Lessons every schoolboy runt learns early on in life

Basic Black

Runt: n.

1.  A variety of domestic 


2. The dead stump of a tree

3. Any animal which is 

unusually small compared 

with others of its kind.




I come from a family of two girls and two boys and I was unquestionably the runt of the litter. 

Oh, I wasn’t feeble or sickly as an infant, but I was … small — and slower to develop than most of my kiddie colleagues. Public school was unrelieved misery.  I never won any ribbons on Field Day and I stayed on the bench at school dances — mostly because all the girls were at least a head taller than me. Naturally, I sucked at sports. When the captains chose up sides for baseball games I was usually the last pick.

“Okay, you have to take Black,” the opposing captain would say.

I was definitely low man on the totem pole. The runt of the litter.

It was the best thing that ever happened to me.

Being a runt reveals social Darwinism at its most cold-blooded. Runts are automatically at the bottom of the pecking order and they have to think fast if they expect to survive. They have to hone their hearing to stay out of the way of their more robust siblings. They have to sharpen their vision and sense of smell to snatch the scraps before the Big Guys get them. Runts have to develop a kind of radar to be able to analyze situations more quickly.

Otherwise they’re toast.

I remember when I was maybe nine or 10 years old, rafting in a creek swollen by spring runoff.  I was poling along the creek doing fine until Timmy Fermier, a big kid, took a huge leap from the creek bank and jumped on the raft with me. Not good. The raft began to settle ominously in the water which began to creep up my boots. Inspired, I faked hysteria. “WE’RE SINKING!  WE’RE SINKING!” I shrieked. “WE’RE GONNA DROWN!” 

It worked. Timmy freaked and leapt into the creek (which was only about three feet deep).  Naturally, when he abandoned ship, the raft bobbed up and I poled serenely to shore.

True, he beat me up later — but at least I didn’t get wet.

Being a runt made me learn other survival skills. If Tommy Farmer was the bull mastiff in the motley mob of mutts I hung around with, I was the Jack Russell Terrier — yappy and annoying but fleet of foot and an artful dodger.

In The Brothers Karamazov, the Russian writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote: “Schoolboys are a merciless race, individually they are angels, but together, especially in schools, they are often merciless.”

It’s true. And it’s a lesson every schoolboy runt learns early and remembers for the rest of his life. Some runts never get past it and go on to live nervous, stunted lives, shrinking from danger, some of it real, but most of it imagined. Others learn to play the hand dealt them. 

As Charles Darwin said: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.”

My all-time favourite runt hero? The skinny little guy, who, legend has it, went for a wilderness hike in the Yukon accompanied by a larger, beefy guide. After a few kilometres they come to a clearing and spy a huge male grizzly on the other side.  The bear spots the hikers, gives a gut-shivering roar and begins to gallop across the clearing toward them. “Quick!  Take off your jacket and wave it at him!” yells the guide. Instead, the runt shrugs off his backpack, opens the flap and pulls out a pair of running shoes. “Are you crazy?” says the guide. “You can’t outrun a grizzly!”

“I don’t have to,” says the little guy as he sloughs off his heavy boots and slips into the sneakers. 

“I just have to outrun you.”


Just Posted

(PQB News file photo)
Fireworks report highlights enforcement challenges for Regional District of Nanaimo

Director: ‘I just think it’s wasting everybody’s time’

Terry Mazzei next to a truck after it was struck by lightning, with him inside, on Wednesday afternoon, June 9. He walked away from the incident without injury and the truck sustained only mild damage; a blown front tire and newly broken gas gauge. (Wendy Mazzei photo)
Nanoose Bay man walks away unscathed after lightning strike

VIDEO: ‘We like to think that his dad was watching over him’

Douglas Holmes, current Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District chief administrative officer, is set to take on that position at the Regional District of Nanaimo come late August. (Submitted photo)
Regional District of Nanaimo’s next CAO keen to work on building partnerships

Douglas Holmes to take over top administrator role with RDN this summer

This young fledgling white raven was spotted in the Coombs area on May 16. (Mike Yip photo)
Expert says 2 sets of parents producing rare white ravens in mid-Island area

One of the iconic birds is currently recovering at wildlife centre after being rescued

Flowers planted along Highway 19 in downtown Parksville. (Submitted photo)
City of Parksville plants more than 15,000 annual bedding plants

Residents encouraged to take flower photos and post to social media

At an outdoor drive-in convocation ceremony, Mount Royal University bestows an honorary Doctor of Laws on Blackfoot Elder and residential school survivor Clarence Wolfleg in Calgary on Tuesday, June 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
‘You didn’t get the best of me’: Residential school survivor gets honorary doctorate

Clarence Wolfleg receives honorary doctorate from Mount Royal University, the highest honour the school gives out

Two-year-old Ivy McLeod laughs while playing with Lucky the puppy outside their Chilliwack home on Thursday, June 10, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
VIDEO: B.C. family finds ‘perfect’ puppy with limb difference for 2-year-old Ivy

Ivy has special bond with Lucky the puppy who was also born with limb difference

A million-dollar ticket was sold to an individual in Vernon from the Lotto Max draw Friday, June 11, 2021. (Photo courtesy of BCLC)
Lottery ticket worth $1 million sold in Vernon

One lucky individual holds one of 20 tickets worth $1 million from Friday’s Lotto Max draw

“65 years, I’ve carried the stories in my mind and live it every day,” says Jack Kruger. (Athena Bonneau)
‘Maybe this time they will listen’: Survivor shares stories from B.C. residential school

Jack Kruger, living in Syilx territory, wasn’t surprised by news of 215 children’s remains found on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School

A logging truck carries its load down the Elaho Valley near in Squamish, B.C. in this file photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chuck Stoody
Squamish Nation calls for old-growth logging moratorium in its territory

The nation says 44% of old-growth forests in its 6,900-square kilometre territory are protected while the rest remain at risk

Flowers and cards are left at a makeshift memorial at a monument outside the former Kamloops Indian Residential School to honour the 215 children whose remains are believed to have been discovered buried near the city in Kamloops, B.C., on Monday, May 31, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
‘Pick a Sunday:’ Indigenous leaders ask Catholics to stay home, push for apology

Indigenous leaders are calling on Catholics to stand in solidarity with residential school survivors by not attending church services

“They will never be forgotten, every child matters,” says Sioux Valley Chief Jennifer Bone in a video statement June 1. (Screen grab)
104 ‘potential graves’ detected at site of former residential school in Manitoba

Sioux Valley Dakota Nation working to identify, repatriate students buried near former Brandon residential school

The Queen Victoria statue at the B.C. legislature was splattered with what looks like red paint on Friday. (Nicole Crescenzi/News Staff)
Queen Victoria statue at B.C. legislature vandalized Friday

Statue splattered with red paint by old growth forest proponents

Most Read