October 2004 – The date was August 9. The time was 7:47 p.m. It was a mission fraught with peril. Both of our hearts were pounding as I reached over from the driver’s seat of our minivan, tightly hugged my lovely and talented wife Alison, and told her what I needed to say and what she needed to hear. I told her that the challenge now facing us – an imminent challenge, which is much different than an immigrant challenge although the words are similar – was neither her fault nor mine. But it was something she was born to do. And I also told her if I didn’t hear from her within 30 minutes that I was coming in after her.
I had a lump in my throat as she got out, shut the door, turned and walked away. I could hardly watch. Like a scene from a movie, Barry Manilow music began to play in my head. But anyway, back to my story. There was my wife of 20 years walking fearlessly into Wal-Mart and more specifically, into the school supplies area. A place angels fear to tread on the night before school starts.
The first couple of years we had kids in school Alison would have everything bought and packed by mid-July. You know how that goes. I never thought she’d be a last-minute mom, but here she was at Wal-Mart the night before school starts.
Knowing I was suffering with her as I listened to the Cardinals game in the car, she called in an eye-witness report from the combat zone.
“You are not going to believe this,” she said. “Buggies bumper to bumper, stuff strewn here and there, there’s no more paper. It’s bad. Really bad. I’m not doing this again. … Tim?”
“I’m sorry, Baby, Scott Rolen just hit another home run and the radio was fading in and out ... What did you say?”
“I said next time you are coming in here to do this and I’m sitting in the van. This is awful.”
Yes, readers, it was back-to-school time.
I always know it’s getting close when Alison mail orders the L. L. Bean backpacks for Wriley, 16, Wesley, 15, and Walker, 10, in late July – sophomore, freshman and fifth grader respectively.
As we all know, going back to school, especially if you are going to a new school – such as moving from the middle school to the high school – brings both excitement and anxiety. My oldest son is in high school!
We went to “Meet the Tigers” the other night at Saltillo High School. Wesley plays on the junior varsity football squad. After we met the Tigers, everyone was invited to tour the new locker room facility. Wesley had told me it had become clear to him and his fellow ninth-graders that they were not exactly held in high esteem at the school or on the team. In other words, like all freshmen, they would have to earn their Tiger stripes. Some things never change.
As we went through the locker room, I said, “Show me your peon locker.”
“Dad, what is a peon exactly?”
“It’s a high school freshman. You can look it up in your peon dictionary in your peon backpack.”
The thing I most remember about starting school – especially back in my Pierce Street Elementary School days in Tupelo – was having to wear those brand new stiff and scratchy blue jeans in the typically hot and humid August heat. Couldn’t run a lick those first couple of weeks before the jeans were washed a few times and broken in. But I tried. Looked like the tin man out there playing football with the other boys.
Also, I remember the first day I walked into my eleventh grade geometry class and thought, “I don’t have a prayer. My mind doesn’t work this way.” I had just passed algebra in summer school – after failing it in spring school – with a teacher who screamed and shouted. I’m serious, this lady was wound way too tight and there were a couple of guys in our class of summer misfits who knew just the right buttons to push. If you could take the screaming, it was a funny show. In geometry class, I could hardly stay awake, it bored me so. However, I managed to pass. I would later learn to appreciate teachers and professors who graded on a curve. It’s called academic mercy.
Going back to school, perhaps more than anything else, reminds us of just how fast the years go by. Yesterday Alison and I were taking our Wriley home from the hospital. Today she is driving herself and her brothers to school. God help us all to realize how quickly time passes and how precious life is, especially the few years we have to impact our children.
Well, good luck students! All I can say is I’m glad I’m not you. I don’t care if I do have a mortgage payment. At least the bank gives me the answer to the question, “How much money do I owe?”