Last week I shared a few things about the great Joe Louis. I won’t revisit his compelling story today but want to talk more about a paraphrase of his best-known quote. The popular rendering, “You can run but you can’t hide,” brought several memories to the surface.
A childhood misdemeanor first came to mind. It wasn’t my fault, of course, but irrefutable evidence placed me at the scene of the crime and indicated substantial involvement.
Larry and David, two of my cousins who lived near us, were at our house with their parents. Larry is a year older than I am and David a year younger, so we often played together as kids. Normally we would have been outside, but it was after supper on a cold moonless night.
Playing hide and seek in a small house has severe limitations. That’s probably why someone saw potential in hiding on the top shelf of a bedroom closet. Navigating between flimsy carboard boxes of Christmas decorations, including fragile red and green balls, didn’t seem problematic. It’s easy to wiggle into tight spaces during early childhood. Years later we might still be able to squeeze in, but it’s more challenging to get out. The same holds true for mischief.
It’s escaped my memory who suggested that someone could fit on top of a shelf. It wasn’t me, of course, but when a kid sees that something daring can be done, he’s prone to want a turn. The faint sounds of ornaments shattering didn’t hamper our fun. Adrenaline took over our developing brains.
My recollection of how our misconduct was discovered is vague. Whether Larry and David’s participation was known to their parents, I don’t recall. What I remember is going to bed quickly and turning off the light, thinking I had evaded a close call. But parents, we realize later, are not oblivious to such matters. They just choose to ignore a lot of our misdeeds.
Daddy swatted me a couple of times with his belt. It wasn’t much of a whipping as that never was his style. He took an Andy Griffith approach to discipline and lived what he taught. There’s a lot to be said for a good example, especially when it reflects a man’s true character. My punishment wasn’t traumatic by any means, but I learned at an early age, “You can run but you can’t hide.”
A track meet was the next instance that came to mind. Unadilla High was a small school where almost anyone who wanted could participate in sports. My friend, David Fullington, suggested we play football our senior year. Coach Billy Brooks, who was also our principal, welcomed us to the team. To play, however, you had to run track in the spring. So that’s how a tall skinny kid who was short on talent became a two-sport athlete for a very brief time. They even gave me a Blue Devil U-Club jacket with patches I greatly admired but knew were undeserved.
My classmate and four-sport star, Smitty, was setting a fast pace to a meet in Montezuma driving his GTO. Another classmate and short-track sensation, Wayne, was behind him. I followed Wayne in my 1964 Chevy Impala with its blue $99.95 Earl Scheib paint job. Our three cars were packed with friends as Smitty led a quick trip down Highway 230. Everything was copasetic until a Georgia State Trooper, I think his name was Griffin, passed us and pointed toward the shoulder of the road.
At the bottom of a hill, the officer stopped and Smitty pulled over. Wayne, however, took a side road, an idea which struck me and my passengers with immense appeal. We laughed all the way to Montezuma about Smitty getting a ticket while we escaped. It was hilarious until Coach Stanly Copeland called the track team together and read out some license plate information. “Whoever was driving those two cars needs to go back to Byromville,” he said. “There’s a state patrolman waiting to see you.”
The trooper was so mad his hands were shaking as he wrote the tickets. “I was planning on giving you boys a warning,” he said, “but that won’t work now.” We apologized rather sheepishly then returned to Montezuma. I was sitting on a bleacher when Coach Copeland approached.
“Joiner,” he asked, “You want to run the mile?”
“Not all that much,” I replied. He grinned and said okay, knowing it wouldn’t affect the outcome of the race. I think he was just offering me a chance to burn some nervous energy.
I can’t say that running track changed my life. But choosing the wrong road that day was a lesson that’s stayed with me. Joe Louis was right. You can run but you can’t hide.