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The backup plan

Rick Ryckeley's picture

No matter how careful you are, sometimes things just don’t always work out the way you planned. That’s why you gotta have a backup plan. I learned this lesson early on in life — at the tender age of 8, to be exact — and it all started with a stick.

Unusual? Yes, but where I learned that lesson was even more so. To do so, I actually had to go out on a limb — the limb of giant oak tree some 50 feet above the meanest kid that ever lived on Flamingo Street.

Living just three houses down from Neighbor Thomas, Down the Street Bully Brad terrorized our neighborhood all the time. He was also the resident bully of the third grade at Mt. Olive Elementary School.

Bradley McAllister was the oldest and second largest kid in third grade. He had been held back to repeat the entire year. Some say it was because he was out sick too many times. Others whispered it was due to low test scores. I knew the real reason.

Bully Brad was held back ‘cause he was just too darn mean. Only one teacher would put up with him. That teacher was Old Mrs. Crabtree. Yep, she was my teacher also. Oh lucky me.

After almost an entire year of reasoning, pleading for him to stop, and being used as his own personal punching bag, I’d finally had enough. Someone had to strike back, and that someone was gonna be me. All I had to do was come up with a fool-proof plan and not get pummeled in the process. Enter the stick.

Bully Brad rode his rusty bike to school every day. After school he used it to chase down his target punching bag for the day, usually me.

But not today. Today I had a plan. I thought by running as fast as I could, cutting through the woods behind Strong Arm Magee’s house, and jumping over Cripple Creek, making it to Flamingo Street before Bully Brad was indeed possible.

It was dangerous to venture so close to Magee’s house, but these were desperate times. Besides, I had a plan — and a stick. What could possibly go wrong?

The bell rang, signaling the end of another school day and start of my perfect plan. I pushed my way through the mass of bodies clogging the hallways, out the front door, and ran as fast as I could all the way to Flamingo Street.

With stick in hand, I hid behind some large bushes just before Bully Brad’s house. He came riding by, I threw the stick out in front of him and his rusty bike crashed. Bully Brad toppled over handlebars, just as planned, and I ran for my life.

This is where my perfect plan ended, and my big problem started. The big problem was a very upset bully now running after me.

I barely made it to the giant oak in front of Bubba Hank’s house. It’s amazing how fast a terrified kid can scamper 50 feet up a tree.

Thankfully, Bully Brad wasn’t a tree climber. Guess he didn’t learn that in bully school. Instead, he started to throw rocks. The more rocks that hit me, the faster I climbed.

Enter the largest kid in third grade. Out of nowhere, Bubba Hanks plowed into Brad, sending him tumbling across the ground. They wrestled around like two giant beasts fighting over a prized kill. After they created a huge cloud of dust, Brad finally broke free. He got to his feet, threw one more rock up at me, and then ran back home.

Actually, I learned not one but two lessons that day. First, in life you got to have a backup plan. Second, even if you don’t, and you’re stuck high up in a tree, there’s someone you can call for help.

In my case, Bubba called the fire department. Yep, that’s how this scared 8-year-old got down from his 50-foot perch.

It was the first time I thought being a firefighter would be a really cool job – a job I’ve now had for the last 27 years. Still, in all of those 27 years, I’ve never rescued an 8-year-old from a 50-foot tree.

But I’ve helped many kids, and adults, when their perfect plans have gone awry.

[Rick Ryckeley, who lives in Senoia, is in his third decade as a firefighter and has been a weekly columnist since 2001. His email is His books are available at]

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