It was the first day at John Hay School. I was a new first-grader. Stanley Garfinkle, “Garf,” was a big kid who, like me, struggled with his weight all his life. I did not know that I was in a Jewish neighborhood, nor did the word “Jew” carry any connotations for me. I only knew that he had a funny sounding name, “Garfinkle,” so as unthinking and uncompassionate little kids sometimes do, I began playing with his name. “Gar-tinkle” had a nice ring to it. How about “Fart-inkle?”
“You’d better cut that out, kid. That is my family name and I’m proud of it. It has a long history and I’m not going to let anyone make fun of it.”
Of course this just got my mind going. I was getting more creative even as he grabbed me by my coat collar and slammed me to the ground and proceeded to sit on top of me while thumping my chest with his knuckle. “Are you going to stop?” Thump—thump—thump—“Are you ever going to make fun of my name again?” Thump—thump—thump—this went on for some time. I was stubborn and he was persistent. It was becoming obvious, however, that I was less interested in carrying on with this game than he was in extracting a “binding” agreement that this thumping should never happen again.
“OK, OK, OK, I give up?” as he continued thumping my chest, which was by now feeling a bit sore.
“You promise?” Thump—thump—thump.
“OK, I promise!” Thump—thump—thump. He wanted to make sure I wouldn’t forget so he gave me several more for good measure.
I never made fun of his name, or anyone else’s, again, that I recall. Stanley and I became good friends, went through the remainder of grade school, junior high, and high school together, and because our last names were close in the alphabet, were often in the same home room and regimented seating arrangements we had in those days. We were on the high school football team, wrestling team, and track team together. We were both “heavyweight” wrestlers and my one “pay-back” moment came during a wrestle-off for who would represent the team in an upcoming match when I pinned him during the first 2 minutes. Shortly after I cracked a rib trying an “arm-rollover” move on Paul Casperson, a 250 pounder on the team, and Stan went on to represent the school in matches the rest of the year. In track practice everyone had to run the half-mile and the coach used to say “Get the calendars out. Garfinkle and Hamilton are running.”
As I mentioned, both Stan and I had a life-long battle with our weight. I eventually came to terms with mine. Stanley must have been over 400 pounds when he passed away a few years ago. I had trimmed down to 180. I saw him at our 40th high school reunion at North High. It was a bit of a shock. He never went to college and I understand he became a plumber. Stan had a heart of gold and would literally give you the shirt off of his back.
“Garf,” I’m glad I knew ya. And thanks for the thumping. I needed it.