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With his ears growing east and west, his legs growing north and his jaw growing south, the other kids pointed and called him "Monkeybear." Who could blame Monkeybear for keeping his mouth shut during school and his front door shut after it? "I didn't have friends," he says. "I was always alone."
His sister, a year younger, was one of those children whom God kisses and gently blows from the womb. She was the prettiest girl in school—and the fighter of Harvey's battles. Once, as they walked to school, a boy smaller but older than Harvey kept taunting him. Harvey kept taking it and taking it until Mary began fighting the boy. "Harvey stood there the whole time just watching," recalls Mary. "I won, and then he told me I really did a good job. He was like a son to me, even though I was younger."
If there was a way to detour a problem instead pf meeting it head on, Harvey would find it. He hated outdoor physical labor, so he got a job after school washing dishes at a department-store restaurant for $40.25 a week, then paid $5 of it to an old man to cut the grass for him. His boss at the restaurant would go around the kitchen asking each boy if he could work late, but when he came to Harvey he would say, "Harvey, I'll call your mother," and all the boys would laugh.
He attended eight different schools in Dallas, being switched several times because of integration. In the first two weeks of his sophomore year, he saw a schoolmate pull a man off a bus and beat him with a crutch, and he was challenged by another to fight after classes. He transferred to another school.
In his early grade-school years his mother married Sylvester Martin, a quiet man who had grown up on the streets. Sylvester fidgeted when he saw the way Helen shielded her son. When the couple argued over the boy's life of housework, homework and church work, Harvey screamed, "Stop it! STOPPPITTTT!"
Sylvester spent all day driving trucks for the city and all evening driving Titleists on the golf course. Even if he was home at dinnertime, he rarely ate with the family. He was a provider, not a participant. He would give the kids money to buy a kite but would not go out with them to fly it. Helen Martin tried to fill all the gaps. "To us," says Mary, "my mother was the water, the food, the worker, the healer, the defender."
Still, a part of the boy yearned for a father's love, a father's affirmation. Whenever Sylvester came home with a golf trophy, Harvey seemed to come home soon afterward with some scrawny school trophy of his own. Then one day, at the beginning of Harvey's junior year in high school, Sylvester came home and complained, "All my buddies have sons playing football or some other sport. My boy's bigger than any of 'em, and he doesn't do nothin'."
Harvey just frowned.
Two weeks into preseason football practice he tried out, the last player to do so. He was handed the last helmet and pair of shoes. The shoes were a size too small and the helmet had an uncovered screw on the inside that drilled a hole in his forehead. He practiced for two days with blood trickling down his nose and blisters breaking on his feet, and said nothing. Then he asked the coach if all football players lived that way.
New equipment was obtained, not because the big kid had talent, but because South Oak Cliff High had just integrated and no one wanted to ruffle its blacks. "We were actually trying to get rid of him," confides Norman Jett, at that time the school's line coach. "I told the team that Harvey looked like a dying calf in a hailstorm."