Did you catch the movie “American Graffiti”? It’s a rock-n-roll and hot-rods flick about one evening in the lives of a bunch of high school seniors in Southern California. The tagline for the film is the question “Where were you in ’62?”
I know exactly where I was in ’62. Dad and mom had purchased their first house, a quaint little tract home in a modest neighborhood in south OKC. It was a young neighborhood and it was full of first-time homeowners and renters, with small children like my brother, my sister and me. When the school bus stopped in the middle of our block it seemed like three hundred kids poured out, ready to play in the street until dinner call.
A few houses down lived this family I'll call the Sandersons (not their real name). The Sandersons were a different breed than us…in fact, different than most. The dad was kind of a shifty-eyed type; short in stature and grimy under the fingernails. And he was always swiggin’ a brew. The mom had a cigarette butt hanging out the side of her mouth and a perpetual snarl tattooed on her face…classic caricatures! And they had three kids close to our age.
Two of them were ok I guess, although I seem to remember the oldest being in trouble all the time. But their boy, Ricky, (not his real name) was the very definition of a juvenile delinquent! This boy was trouble with a capital T. If anything happened in the neighborhood the cops knew where to look. He threw rocks at windows, kicked dogs and went out of his way to make children cry. If someone was riding their bicycle down the street, he would run out and shove a stick through the spokes…just to see what would happen I guess.
And we were frequently the butt of his mischief. Time after time one of us would run in the house crying or angry about something Ricky Sanderson had done to us. And time after time dad would tell us to just shake it off. But then one day… one terrible and glorious day, dad had enough. And for as long as I live I will never forget what happened next.
Dad asked us to leave the room because he had a phone call to make. But being in the next room didn’t make any difference. We could hear every word dad said. I expect the neighbors could hear every word dad said. In fact, the Sandersons just lived down the street. I don’t know why he bothered to use the phone at all.
Ring-Ring. “Hello.” “Sanderson, this is Kepler. Sanderson, things are about to change. Either you start controlling that boy, or we’re gonna have ALL OUT WAR. Now Sanderson, your kids are bigger than my kids and they’ll probably whip my kids. And your old lady may or may not be able to whip mine. But I’ll tell you what, Sanderson, when you come out of your house in the morning to go to work I’m gonna be standing there and I’m gonna stomp you’re a-- through the driveway! And when you get home from work I’m gonna be waiting, and I’m gonna stomp you’re a-- through the driveway! And then, just before I go to bed, I’m gonna come over and drag you out of your house and stomp you’re a-- through the driveway. And I’m gonna do it three times a day, every day until your kids quit picking on my kids!” … and he hung up.
A few days passed, and our phone rang. “Mr. Kepler”, he said…this is “Mr. Sanderson”. Have my kids been behaving themselves ok?” “Yes, Sanderson, things seem to be better”.
Not too long after that the Sandersons moved away - and the neighborhood rejoiced! I think we threw a block party and danced in the nude! Maybe not.
Have you ever heard the saying, “Truth is stranger than fiction”? Well, a few days later a guy at my dad’s work told him, “Joe, you wouldn’t believe this family that moved in next door to us….!”