Who’s Afraid of Jerry Snook?


Jerry was the terror of the classroom, and I knew he especially hated me. I could imagine him pulverizing us when we showed up on his doorstep to invite him to church.

Who’s Afraid of Jerry Snook?

My name is Dwayne, and I’m 13 years old. I’m a little over five feet tall, and my voice cracks a bit when I talk. I also weigh around 170 pounds. I prefer to be thought of as pleasingly plump. At least now in junior high the school nurse doesn’t storm into the class like she did at Lakewood Elementary to weigh us and shout the results across the room for the teacher to write down and everyone to hear. See, I’ve worked my way up in the world and now go to Chief Joseph Junior High. I’m also a member of my deacons quorum.

My quorum means a lot to me, but I don’t tell people this very often. I like doing things for the quorum, like the time we went camping at Three Mile Lake and I was in charge of the food. Everything went okay except the corn bread. I thought if chocolate was good and corn bread was good, they’d be terrific together. They weren’t. The quorum hasn’t quite forgotten that little episode, and I’ve been banned for some time from all cooking. Oh, well. Then about two weeks ago the quorum president called to ask me to visit the deacon who’d moved into our ward. “Sure,” I said, “what’s his name?”

“Jerry Snook.”

“The Jerry Snook at Chief Joseph? The Jerry Snook who is the terror of the classroom?”

“You got it.”

“But I’m sure he’s not a member.”

“Sorry. He’s just moved in from the Third Ward. He’s been inactive most of his life, I guess.”

I wasn’t surprised. Jerry wasn’t the kind of kid you’d expect to meet at church. “Do I have to do this alone?”

“Nope, we’ve asked Paul David to help you.”

“Thanks, he’ll be a big help.” I mean Paul’s a nice kid, but he’s a little different. Most of his classes at school are for students who don’t learn very fast. Still, he’s a deacon, passes the sacrament with us, and participates in the lessons. And he likes to tease me about the chocolate corn bread. But for Jerry Snook I wanted somebody strong.

“And don’t worry,” said the quorum president. “He’s already agreed to work with you.”

“Wonderful,” I said. And then I spoke very rapidly. “I can’t go see Jerry. He hates me. It’s true. Once when I said in English that I’d like to race a stock car, Jerry said real loud, ‘Dwayne, you could be the stock car.’ Even my teacher, Mr. Robertson, laughed.”

“You’ll do great. Just try to see him soon. Invite him to church.”

“You’re sure he’s a member?”

“Yeah, I’m sure. Good luck.”

I hung up the phone. At first I planned to call and see when Paul would want to go out. But I decided to wait until that evening because I wanted to be sure to catch him. I told my dad about the phone call, and he said he’d be glad to help in any way. That night he helped by asking if I’d been able to reach Paul. It was a little after nine, and I didn’t want to wake him. He might have been asleep. So I decided to wait until Monday. Jerry wasn’t in my English class, which was a relief. And I didn’t see Paul. I didn’t call him that night either because I didn’t want to interrupt his family home evening. My dad must have asked about ten times if I’d set up a time with Paul. Each time I promised I’d try real soon.

Tuesday I concluded it was time to give Paul a ring, but when I wasn’t sure which David family to call, I thought I’d wait a day or so. When my dad found out I didn’t know the correct phone number, he looked it up. “Paul’s father is named Emory,” he said, “and the number is 754–3961.”

The next day in English I found out why I hadn’t seen Jerry for a few days. Evidently, he had broken his leg playing touch football. I didn’t feel very bad about it, but at least I kept my feelings to myself. I also figured I’d wait a week before visiting him so he’d have time to recuperate.

That night I was surprised when Paul called me on the phone. “Dwayne,” he said slowly.

“Yes?”

“We need to see Jerry.”

“I know. I’ve been trying to call, but your phone is always busy.”

“Oh.”

“Listen, he’s got a broken leg, and I think we ought to let him get up and about before we go see him. Don’t you agree?”

“I think we ought to go see him tomorrow.”

“Well, Paul,” I explained, “we can’t do that because we’ve got to let him know we’re coming, and it’s too late to do that now.”

“I know.”

“Great. Well, I’ll call him tomorrow or so and set up a day.”

“I already talked to him.”

“You what?”

“I called him, and he said to come on over.”

“Did you say I was coming?”

“I just said that a friend and I would be over tomorrow.”

“Hmm, tomorrow. You know, I’m pretty busy most days, and I’ve got things to do tomorrow.”

“I told him tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow after school?”

“Yeah.”

“All right, all right. We’ll go tomorrow.” I paused for a second. “Hey, Paul, we don’t know where he lives.”

“I do. You come here, and we’ll walk over together.”

“Fine, fine.” I told my dad that we had an appointment with Jerry, and he seemed happy.

I met Paul the next day at his house, kind of a small place with two big trees in the front. “It’s not far,” Paul said. “We can walk.” It wasn’t that close either, and I was puffing a bit when we stopped in front of a brand-new house in a recently developed area.

“This is Jerry’s address,” Paul said. My hands felt clammy, and my stomach twisted as it always does before I have to climb a rope in PE or give a talk at church or tell my folks I failed a test. We walked up the steps, and Paul knocked on the door.

A thin, tall woman with blond hair opened the door. “Yes?” she said, looking at Paul and me as if she had caught us trying to steal the cement steps we were standing on. “Can I help you?” she added.

“We came to see Jerry,” I said, “that is if he’s not asleep or busy or eating or anything, because we can always come back.” The woman leaned forward a bit, raised her eyebrows, and slightly pursed her lips.

Paul cleared his throat a little and said, “We’re friends of his. I called yesterday.”

“Oh yes, from the Church.” She continued to look at me. “You know, we don’t go to church very often. In fact I can’t remember the last time.” She looked at Paul. “Well, come in, come in.” She ushered us into the living room, where we sat on some hard, wooden chairs. “Jerry, oh Jerry,” she called down the hall, “the boys that called yesterday are here.”

“Okay,” he said, sounding bored. After a moment I could hear a thump, thump, thump that grew louder.

“He’s not used to the crutches yet,” his mother said. “His accident has got him down, I think.”

At that moment a cast-covered leg poked through the hallway door, followed by a very redfaced Jerry who struggled with his crutches. He stared at me a moment. “What are you doing here?” he said.

“Oh,” said his mother, “you really do know each other.”

“A little,” I said.

“Yeah, yeah. At school,” Jerry added with a hint of a smirk.

“Well, I’ll leave you boys for now,” said his mother as she went into the kitchen.

Jerry backed up to a chair and flopped down. “So you’re a Mormon,” he said.

“Yes,” I answered, my voice cracking a little. “Both of us are.” I looked quickly at Paul.

“Yeah, we’re Mormons, and we came by to invite you to come to church,” he said.

Slow down, I thought. Now he’ll really lay into us.

“To church?” Jerry said.

“Yes, to church. It’s a good place to go, and we have a good time.”

Jerry shifted his crutches to the side of his chair. “You guys want me to come to church, huh?” He glanced at me. “You want me to come even if I call you fatso and chubby?” He was smiling.

“Well,” I said, my eyes a little out of focus, “sure, we both do.”

“That’s kind of funny, you know,” Jerry said. “You guys want me to come to church. I haven’t been to church for a long, long time.”

“There’s always a first time,” Paul said.

“Yeah, there’s always a first time,” Jerry laughed for a second.

We were all quiet a moment.

“How’d you hurt your leg?” I asked.

“I was playing football and tripped.” He looked a little embarrassed. “I feel like a jerk.”

“I know what you mean,” I said, and he looked at me sharply. “That is, I’m clumsy all the time.”

“You mean like when you dropped your tray in the cafeteria?”

“Yeah, and it had everything on it.” Even I could laugh about that incident.

“Well, that wasn’t so bad. You should have seen me when I tripped. What a klutz.”

“When are you coming back to school?” Paul asked.

“I don’t know. Probably in a few more days. The doctor said it was a pretty bad break and that I ought to take it easy.”

“That’s too bad. We’re working on predicate nominatives in English. Believe me, they aren’t any fun. And Mr. Robertson is as hard to understand as ever.”

“I’ll probably have to work hard to catch up.”

We all started talking about our different classes, the ones we liked and didn’t like, the easy and hard ones. Jerry’s mom brought out some punch. When we finished, Paul and I said that we had to go. We thanked Sister Snook for giving us something to drink. Jerry came with us to the door, not an easy feat when you’re not used to crutches. “You know,” he said, “nobody ever asked me to go to church. I mean just me.”

“You should come.”

“Maybe. Maybe I will.” Jerry looked out into the street. “Is the church far?”

“No,” answered Paul, “just down the street a couple of blocks. We could come by and get you.”

“Give me a call, okay?”

Paul and I stepped outside. “Maybe we’ll come by one of these days,” Paul said.

“Sure,” said Jerry. “Why don’t both of you come?”

It was getting dark, so we waved good-bye and headed home.

After a moment or two Paul said, “Well, we made a start.”

I left Paul at his house and walked home. When I got there, I told my dad how things had gone. He seemed pretty pleased. I felt pretty good myself. And then I had to settle down and study my predicate nominatives. They still weren’t any fun.

[illustration] Illustrated by Dick Brown