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Sixth grade is a tough time for a boy to change schools, classes and friends, all at once. However, on the first day of school my mother took me to Mark Twain Elementary in Sioux Falls, South Dakota to enroll. We went to the principal’s office, and as soon as the paperwork was completed the principal took me to the sixth grade class room.

Everyone looked up when the teacher announced, “’This is our new sixth-grader. His mother made one request, that you call him ‘Robert’ not Bob.” 

I couldn’t believe she would do that to me. I hated “Robert." 

That evening at the dinner table I brought the subject up once more. “How could you embarrass me like that?” I asked.

Mom was totally unaware of what I was going through. “If I wanted you to be Bob I would have named you Bob when you were born.”

Dad picked up my frustration and interjected, “Soon he will be making these decisions for himself, and this is a good place to start. The bully will probably try to intimidate you again if you let him. After dinner, I’ll show you some ways to defend yourself the next time he tries.”

Mom left the room with tears in her eyes.

“I didn’t raise that boy to be a fighter.”

The next day, Ronald Albee, the boy in two desks ahead of mine turned and said, “I won’t call you Robert. I’ll call you gopher-face instead.”

Bob Larsen in 1945.

Granted I wasn’t very handsome, with big lips and a round face bearing a pair of thick glasses.

The next day, when we had a break in the math class, Ronald shouted, “Hey 'Gopher-face,'” and he started to tear pages out of my notebook. 

After school, I started to walk home, but Ronald and a few other boys from my class were waiting to be spectators. Ronald started in again. “Hey 'Gopher-face,' look at me.”

He then pushed me by hitting me in the chest, and I fell on the sidewalk.

Suddenly I felt very strong and made a fist just like Dad had instructed the night before. Before I could land a punch he hit me in the nose knocking me back on the sidewalk again.

“Don’t think for a moment that you are going to be able to hit me, 'Gopher-face.' You’ll regret it if you even try.”

Seeing the blood staining my collar I started to cry and ran home.

For some reason, Ronald left me alone and never taunted me again. Maybe seeing my blood was enough to reaffirm his power over me. Of course, I avoided him whenever I could.

After sixth grade, we all graduated to the big high school down town, and I never saw Ronald again.

Bob Larsen

Bob Larsen is a retired surgeon whose eclectic career has allowed him to see the world.

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