Of all the kids I have known and of all the friends I have had, there never was one braver than Meyer. He was a little guy, "knee high" to most grown-ups, but he will always seem "big" to me. And it were Meyer's idea to fix the fence.
Now Meyer was a new kid in town. There was a bunch of us that played together, Melvin & Lemmy (who weren't brothers - but everyone thought they were); Spike, Mike and Ike (who were brothers); Bubb, his sister Cherry and her friend Dots (we tolerated the girls since Bubb's mom said we had to), Tom Alley and me. Somehow when Meyer moved to town, he started hanging out with us; which is well, since the other kids in town mostly called him "shorty" and picked on him.
We used to hang out a lot in an old, vacant lot. It had a partly fallen down fence with a lot of missing boards around it and if it weren't for the rickity old shed, assorted junk & overgrown wild blackberries it would have made a great sandlot for softball. It also had the most perfect climbing tree imaginable in the back corner. We used to climb that tree and daydream about playing softball or building a tree house, shady and breezy, a cool place for our gang on hot afternoons.
But the junk was only part of the problem. Next door lived Sam Bullet, a big kid, and the town bully, and his dogs, Toby and Gruesome. Tody was one of those yapping terriers. Gruesome was just that, a fleabitten hound dog with one blind eye hanging out of its socket. Sam, when he saw us in the lot, loved to "sic" his dogs em on us and treated the lot like it was part of his yard. I wish I had a nickel for all the times Sam's dogs chased me up that tree.
It was Meyer's idea to fix the fence. Now we'd daydreamed about ball parks and tree houses. But it was Meyer that saw that first we needed the fence. And he did something about it. Now I wasn't there when it happened, but Meyer went to see stingy ol' Cyrus McCormick (who owned the lot and the town's hardware store) and somehow Meyer got permission to fix the fence and make the lot into a sort of park. Even talked Cyrus into donating a couple of bags of assorted nails and a pile of old boards from in back of the lumber yard. All we had to do was haul em over to the lot and we made quick work of this with Spike, Mike & Ike's wagon - I say "quick" - actually it took all day - but we was excited - and it seemed quick.
Meyer took charge (since it were Meyer's idea to fix the fence) and he divided up the work, the boards and the nails. Mel & Lem were to work on the North side, Spike, Mike and Ike the back side, Bubb & the girls the South side of the lot, and Tom, Meyer & me would work on the front where the gate would be.
There was a lot of pounding and noise at first, but after awhile things got quiet and Meyer and I went off to investigate. We found Melvin and Lemmy digging through a sack of nails. Meyer asked what the problem was and Melvin showed him how half the nails had their heads on the wrong ends. Meyer told him not to worry, cause those were nails for the other side of the fence.
Spike, Mike and Ike were arguing. Seems they had sorted the nails for the inside and outside of the fence, but somehow the bags of sorted nails had gotten all mixed up again, and like all brothers, each put the blame on the others. Meyer told them to not worry about sorting them, just toss them back in the bag and get another, until they found one with the head on the right end. Spike, Mike and Ike got back to work, still arguing. (They were brothers)
Cherr, Bubb and Dots knew about the heads on the nails, but weren't sure about the long and short ones. Meyer told them the long ones were for long boards and the short ones were for short boards. Then Bubb and Dots got to arguing over who would use the hammer. Bubb insisted hammering was "a man's job", but Dots insisted it was her dad's hammer and if she couldn't use it, she was going home and taking it with her. Meyer suggested they compromise and she pound in the top nails since she was taller, and Bubb pound in the bottom nails.
Just about then, Sam Bullet showed up, and "sic'd" his dogs on us. We all ran for the tree - Toby and Gruesome in hot and loud pursuit. Sam walked around the tree and the lot making fun of what we were doing. He laughed at what we had done to the fence so far and to make his point, shoved part of it down. Finally he and his dogs left.
Some of us were afraid Sam would come back. But Meyer had this idea and taught everyone a special whistle to sound an alarm to the others to come a running and hold up the fence. Then we got back to work. It was hot! There were all sorts of complaints. The "false alarms" and "just practicing" whistles didn't help much. Work was going slow. Then Tom Alley tripped over some junk during a "false alarm" and hurt his ankle. Most everyone was ready to quit, but Meyer kept talking about the Park and our ball field and tree house, and working together and stuff like that. Spike, Mike and Ike went home for lunch, and for a while we thought they'd quit, till they showed up with some sandwiches for us. Come dark, we was only half done with the fence.
Next day, not long after we started, Sam Bullet showed up without his dogs. He started making threats. He was gonna tell Ole Man McCormick on us. He didn't believe we got permission. Then he threatened to make up some bad things about us - some lies he planned to tell about us, stealin' stuff from his store and the like. But Spike told him that if he did, we'd tell ole Man McCormick about the baseball that Sam had hit through his window last week. Sam was sure mad - finally he left and we got back to work. I guess he was afraid Mr. McCormick would find out about that window.
That day there was all kinds of problems. We ran out of boards. Meyer suggested we improvise. We picked up the Junk and piled it in a couple of gaps, We cut Blackberry vines and kind of wove them into a fence - and got scratched up. The berries were good though. Finally we tore down the shed (Meyer had told Mister McCormick it was about to fall down anyway, which it was - and he might get sued or something.) We saved just enough boards to build the tree house. And late that afternoon we were finished.
About then Sam came back with his dogs, some other big kids and an axe. Sam started to swear he's gonna chop down our fence and chop down the tree, but first he's gonna beat up Meyer. He was acting real tough for his friends. They broke a hole through the fence and Sam sic'd his dogs on us. We ran for the tree and started climbing. All except Meyer. He stood in front of the tree and looked up at Sam and dared him to try and cut the tree down. Sam was acting tough and waving his axe and the dogs were growling and barking. I was so scared, but Meyer just stood his ground. Sam's friends kept daring him to hit the little brat. But there was something in Meyer's eyes that cowed Sam and Sam chickened out. His friends started laughing out him and left. Then Sam took his dogs and went home. He didn't bother us again.
Well, we cleared out a ball diamond and built a treehouse (complete with the sissy curtains the girls insisted we have) in that perfect tree. Over the gate was a sign Meyer's mom had painted: CYRUS McCORMICK PUBLIK PARK - NO DOGS OR BULLYS ALLOWED. We had our own park and our own clubhouse - all because it was Meyer's idea to fix the fence.
This story was told at a special Sunday evening children's service in September 1995 at Christ Church, following a time of singing choruses, and a performance of a Christian Barber Shop Quartet. The service was a part of our "New Beginnings" celebration, following the creation of a vision statement and the reorganization of our congregation. I wore knee socks, knickers and suspenders and a Twenties style cloth hat, and periodically spun my yo-yo, to add atmosphere to this "Our Gang" styled tale.
This is a story about Vision and courage; leadership and innovation in the face of difficulties and opposition. The story itself was based on Nehemiah ("knee-high meyer") Chapters 1-6. I put it into a context that the children could relate to and understand. Sanballet, Tobiah and Geshem opposed him even as Sam and his dogs threatened the gang. Most of the problems Meyer faced are paralleled by the even greater difficulties that Nehemiah faced.
The gang's names were based on the names of candies - grab bags of Mel and Lem, Mike and Ike, Hot Tamales, Cherr and Bubb and Dots; and stickers and toys were passed out at the end of the program. It was a helpful way to keep track of the characters in the story. Many of the children in the audience caught on to the names, but their parents weren't so clever.