A Wayward Mennonite
I knew Verle Krupp for many years on the Big Island. He was the sort of guy that any smart person would want to have as a friend in violent situations. He always protected your back if things got out of hand.
I never needed any help in a one-on-one fight, but locals don't fight that way. They consider it "fair" to gang up on a target if one of them starts losing the fight. More than once Verle saved my butt in such situations.
He was built like a tree trunk and as strong as a sumo wrestler. He wasn't huge by any measure, standing perhaps 5 foot 11 inches tall and weighing about 200 pounds, but he was large-boned and he had no neck.
Verle was raised in Oregon farm country in the Mennonite religion, which gave him a placid exterior and a good-natured temperament 99% of the time. If someone messed with him or his friends, however, he became a different man. He didn't get mad, he got even. For Verle there was no turning the other cheek if someone slapped him.
In fights he didn't try to box. He waded through punches, seemingly insensitive to pain, and he grabbed his opponent in a bear hug. Then he crushed him until his eyes bulged like a toad's eyes. If the opponent didn't say uncle, it was lights out for him.
Verle gave the impression of being a little mentally slow, but I don't think he was. A high school dropout, he was uneducated and not interested in intellectual matters, but he excelled in carpentry and I watched him do other things with his hands that seemed rather complicated to me. No theorist, he was a man of applied practical reason in the tradition of America's guiding school of philosophy, pragmatism.
Under normal circumstances, Verle would help anyone who asked him for help, even if they didn't deserve it. He put up with a lot of crap from some of his so-called friends and he never complained.
Verle and I were as different as two men can be, but I liked him and we became good friends. I forgave him when he nearly killed me accidentally one day at the beach.
The two of us had camped out with two other friends in Waipio, a remote valley on the windward side of the Big Island, and we had stayed up half the night drinking beer around the campfire. I fell asleep listening to the others talk story.
When I woke up the next morning, everything was gone -- our jeep, the ice chest and blankets and my three companions. I wondered what the hell happened. I had barely finished wiping the hangover crud out of my eyes when I heard a loud noise.
The jeep suddenly flew over the top of a hill, air-borne with Verle at the wheel, and it slid to a halt not two feet from where I lay in the sand. My heart was in my throat and I bellowed a few choice obscenities. It was way too early in the morning to be run over.
Verle and the other two guys had gone four-wheeling to the rear of the valley and they had forgotten exactly where I was sleeping on the beach. Verle apologized like crazy as my pulse returned to normal.
The rest of the day I teased Verle about it. "If you had killed me," I said, "I never would have spoken to you again."
At first he didn't get it. Then he grinned and said, "I guess not."
The last time I saw Verle he was leaving for Oregon with a woman who had a young son from a previous relationship. They planned to get married after Verle introduced her to his Mennonite family. He was the black sheep of the family and he hoped his marriage would mend the broken fences between them.
I was convinced Verle would make a good step-father to the boy. He would teach him patience, good will and other Christian virtues, but also how to defend himself and prevail if anyone messed with him. It was a winning combination as far as I was concerned.
"The earth was made round so we can't see too far down the road and know what is coming." -- Isak Dinesen, Out of Africa