Marvels and grudge matches of wrestling

Published 9:27 am Wednesday, April 8, 2015

I’d just finished a Charley Horse Yoga class.

I limped my way to visit a 94-year-old friend in the care center.

As I walked, I recalled days of a single kind of bread. It was white bread, usually Wonder Bread, and it was used for sandwiches, toast, hotdogs, beef commercials, grilled cheese and everything else.

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I visited a charming lady plus two of her daughters and a daughter-in-law. One of the daughters, from Colorado, had stayed with her mother for months while the older woman dealt with health issues. I told the daughter that was nice of her. She replied in the best way by saying that her mother was easy to be nice to.

I treasure such people. Nice, kind and thoughtful. She’d never make a pro wrestler.

I was never a wrestler, other than a bit of grappling which was required in gym class during my formative years before I moved up to dodge ball. In gym class, all things led to dodge ball.

I played basketball and football. There was some wrestling in the paint and at the line of scrimmage. The most common holds were sharp elbows and face-mask grabbing.

I’ve wrestled an occasional pig or steer in order to get them into a livestock truck. I’ve lost wrestling matches to a flock of chickens when I opened the door to the henhouse after they’d been cooped up all winter. The chickens came out the door like men fleeing a Pottery Barn. I either stepped aside quickly like a skilled matador or I was run over by chickens.

I remember names of pro wrestlers from the past. The sports pages of newspapers and TV brought them to my attention. Verne Gagne was brought to us by Gera-Speed. Verne’s son was a pro wrestler. His daughters married pro wrestlers. Gagne was usually in a huff about the antics of the bad guys by the time he chatted with TV announcer Marty O’Neill, a portly fellow wearing dark glasses. O’Neill was fond of reminding viewers about an upcoming main event with a “Don’t you dare miss it!” O’Neill and Gagne pitched Gera-Speed, which was supposed to provide “Vim, vigor and vitality.”

Mean Gene Okerlund, announcer and interviewer, talked to and about The Crusher, Mad Dog Vachon, Nick Bockwinkel, Killer Kowalski, Baron Von Raschke and Dick the Bruiser. Texas Bob Geigel, a villain from Algona, Iowa, was nasty. My mother, never a villain or nasty, shared that hometown. The Very Capable Kenny Jay, also nicknamed The Sodbuster, could be depended upon to give a valiant effort in a losing cause. He was a good Minnesotan.

There were masked marvels, grudge matches and little conviviality. There were odd holds. Flying dropkicks, the claw, the pile driver and the sleeper.

Things never looked promising for a good guy. Oh, woe is us. He’s being tied to the railroad tracks. All is lost. Cue the violins. We hoped it wasn’t as bad as it appeared.

With the villains, whether they were masked or not, the best we got was the worst they had. They believed in branding. The Good Book, in Matthew 5, says, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Pro wrestlers hated their enemies and undoubtedly prayed for bad things to befall them. They sought vengeance. The Bible (Hosea 8) had more to say about pro wrestling. “For they have sown the wind and they shall reap the whirlwind.” That’s a fair warning to expect serious consequences as a result of bad actions.

Misbehaving was rampant in pro wrestling. Promoter Wally Karbo threatened that there would be fines and suspensions all around.

Pro wrestlers were the kind of guys who ate in cafes without chairs because no one would want to sit next to them.

My father sometimes watched a TV show named, “Rasslin’ with Russ.” If I’m not vigilant, I say “rassle” instead of “wrestle.”

“What do you see in pro wrestling?” I asked my father, cracking wise as teenagers must.

“Wait, let me get my glasses,” said Dad.

“Why do you watch this junk? Sure, they’re good athletes, but it’s all scripted,” I added as reason for my disdain of pro wrestling as combatants toppled from turnbuckles on TV.

Dad said, “You go to the movies every week. Why watch movies? You know that they’re all fake, don’t you?”

Point taken.

Dad continued to watch wrestling until his dying day.

Wrestling was welcome on the farm, as was anything that didn’t scare the cows.


Hartland resident Al Batt’s columns appear every Wednesday and Sunday.