Walt was the new kid at school that year. He wasn’t in any of my classes; I met him out at our first freshman football practice. He seemed like a decent enough guy—a little on the quiet side, though.
I was the exact opposite—in the worst way. I talked long and loud with generous helpings of cussing. But, despite our differences, I put up with Walt because he was such a good football player. When it came to playing football, Walt was definitely all action and no talk.
I guess Walt had only two problems fitting in with the rest of us: he was the only Mormon on the team, and he was also the only kid who never, ever swore.
By the end of our freshman year, though, most everybody was used to Walt and his quiet, cussless ways. Even though he looked like us and hung around with us, when he opened his mouth—or didn’t open his mouth—he was completely different from us.
Walt’s “sissy” vocabulary didn’t bother me much the first couple of years I knew him. We became pretty good buddies and spent lots of time together talking about football, girls, school, and religion—Walt was always talking about his church. Anyway, in all our times together, I never heard Walt swear—even when he had every reason to.
At the beginning of our junior year, I decided it was my “duty” to reform Walt by “improving” his vocabulary. It was our first year on the varsity—he was a defensive back, I was an offensive lineman—and I figured if he didn’t learn to cuss, he’d never fit in with the rest of the varsity squad.
“Look, Wally,” I told him one night after twice-a-days practice, “I’m gonna make you swear—just once—if it’s the last thing I do this year.”
“Well,” he grinned, “I guess that’ll be the last thing you’ll do, because I don’t swear.”
I had my work cut out for me. I mean, here was a guy who said, “excuse me” every time he burped—even in the locker room. It was hard to believe that Walt didn’t swear; he surely had plenty of cussing examples around him. The air in the locker room and football field was always filled with vivid streaks of blue language. I knew that Walt had heard everything there was to hear, but he still never used anything stronger than, “Gee whiz, darn, or doggone it.”
So, I had to start at the beginning. One afternoon before practice, I handed Walt a vocabulary list. “Here, Walt. This is a list of words I want you to use today at practice. If you use them often enough, you’ll finally get the hang of it, and before you know it, you’ll be cussing like an old pro.”
He looked over my list for a minute but didn’t say a word.
I pointed to the first word. “This one—this is a great one. Use it when you drop a pass or miss a tackle. You’ll really feel much better if you do. And the next few are good when somebody takes a cheap shot at you. Use the last two anytime the ref makes a bad call.”
Walt wadded up my list and tossed it in his locker. “Aw, c’mon, Wally,” I pleaded. “Give it a chance. You’ve got to release all those pent-up emotions. The way you’re going, you’ll have ulcers before you’re 18.”
Out at practice that afternoon, Walt dropped a pass, missed three tackles during a scrimmage, and was the victim of one of my “friendly” cheap shots. I hit him right in the back, and when I helped him up, waiting to hear him cut loose with one of his new words, all he muttered was a feisty “Darn!” That was it.
I realized that I needed more help, so I recruited a few other guys to work on Walt. We tried everything: booby trapped his locker, pinched him in pile-ups, snapped him with towels, but we were lucky to even get a “doggone it” out of him. As a matter of fact, the harder we tried, the worse Walt got. It finally got so bad that Walt even quit using “darn” and just responded with “ouch” to all our persecutions.
“Okay, Walt,” I said to him one afternoon as we sat lacing up our cleats before practice, “I guess you win. No swearing, right? But what about dirty jokes? You know any?”
“Oh, you bet I do,” he answered. “I’ll tell you one today after practice.”
After wind sprints that evening, before he even got off the field, I gathered our buddies around and announced, “Hey, you guys, listen to this. Walt’s got a dirty joke to tell us.”
“Yeah, right,” said one player. “Walt? A dirty joke? You gotta be kidding.”
“Walt wouldn’t know a dirty joke if he heard one,” said another. “This I gotta hear.”
We huddled around Walt, anxious to see the effects of our “reform” efforts. “Gosh, you guys,” he exclaimed, “give me some room, okay?” We all moved back. “Okay,” he said, blushing slightly, “this is it. A white horse fell in a mud puddle.”
“Oh, no, …” we moaned. “You call that a dirty joke?”
“Well, what’d you guys expect?” laughed Walt. “That’s a Mormon dirty joke,” he said, and trotted off to the showers.
The football season progressed, and so did Walt. He terrorized our opponents as much as he mystified us, so we dubbed him “The Stormin’ Mormon.” It was a well-deserved nickname.
It became a team obsession to try to pollute Walt. We weren’t vicious about it; we were just good-naturedly hoping to save Walt from going off the deep end of goody-goodness. We owed it to him. Unfortunately for us, he was just as good-natured and just as determined to remain in the deep end of goodness.
We weren’t making any progress with Walt’s vocabulary, so some guys began telling (that is, trying to tell) dirty jokes to Walt. As soon as they’d begin a story, he’d cover up his ears. If they increased their volume, Walt would sing out loud; the louder the story, the louder Walt sang.
It got to be pretty comical. Two guys would dance around Walt trying to tell him a dirty joke while he sat peacefully in front of his locker with both hands clapped flat over his ears, singing at the top of his voice.
By the end of our season, we’d all but given up on Walt. He was a lost cause as far as swearing went. There was simply no reforming him.
It was even worse our senior year. The younger players looked up to Walt because he was one of the top players on the team, and the rest of us knew there was no changing him, so we all just accepted him for what he was and left it at that. Of course, we didn’t leave him completely alone. There were still a few booby-trapped lockers and assorted pranks. We gave Walt every opportunity, but he never swore. I guess that deep inside, we all knew he wouldn’t swear, and we would have been disappointed if he had.
Things finally got so bad that even I started to give up cussing, especially when I was around Walt. I knew he didn’t like hearing profanity all the time, so I toned down my vocabulary.
After all we’d been through (and Walt had been through a lot more than I had), we were really good friends. We talked often about lots of things, and he continued to plug the Church every chance he got.
It’s kind of funny, but for four years, I was really trying, trying hard, to reform Walt—to help him “see the light” of using a man’s vocabulary. But my bad example, and his good one, eventually backfired on me.
A month after we graduated, Walt was there to witness my baptism. “Gee whiz,” he said after the ceremony, “I didn’t think you’d ever change.”
“Doggone it, Walt,” I replied, “I’m glad you didn’t.”