Sylvia Jakes was the biggest kid in our fourth grade at Second Avenue School. In the 1920s there was no adult supervision during recess, so Sylvia elected herself as monarch and hit man of the playground.
Many of us tried to keep out of her path, but sometimes we were pushed off the slide, swept off the swings or dumped on the ground when she unexpectedly jumped off her place on the teeter-totter.
Sylvia took delight in her dominance, laughing harshly at those she called “scared rabbits” or chasing those who objected home after school, right up to their doorsteps.
One day, a few of us were huddled in a circle, sharing tales of Sylvia’s latest mean tricks, when Gretchen Klaus stated, “Sylvia Jakes is a … .” (A word we weren’t familiar with until later).
Like a hound on a scent, Sylvia bounded toward us, her face stormy, her voice thunderous, “What did you call me, you scared rabbits?”
The immediate silence was broken by a nervous giggle from Gretchen, who soon felt her hair being pulled upward, as Sylvia ranted through gritted teeth. “You call me a bad name and you fist fight me after school, Gretchen Klaus. Meet me down at the City Park. You better be there.”
The news of the impending fight flew on whispered wings, so that at 3:40 that afternoon just about everyone from Second Avenue School was milling around the battleground.
Sylvia strutted about telling everyone “one good punch was all she’d need to send Gretchen into next week.” After 10 minutes of this, she finally noticed that Gretchen was not there.
“Just as I figured,” she crowed. “Babies like Gretchen always run home like scared rabbits.”
Just as the disappointed crowd was about to leave one of the kids yelled, “Here she comes!”
Sure enough, Gretchen was half a block away walking purposefully toward the park, clutching something in her hands.
When Sylvia saw her coming she announced, “I ain’t going to fight that scared baby today. I’m going home.”
No one blamed her. For you see, the name Gretchen had called her earlier in the day was “Goliath.” And, the thing she was clutching purposefully in her hands was not a slingshot, but a croquet mallet she had brought from home.
Mary Elizabeth Mruzik