Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The Loud Stuff

At the end of the summer of 1972 I was heading for sixth grade.  A sort of new sensation was introducing itself to my consciousness - no, not that one - and I didn't know what to make of it.

I was playing my last year of what we called PeeWee or Pop Warner football and, as an older kid a lot of pressure was bearing down from that.  The shoulder-pads seemed heavier and the helmet, a nice one because the older kids got the newer equipment, seemed tighter and somehow more urgent.  I was playing for a tough coach, a mean coach, and it all just seemed a lot harder.

There'd been a realignment of the class structure in the small rural school system I was in, we were no longer being grouped as to, well, intelligence or performance - I don't know how they defended it - and I would be in classes with kids I didn't know as well, though I knew every kid in my class.  I was afraid Russ and Jimmy and Jeff, guys I goofed with, wouldn't be around and I'd have to find a new set of goof buddies.

Along with the egalitarian class placement a new math program called, appropriately and, in my mind, ominously, "The New Math" was being introduced into the curriculum and our class were the guinea pigs.  I couldn't figure what was wrong with the old math and was confused and a bit afraid of the change, as were many at the school, teachers and administrators included.

I'd spent the summer, for reasons I didn't yet understand, thinking about a girl named Erin.  She had pretty green eyes.  I remember thinking about those sparkling emeralds and her black, thick hair.  I'd never noticed another person's eyes before, I doubt I could tell you even now with any accuracy what color eyes my best friend JB had, and couldn't understand why I was so filled with both dread and giddiness at the prospect of seeing her again that year.

However, all of that paled at the terrifying knowledge that I would have Mrs. Melampy for English that fall.  (Anyone from my hometown around my age just shuddered.)  We all had the same teachers in our small district and there was no avoiding her. Her reputation was legend.   She was strict and, rumor had it, cruel.   She had high expectations, homework neat and on time, hell, we had to stand when we were called on, and, called on we would be.  Everyone had to work at the chalkboard doing the thing I most dreaded, the thing that everyone said was really hard - diagramming sentences.  It was well known that she didn't suffer fools or clowns well, and, well, I wasn't a fool, but...

(She'd loathe that least sentence, the ellipse being her most hated punctuation.)

So, I tossed and turned those few last, humid and heavy nights before school started.  I'd never really had trouble sleeping before, I just sorta conked out every night.  But football pads and new equations and pretty cat eyes and the specter of Mrs. Melampy spun in my mind.  My heart raced and nothing seemed to slow it; there seemed to be a roar of thoughts screaming around in my head 

It was anxiety and it's lingered a lifetime in me.

On the night before Nick and Zack were to go to school for what we call "schedule pickup," Nick came into our room long after their lights were out.   He flopped onto our bed and Marci asked him what the matter was.   He opened his mouth to speak and I watched the words get all wadded up in his mouth.   He mumbled "nothing" or "it's fine" or something to that affect.   She pressed him a bit, asking him to try to tell us, that he could tell us anything, she could see from his trembling chin and moist eyes that something was troubling him.  He looked, afraid and confused and...

"I didn't expect the stuff to be so loud."  His voice cracked as the words fell from his mouth.

We knew instantly what he meant.  I suspect you do as well.

"Everything will work out, Nick," Marci answered him and hugged him.  But, as she did, she looked over his blond head at me with the sadness of understanding and sympathy that only a parent with a worried kid can know.

I remembered the roar of my own thoughts on that sultry summer night forty-some years before. 

I wanted to tell him that it would all be fine.  I wanted to tell him that we had a winning season that year and the coach prepared me well for those who were to come.  I wanted to tell him that Erin and I became good friends and she still has beautiful eyes.  I wanted to tell him I made new and better friends that year, fellows I still see from time to time.  I wanted to say that the "New Math" was pretty cool and I still use it today.

I wanted to tell him that in the fall of my junior year of college I went back to my middle school and climbed the stairs to the sixth grade floor and peered into Mrs. Melampy's classroom, with the same anxiety I'd felt so many years before.  That she looked up from her desk, took off her reading glasses and let them fall on their silver chain to her chest.   "Master Peebles, what can I do for you?"  I said I wanted to thank her, for everything - for the discipline, for the expectations, for the respect, for the damn diagramming, for her unwavering devotion to her students.   She smiled and said, "Of course you do, Bill."  I wanted to tell Nick that she hugged me with a tear in her eye and that I wept the day she died.

I didn't though.  I gave him a hug and we laid in silence, save a sniffle or two, I'm still not sure whose.  I tucked him in and he fell asleep and then I wrote this note to myself.

Today, I am fifty-five-point-five years old.  I start a new job today.  The "stuff" was pretty loud last night.  I didn't sleep well and I am anxious and a little fearful today. It's the not knowing, I guess.  Now that I am older though, I know more about it.

I know worrying is, in essence, just planning.

I know that it is natural and good to be anxious about a new thing.

I know that things work out more often than not.

And, finally, I know that prayer helps...


I am excited and also nervous as I begin this new job.
Please watch over me, anoint my working life,
So that I move in your strength and not my own.
I lay down before you all the training, skills and dreams I have.
Help me to be successful in all I do.
Come lead me each day.
May I be aware of your presence with me,
A friend always beside me,
And an adviser at my side.
Fill my heart with hope and joy,
So that I may feel enthusiastic and energized as I work.
Fill my actions with integrity and wisdom,
That others may see something of your spirit in me.

I trust in you.
I walk with you.
I love you.

Thank you for this new opportunity.


From Marci's "... things you don't expect to hear from the backseat ..."
"That arrow is not the arrow of destiny." 

It's just so hard to tell sometimes... 

Wish me luck tonight.  As always, Peace. 

(I found the prayer on a site called Living Prayers.)

((I still diagram sentences in my head.  Thanks again Mrs.M.))

1 comment:

  1. We all remember the loud...and the friends...and that one frightening but amazing teacher. Beautiful, Bill.