by Jeff Simms
Barnegat, New Jersey, USA
It was a nippy Fall day — our favorite kind of weather. It was Saturday and we were going to have a great time. My divorced mother, two younger brothers and I were on our way to the park at the other end of the small Jersey town we lived in. We had our football and makeshift goal posts in the back of the station wagon and our teams already chosen: us against our mother. (Don’t worry, it was only touch football.)
On the way we approached a small bar where an agitated crowd had formed outside. Suddenly there was a terrible tension in the air. “Uh, oh,” one of my brothers said. “Shhh,” my mother told him. I got an uneasy feeling in the gut of my stomach. I’d always had a certain uneasiness about crowds. Fear actually. When I was only about five, we were living in North Manhattan. I had witnessed a crowd yelling for a suicidal man atop an apartment building to jump. It left me with a bad impression of what decent, normal people are capable of when in the crowd mentality.
I wanted out of there and shouted to my mother to speed up. Instead, she slowed! She pulled to the curb on the opposite side of the street. We were a few dozen feet from six or seven people cheering on a drunken fight. It was definitely crowd mentality, all right — the same whether it was in a city or a small town.
To our horror our mother got out, locking us boys in. “Stay put, guys” she said. We didn’t unlock the car but we did open the windows about half way. To our astonishment our beautiful, petite mother defiantly walked through the ruckus, went up to the two brawlers and shouted to the one on top. “Get off him right now! You’ll kill him!”
It was as forceful as she had ever sounded. I’ll never forget her standing there with her hands on her hips (her “mad-as-hell” stance which we knew very well), seemingly oblivious to the others around her.
Two men in the crowd must have been humbled by her audacity because they broke rank from the rest and separated the two combatants. In the distance we heard a siren. Minutes later a police car pulled up and we got going again. The whole incident took no more than ten minutes, but it has been seared in my memory ever since.
From the back seat my youngest brother kept his arms lovingly around our mother’s neck as she drove, while my other brother and I just stared in utter amazement at her all the way to the park. I learned a great lesson that day from our petite mother. I learned that I really had nothing to fear from a crowd like that — as long as I never become a part of it.
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2 thoughts on “Bucking the Crowd”
These kinds of stories are so important to share, especially now, in the face of events like Standing Rock, ND. Was it Margaret Mead who said don’t think one person can’t make a difference, that’s all that ever has? We need to do it, for ourselves and for our world.
I think it often happens that some, or perhaps even most, of the people who are spectators to something bad, be it an incident of schoolground bullying, a brawl like that described in “Bucking the Crowd”, or a manifestation of prejudice against some weaker member or members of society, are not so much active participants as people who don’t quite have the courage necessary to initiate action to stop the incident and rectify the situation, but would do so if *someone*, anyone, made that first move. The mother in this story was just such a person, and her decision and courage when faced with such a situation is worth emulating.