October 6, 2023
My wife thinks I’m the luckiest man in the world — and not just because I married her. She often lists the dozens of examples in my life that are not a result of my being overly smart, irresistibly charming or even incredibly good-looking, but rather nothing more than plain old lucky.
Last week, after another incident of good fortune seemed to fall in my lap, Judy asked me if I remembered when my string of good luck started. After thinking long and hard, I finally pinpointed an event that happened in the fourth grade, that may have set the tone for the rest of my life.
When it all began
It was an unusual day at the rural one-room schoolhouse I attended in that we had a substitute teacher for the day. Rarely did the regular teacher miss a day, but for whatever reason, there was a fill-in and, unsurprisingly, students tried to get away with things that never would have been attempted with the real deal in place.
For the afternoon recess, the substitute teacher — probably frustrated to no end by our lack of attention to her — decided to make it an extra-long recess and conduct some footraces and other feats of skill. In retrospect, I’m sure she wanted us to burn up as much energy as we had, to make us more sedate for her classroom projects. The first contest was a footrace up the steep hill next to the schoolhouse, around the big oak tree at the top, and back down to the schoolhouse porch.
Being no more athletically gifted then than I am now, I took a hard fall on the way down the hill, cutting a huge gash in my left knee. In today’s world, the school nurse would have treated me with first aid before calling an ambulance to take me to the nearest hospital for stitches. In 1960, the temporary teacher simply had two schoolmates carry me home, about a quarter-mile away, through the woods.
Mom cleaned the wound, wrapped it with a cloth bandage, called it good, and sent my friends back to school. I got to stay home for the rest of the day.
Back to school
The next morning, I begged my mother to let me miss another day of school, but to no avail. Our regular teacher had returned, and she started the day with a disturbing lecture. It seemed that, after the races of the previous afternoon had concluded, all the boys in the school had taken turns boosting each other up, inside the boys’ side of the school’s outhouse, to peek across to the girls’ side. The substitute teacher had learned of this from a couple of girls but decided to let the real teacher deal with the punishment upon her return.
The wise old teacher asked the most honest boy of the bunch (not me) if this was true. With bowed head, he admitted that all the boys had participated.
“Every single one?” she asked.
Ashamedly, he answered, “Everyone but Jerry, cause we had to carry him home with a bad leg.”
Being in the days where corporal punishment was not only allowed, but encouraged, and long before self-esteem became politically correct, the educator lined up every boy in the school, except me, and administered three whacks with a hickory switch.
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