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Meet Bubba Hanks

Rick Ryckeley's picture

Lying on my back, I couldn’t comprehend exactly what had happened. Against all rules of after-school fights, three blows to my face had come in quick succession and landed with audible thumps. Shouts from the encircled kids rang in my ears.

The kids, mostly from Old Mrs. Crabtree’s third-grade class, had followed us to the magnolia out in front of Candi’s house.

Dubbed “The Fight Tree” – some say so named because of its location – it was far enough from school property no teacher could interfere. For me, it was as far as I could run before being caught, and caught I had been, which accounted for my current painful situation.

Atop my chest sat a behemoth grinning with a malevolence which up to now I’d never seen. I closed my eyes. (As if closing one’s eyes could actually make monsters go away.) I tried to prepare mentally for another bombardment.

The first day of third grade really wasn’t ending up exactly as planned. Somehow I’d offended the second largest kid in third grade.

The onslaught never came.

A collective gasp rippled through the crowd as the weight suddenly left my chest. It was as if a giant benevolent hand reached down from the heavens and plucked off my assailant.

Through swollen slits, I witnessed Down the Street Bully Brad being tossed like a bag of trash. Scrambling to his feet, he turned just in time to meet a bone-crushing tackle. That tackler, in a half dozen years, would become legendary at Briarwood High, Home of the Mighty Buccaneers.

Greatly outmatched, Bully Brad sulked away as the giant hand reached down again – this time to pick me up off the ground.

Meet Bubba Hanks – the largest kid in third grade.

It was rumored Bubba had to repeat the third grade because of so much time missed due to a kidney infection. When he returned, he was much bigger than all the rest of us. At the moment, I was just happy that he was bigger than Bully Brad.

He picked me up, smiled, and simply walked off without saying a word.

When you got past what was on the outside, inside he was one of the smartest and nicest people you could ever met – truly a gentle giant. I learned that that day in third grade.

Throughout school, his great size made him an easy target for those who didn’t, or lacked the ability to, understand. Many took him as just a lumbering giant – a force to be reckoned with on and off the football field.

But to those that took the time to know him, Bubba was much more than that. He was a friend who would do anything for someone in need – even pound a little on attacking bullies.

Bubba and me, we stayed friends till he went off to college on a scholarship. Seems his great size, the root of years of ridicule, was actually an asset after all.
Going one’s entire life being frightened of (or not trying to understand) someone who is different is truly sad. After all, it’s our differences that make us stronger. And our acceptance of those differences sets us apart from the Bully Brads of the world.

I thought everyone learned this lesson back in the third grade. Guess some of us could still benefit from going back and repeating it. Wonder if Old Mrs. Crabtree is still teaching?

[Rick Ryckeley, who lives in Senoia, has been a firefighter for over 26 years and a weekly columnist since 2001. His email is His books are available at]

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