ring. After much hype that included exchanges of taunts, threats and insults with the crowd, Whitey announced that Husky's match would begin in fifteen minutes, with Whitey himself the opponent.

I was thrilled and spent my last thirty-five cents to join the surging crowd entering the tent. Inside, the delay before the match seemed much longer than promised, and the crowd muttered restlessly. Finally Husky and Whitey entered the ring dressed in long-legged tights, and the match began. the crowd cheered wildly for our local hero as he and Whitey grunted and strained. When Whitey appeared to be using dirty tactics, such as knees to the groin, punches, elbows to the neck, and the outlawed choke holds, the cheers changed to boos; threats and curses were directed at the devil Whitey. Suddenly, Husky picked up Whitey, and with a great body slam threw him to the mat, pounced on him, and pinned him for a victorious three count.

I went out with the happy crowd to see Whitey and Husky again on the platform, Whitey rampaging, stomping, and screaming insults at the crowd, demanding a second bout, this time offering his big, bald-headed, mean-looking Italian rassler to take Husky on. The crowd roared in outrage—calling Whitey a yellow bellied coward, and worse. Then Husky tapped Whitey on his shoulder, while at the same time grinning and nodding yes as he pointed to the sneering Angelo.

I was broke, and sadly, I had to anxiously wait outside, listen to the roars inside, and try to guess the outcome. I heard boos and groans—too many groans—and my fears were confirmed when the wrestlers reappeared. Husky was slightly bloodied at his forehead near the hair line, and had lost.

Whitey harranged the crowd for a third match, this time crowing and strutting over Husky's defeat. Again the tent filled, and in a few moments I knew by the lusty cheers, Husky had won. I was ecstatic with this triumph of good over evil.

Back at the farm, Husky was strangely quiet about his wrestling experience, shrugging off my questions and congratulations. It was a week or more before he confided the shattering truth. The pre-match delays were not spent in just getting into his tights. He was receiving a quick course in what to do and what was going to happen . . . After the last bout he had been offered a job traveling with Whitey's show, but turned it down.

Husky looked at the floor of the horse stable and kicked the fresh straw he had brought in, then softly, "Ed, I can't rassle that way—it's just not fair."

The growing darkness of evening revealed a new moon as I walked from the barn toward our house where I knew supper would soon be ready. Slowly, something that had been obscure became clearer, and as my twelve-year-old-mind searched, ever clearer. Of course . . . it was one of Dad's maxims, passed down to him by the "Old Folks." I stopped in my tracks to listen to the silence and heard, "You can't believe anything you hear—and only half of what you see."

© 1989, Edwin N. Harris
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