The Pugilistic Preacher

by Izzie Hayes

          Before my dad was Rev. Charles A. Dayton, or even a DAD, his dreams were fairly simple. Like most teenagers, he wanted to complete his schooling, find a beautiful, loving companion, support his church, hunt and fish, and enjoy whatever came along. Abruptly, at sixteen, he found it necessary to drop out of  high school and assist his family with unexpected medical expenses. His father had been seriously injured at work in the mill in their isolated Upstate New York town. Situated on the Hudson River, the mill, the International Paper Company, had the river as an easily accessible power source for their industry and had become the chief employer for the men living in the nearby Adirondack Mountains area.

          As the oldest son of five children, Charles began his own brief career as a mill worker. Already a rugged young man, over six feet tall, handsome, affable, and ready for action, he quickly became known for his quick wit and “brute strength,” which he was happy to share whenever needed. Every lunchtime, after setting aside their metal lunch buckets, the men gathered to let off a little steam before returning to their presses.

Charles Dayton (left) c.1920

          Modesty dominated the Dayton genes in that generation, and bragging was a definite no-no, so I am not certain how he acquired his skill as a boxer in that circle of mill workers, nor how proficient his opponents were. It’s human nature to cheer on the newcomer, and I think those seasoned mill workers probably looked forward to lunch hour and a chance to see “the kid” pummel the current top contender! I did hear that he at one time unseated the highly touted “top man to beat.”  I doubt there was a ring—with ropes, and I think he only fought bare-fisted, without the protection of gloves. I can visualize a pan and a hammer for the bell and a “dead serious expression” on the faces of the timer and the “crowd,” as they cheered on the newcomer.

          In my childhood memories, there were times when the threat of being pummeled by our resident “Jack Dempsey,” was my biggest nightmare. He knew the moves, and he was 6 feet, 4 inches tall. His were playful jabs, but I never developed any skill in “parrying” to his playful thrusts.

          When a higher calling drew him out of the ring, he became involved in the educational training for the ministry, and abandoned the draw of boxing.

My theory is that you can “take the man out of boxing, but you can never take the boxing out of the man.” My sister Doris and I, and often my mother too, were reduced to assuming the fetal position whenever Dad took the stance and said ,“Put up your dukes!”

          Years later, televisions screamed from the neighbors’ houses, as the excitement of the Monday Night Fights blasted through the open windows.

I sensed my dad leaned into the sound. It may be a bit sad to realize that his promise as a boxer never materialized into a reality. Boxing is “a sport,” of course, but  in my adolescent mind, knowing how useless I was as a competitor, and that all of his strength and agility and thoughtful approach to every challenge seemed wasted to never have had a chance to be proved!!!!

I always surmised ,i.e., a  thought without any strong evidence on which to base it at all, that Dad would have loved to be pushed into a situation in which the only honorable solution would be for him to step up and PASTE THE VILLAIN ONE!  For the Gipper, maybe!!!

         

This conclusion was a part of my psyche so much so that when I was working a swing shift in a small hosiery mill in Cohoes, N.Y., for some much needed college money in the mid 1940’s, one of the regular crew became  determined  to plant a kiss on the college kid. I thought he was slimy, and I was equally determined that he wouldn’t. My mistake was in telling my dad that he had!! I think Dad went berserk. He was insistent that he be at the gate when my next shift was over. “Just point him out to me!” I don’t know if it was my mother’s tears or my suggestion that the headlines would surely be amazing the next day: “Local Minister Mauls Mill Worker.”  Something prevailed;  a crisis was averted. And poor old dad never got to plaster a sleaze-ball! It’s my story—— “HE COULD HAVE!!”

Categories: Chop (Charles)

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