Saturday, August 16, 2014

"All colours will agree in the dark." ~ Francis Bacon  


My eyes are green. Not hazel, but green. I have a reddish-brown "freckle" in one of them… forget which. I can see clearly all the way to the mountains, right up to those trees that grow on top, too. Even though they are green eyes, I know their strength comes from the 1/64 Blackfeet part of me. I bet you… 

Nana told me I was 1/64 Blackfeet, and I believe her. My grandmother had the thickest, shiniest black hair. When she died at 96, her hair had still not turned completely gray! The Blackfeet people, for the most part, live in the northern part of Montana. Their close relatives, usually called the Blackfoot, live across the border in Canada. My Blackfeet lady ancestor makes me wonder every so often… Was she brought into our family for love, or not? I fervently hope she was. Whether or not, she gave me her cheekbones, and I thank her for that… and maybe more…

The Blackfeet Nation are the people who met and befriended the Lewis and Clark expedition when they reached the Montana area on their travels. Then, one night, 5 of their boys (not "young men" - BOYS) crept into the Lewis and Clark camp and stole some horses. When the theft was discovered, and, even knowing that it was a passel of boys who did it, the Lewis and Clark party nearly decimated the entire village.  

When I was about 13 and we'd moved to Stamford, Connecticut, we had a house with a natural forest between our backyard and the people who lived on the next street down the hill. In the late fall when the snakes were snug and cozy inside their earthen dens, I'd walk all through those woods, practicing my "silent Indian walking." I'd read that Indian braves could walk noiselessly through the crunch of debris on the forest floor by rolling each foot inward as they stepped. I practiced it over and over, and I thought I did it well enough that no one could hear me approach. I must have been good, because one time I snuck up on my little brother and scared him half to death, which had been my aim all along! 

On our annual trip to Phoenix to visit the Indian Market at the Heard Museum and see the 650 Native American artists' work every year, I met a famous Blackfeet artist who has some of his work in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C. He intimidated me, but I whispered that I was 1/64 Blackfeet. He looked at me, and then he looked into my eyes, and then he looked through my eyes to the back of my skull! It was a long stare, and I was fearful, but fascinated. I knew that the Blackfeet people are not prone to lots of laughter. They are fierce people and not small and lithe like the Apache or the Hopi people. He stared at me for a full minute longer, and then he rushed at me, and grabbed me in a fierce hug. It felt like the "hug" of a grizzly must feel. Finally, he put me back down on the earth and said simply, "You ARE Blackfeet!" Don't know why, but I treasure that.

There is one person who lived on this earth, though, that I hate! I've never met him, and neither have you. I don't remember his name or even know if he had one, and neither do you. But I hate him with everything inside of me! I don't even know when he lived… I think it was in the 1700's or the 1800's, for sure… I think. This man decided that all human beings were divided into five (count 'em, 5) color groups: red, yellow, brown, black, and white. And like lemmings, we all believed it and follow that outline to this day, that edict that is supposed to fit all of us born on earth! Tummy rot, I say!

Sometimes people laugh at artists, I guess. They think, sometimes, that artists are folks who've never grown up. I've heard that said. But artists who work with color absolutely know that nothing could be further from the truth about the color of human beings. Why? Because artists PAINT people! Artists use COLOR! Nearly every single person on the planet, when having their portrait painted, would see the artist slather some shade of brown onto the canvas. BROWN, I say. Brown paint  can be mixed to make nearly-black-brown to nearly-white-brown, can't it. That's the color of nearly ALL human skin!

Yeah, but Terry, you said "nearly!" Hah!

Yes, I did… on purpose. I saw a person once who, if I painted him, I could only begin by using black paint. I went into NYC to the Whitney and the Modern to have a close look at what I was studying in university. I'd had lunch with my Dad, and afterwards I walked to the United Nations building, just because I loved it there - the whole thought behind that fairly small building where most of the nations on earth could meet and just hang out and have lunch and talk… or something.  

As I was walking back to 45th and 3rd where my Dad's office was, I passed a line of protesters. They were marching against South African apartheid, and I asked if I could join them, so they made a space for me. The man who was marching directly in front of me was black… not just dark, but a beautiful black. The sun shone on his skin and was shooting off BLUE highlights into my eyes. That man could precisely be called "black." He's the only actual "black" person I've ever seen in my long life. I would have had to start painting him by dipping my brush in absolute black paint until I could get far enough to paint the various blue highlights in all their glory.

At University of Nebraska when I was 19, I saw a student hurrying past me, on that hot, humid September day, dressed in a looong tan overcoat with a hat on his head that was pulled down nearly over his entire face. Under the wide brim I could see a pair of nearly black sunglasses. He had long pants on, of course… nothing strange about that. But I was so hot and sweaty that looking at him dressed like that made me feel faint.

I kept seeing him here and there on campus, and always in that cloak-and-dagger costume. I said to someone, "Does he think he's a spy or something!"

"Shut up, Terry! He's an albino! The sun would burn him and the sunlight could blind him! Don't you know anything?"

Nope, sometimes I'm as thick as Karo syrup! There's a lot I don't know, but I DO know that the human race, who are all trying to live together on this planet, are NOT yellow, red, brown, black or white! And what I don't understand is why people are still grouping us into those 5 bogus color categories! I only turn red when I'm out in the sun too long, and it's not because of my 1/64 Blackfeet blood, either!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

"Their very silence is a loud cry." ~ Cicero


They said, "Tourists, especially American tourists, just don't go all the way to Durham!"

Mary Lou said, "We're NOT tourists! We're here in England on a National Endowment to the Humanities Fellowship. We are scholars studying Chaucer, and we ARE going to take the train to Durham!" 

They lifted their eyebrows, but we went anyway…

It was wet and rainy-cold with water-painted clouds swashed all over the sky. The land was a thumb, a fat, hammer-smashed thumb, that swelled without breaking the river's path, forcing that water into a wide redundant curve. On that swollen thumb of land was a tower, the castle tower, that rose straight up, but alone. The rest of the castle lay tumbled and broken at the river's bottom.

On that same thumb of land, not too far from that lonely tower, rose the cathedral with its iron-grey walls, blending into pounded white, ending in great iron-red tears of rust at the top. This was the heart of Durham. The city might have been the heart, the city that you could see through the dormitory window in the cathedral's chapter house. That city was right across the river from the cathedral and the castle ruins, but the city came later. With wattle and daub, and fear and trembling, its buildings grew, but only after the cathedral and the monastery stood there.

The city of Durham sent some of its boys to that thumb of land. The boys would walk through those great soaring monastery gates… gates that opened just that one time for many of those boys.

That cathedral was strong and stolid; the chapter's meeting room was the same. Upstairs and to the right lay the huge rectangle of the dormitory. The ceiling was made of warm, living wood, layed and inlaid with pattern, repetitions echoing repeats. A monk who looked for peace in that dormitory ceiling, after hours of illuminating a manuscript, would find only more patterns with the parts and the whole pushing and pulling until, hopefully, the pitch dark finally put him to sleep.

At the far end of that dormitory was the fireplace, big enough to walk into, but not big enough for its warmth to reach all the way to the furthest cots in that stone cold room. What was the sleeping order, I wondered. Who lay at the opposite end where even the light of the fire could not cut the darkness? Might it be a monk, quivering with the spiritual pride of having the last, coldest cot? Or would it be the youngest boy, or the poorest, or the monk who needed to be humbled? I wondered…

In the center of that wall was a window with clear glass, not stained. It showed the town across that river, a town filled with love and death and longing and merriment and despair, just like all that was contained in this room, only freer and more brutal. The sounds of the city would carry across the river into that dormitory… laughter, shouts, maybe drunken singing. Who slept by this window with its view? Someone who could eshew the world and never be tempted to look? Or a boy who peeked at the world and wondered? 

The window was too narrow to climb through… but, if you could, the ground below was too far for any cloth rope to reach… but, if it would, the ledge that rose above that river was too rocky to be safe. It was too far, so far from the town and its heart.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

"I make mistakes; I'll be the second to admit it." ~ Jean Kerr


… and then there was Fred... Fred sat in the front seat right next to the door in our Algebra II class, and I sat right behind him. Fred was funny! But Mr. Byrd, our teacher, wasn't. Mr. Byrd was hard of hearing. He was also hard of seeing, and, we found out, he was also hard of smelling! 

One day during that loooong, boring period in Algebra II, I thought I smelled smoke! Fred nudged me and pointed to the back of the classroom. A kid in the very back of the room had pushed open the wooden top of his desk. I thought he was looking for his homework or another piece of paper, and he was, sort of… He had wadded up several pieces of past homework papers, arranged them inside the metal desk, and then he lit a match and set them on fire! We could see the flames from the front of the room!

Mr. Byrd was nattering on about something to do with math, in that one-note, single-tempo voice of his. He was walking up and down the rows of desks as he nattered, and the whole class was hanging on his every step. He finally came to the desk where smoke was curling up from the sides of the ill-fitting desk top. We waited, expectantly… But Mr. Byrd walked right on past it as if there was nothing wrong! Not only didn't he SEE the smoke, but apparently he didn't even SMEll the smoke!

The fire finally wore itself out when it breathed in the last of the oxygen and ate up the last morsel of paper inside that closed desk. Sadly, we didn't even get to have a fire drill that day.

Now, in those days, you took Algebra II the year after you passed Algebra I. If that went well for you, it was off to geometry the following year. I had done well in Algebra I as soon as I'd gotten the hang of it. I liked it because it was sort of like solving puzzles. Algebra II had me a little nervous, though. People had told me that it was a lot harder than the first course. NOT SO! Mr. Byrd's Algebra II was a year-long rehash of Algebra I, although I'm sure the front office didn't know that's what was happening in his class.

Fred was the one who made it bearable for me, though. Fred was NOT interested in the class at all. He had things to say and other things to think about.

"Terry, I'm NOT going into the army when I get out of school!"

"I didn't know every boy had to go into the Army when he graduated from high school, Fred!"

"Well, just in case, I've got this idea… I've been thinking hard about it, and I decided that if they call me in, I'm going to get a gun and shoot my toe… NOT my big toe… I've been thinking hard about this… In science Mr. Erickson said that the human beings' little toe was going to eventually vanish because it's not really needed." 

I remembered when the science teacher had said that.  I kept trying to imagine what an 8-toed person would look like in a few thousand years. The thing was that I LIKED my little toes there at the end of the other four. I always thought they were kind of cute! I was so glad I was living now, not in that future little-toe-less world.

"Terry, I'm going to get a rifle so I don't miss my little toe and hit my actual foot, and I'll shoot my little toe off, if they try to make me go into the Army! I know it will hurt, but I can take it, I'm sure. Then I'll be maimed and not perfect, and they won't be able to enlist me. That's what I'll do! Problem solved!"

"Well, Fred, it's your toe, I guess."

One day Fred decided to actually do the math assignment in class. "Terry, do you know how to do #6?"

"That one's hard, Fred… nope, I can't figure it out."

Fred jumped out of his seat, book in hand, and went up to Mr. Byrd's desk in front. 

"Mr. Byrd! Can you help me? I can't do number 6."

"If you're ill, Fred, go to the nurse!"

"No, Mr. Byrd, I can't do number 6!"

"Fred, IF YOU'RE ILL, GO TO THE NURSE!"

Fred turned around and looked at me. His eyes opened sooo wide, almost as wide as his grin! "OK, Mr. Byrd. I'll go to the nurse. Can I have a hall-pass?"

"Just take the pass and go to the nurse!"

Fred grabbed his books and was out the door before you could blink. He did a dance outside the room, waving his hands and silently laughing. Then he was off…

Fred came running by the open math class door about twenty times, doing his dance every time, and wildly waving at me. Several of those times he stopped and begged me to ask Mr. Byrd to go to the nurse, too. We could have so much fun! But it was Terry Kingston, he was talking to. And I wasn't going to be shooting off my little toes or running through the halls of Stamford High School any time soon. What a dweeb I was…

Finally, when it was close to the end of the period, Fred was just trudging past the room…  Fred was bored! Then, all at once, his eyes lit up! He came close to the door and said, "Watch this…"

Fred found out that the whole wall of lockers between our classroom door and the room next-door were NOT attached to the wall. Now, Fred was strong, strong enough to put his shoulder to that bank of lockers and push them right across the door of our classroom!

The bell rang, and Mr. Byrd went to the door, as he always did, to push the door open for us to exit class. But the door didn't open. Mr. Byrd pushed the door, and then he put all his might into shoving the door, and the entire bank of lockers fell over on the hall floor. We were locked into Mr. Byrd's room until someone finally called the janitor to open our jail cell!

About a week later, Fred was bored again. He had liked his "free period" of pretending to go to the nurse's office, and I could see he was thinking hard about another escape plan.

"Terry!  I GOT IT! Watch this…"

The classroom door was closed this day, and Fred was sitting right next to it, like he always did. Suddenly, he shot out his right foot and kicked the door hard 5 times! Even Mr. Byrd heard it!

"Mr. Byrd! Mr. Byrd!!! Someone just kicked your door! But don't worry, Mr. Byrd! I'll watch for him…"

As soon as Mr. Byrd turned around, Fred kicked the door five more times, even harder!

"I SAW HIM, Mr. Byrd! I'll go get him for you…" and out the door Fred raced!

Slowy, Mr. Byrd turned towards where Fred used to be sitting and said, "No, Fred. It's alright. You don't… Fred? Fred?"

"He went to find the kid that kicked your door, Mr. Byrd," I chimed in. Me, Terry Kingston, was abetting a criminal, and LIKING it!

Fred amused us, again, with his dancing antics outside the door until the bell rang for class to be over. You know, I always thought that the army could have used a smart, energetic guy like Fred. He could have settled most any problem, and quickly. Of course, without his little toe, he might have limped a little… but Fred would have figured out something... 

The problem came at the end of that year in Algebra II, though. Since I was the only student who ever did the homework, I presume, Mr. Byrd gave me a whopping A+ in Algebra II (which was really only a repeat of Algebra I all over again), and then, that old rascal submitted my name for Honors Geometry the next year! ME! 

Of course, the teacher of HONOR'S geometry would never confuse the words "six" and "sick." And, in case you never had to take geometry, the entire year was full of memorization, a skill that Terry Kingston has never been able to learn. I've never been any good at memorizing anything… 

Finally, that "C" I earned in Honors Geometry looked pitiful on my report card, and the pitiful glances I got from my other classmates every day were worse. And no one on earth but me will ever know how hard I had to work for that blasted "C."

Worst of all, of course, Fred wasn't even in that class to inform me about his latest plan to thwart the Army...    

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

"Suppressed grief suffocates, it rages within the breast, and is forced to multiply its strength." ~ Ovid


I love old movies… just LOVE them, especially when Kathryn Hepburn and Spencer Tracy are both in one. Their movie "Pat and Mike" even let Kate show off her golfing ability, and I used to love playing golf, and playing tennis, too. But, I'm not like Kathryn Hepburn in any other way, at all. I only started with that beginning sentence so I could connect my experience with Pat, the boy in my last entry, to this one about Mike…

It was the 3rd or 4th year in my high school teaching career, and I was finally beginning to relax into it all. Who wouldn't? My room was a perfect art room, fully equipped with all the tools and with all the room I needed to teach. At different personal points in the year, my students would each discover that they, too, could design an actual piece of art, IF they used their brains in perfect timing with their hands. 

Discipline was easy, mostly because I genuinely liked those kids, all of them. We were told, though, that we had to be tough, that these kids needed to know who was boss. Well, maybe so, IF I was teaching math or history or something kids didn't like, I thought. But I was teaching art, and I loved it so much and I loved them so much that there just wasn't going to be any trouble for me! And I'd been pretty much right about that, too.

That was until about one month into the school year when my door exploded open, and a wiry, wind-blown boy stomped into our classroom. He shoved his transfer slip into my hand and snarled, "Where do I sit?" 

I showed him to his seat, and he plopped down, put his head on his arms, and went to sleep. I was glad. The kids sitting at that table were relieved, and the other students put their eyes back into their heads, and quietly resumed drawing.

As soon as my prep period arrived that day, I raced into the office and asked to see this boy's cum folder. Each student in every school has a "cum folder" that includes the history of their schooling. Most kids' folders are thin and easy to re-file. When the office lady brought Mike's folder out, though, it was 4-times the width of any other student's in our school, all 2,500 of them! Before I even opened it, I knew this boy had seen trouble, and lots of it, in the first 10 years of his "education!"

I sat at a table in the office and plowed through as much of Mike's educational history as I could, the written comments by teachers and by vice principals in charge of discipline, as well as those comments on his report cards. Then I saw it! This boy and his mother had moved 19 times during his 10 years of schooling! Nineteen times in 10 years? Nineteen! Why? How could any child adjust to that instability?  

But it was the last paper that shook me. Mike had been thrown out of his last school, and maybe the entire town, because the punch he'd thrown at a teacher had sent her to the hospital! Yes, HER! And he'd be in my classroom the very next day… and every school day after that… 

The next day was the same as the last one. Mike stalked into the room, hunched down in his stool, lay his head on his arms at the table, and went right to sleep, an ugly scowl spread over his face. The day after that was the same, and the day after that, and the next, and the next… And I was glad to leave it that way, I'm ashamed to say. The class was actually being held hostage by two people: a sleeping teen-ager, and a scared young teacher who couldn't figure out what to do about the situation.

Mike was never late to class, or absent, either. That was probably because he slept better in my art room than anywhere he went after school. He was a sleeping tiger in our room, and no one would be fool enough to wake a tiger!

But, one day the bell rang to begin class, and Mike hadn't crashed through the door and collapsed onto his stool. Students looked at each other, I looked at the students, and we all let out our breaths for the first time since Mike had arrived on the scene. Students began to smile as they got their work out. They looked up at me, and then over at each other. I heard students whispering for the first time since Mike had arrived! Some eyed me with guilty looks, but I had a grin on my face as big as a dinner plate, and I welcomed that whispering… In fact, I talked out loud, instead of doing that breathy whisper I'd used ever since the sleeping tiger had invaded. Then someone said some funny little thing and we ALL laughed! And for ten minutes we were actually having fun in 3rd period Art, just like we did in the rest of my classes!

But the door exploded open! Mike stalked through that door, and the whole room froze. 

"Mike, you're late! Where's your hall pass?"

"DON'T GOT ONE!"

"Then go to the office and get one… NOW!"

"I ain't gunna get a hall pass!"

"Yes, you ARE!"

"YOU CAN'T MAKE ME!"

"I SAID GET OUT OF THIS ROOM AND GET A HALL PASS FROM THE OFFICE!"

He took a step toward me. I grabbed the front of his shirt, to push him backward, out of the door. He twisted. I didn't let go. He twisted again. The top button on his shirt ripped off and hit the floor. The button sounded like a blacksmith's forge had hit the floor! I froze, scared and shaking and angry.

Mike looked straight at me, teeth bared, and, with both hands, grabbed the nearest large wooden stool and swung it up over his head. He was going to use it on ME! That's when time became slow-motion… the slowest of slow motion for me. I was going to be hurt... badly… never happened before… Clyde Beatty, THE LION TAMER! When I was young, I'd read a book about Africa by Clyde Beatty. I remembered he had written, "Look the wild beast straight in the eye. Speak slowly and firmly. Don't look away!" So I did

"Mike, p u t   t h e   s t o o l  D O W N!"

Time must have stopped for Mike, too. He held that stool over his head for a long, long time, all the while staring back into my eyes. Then his face contorted… then, so many expressions flew across his face... and then, one sob… and then, water filled his eyes. Neither of us moved. Finally, he threw the stool down hard on the floor, and we watched it bounce crazily into the wall. 

Finally, Mike turned and ran out the door, down the hall, past the office, and out into the parking lot. Someone caught him. Someone gave him a week's detention after school. Someone also brought him back to my class the next day.

What had happened, I don't know. But, Mike came in to the class with only half a scowl on his face. He took some paper and tried to draw… or something. All I knew was that his head was up and his eyes stayed open for the whole class. No smiles, no talk, no looking up from his paper, but no going to sleep, either.

The days passed and Mike actually finished some work. He didn't try to pull the door off the hinges when he walked into class, either. Mike even erased the scowl, most days. One day he even said, "Hi," to me as he came into class.

But then Mike left school for good. He'd come in after school was over one day and said he and his mother were moving.

"I only came in to tell you that and ask you if I could come see you, maybe, after school, sometimes…" 

"Of course you can, Mike! I'd like to see you. Where are you moving to?"

"Dunno," and he walked out.

Mike did come to see me, every Friday after the school day was over. Every Friday he helped me clean up the art room and get things ready for Monday's classes. He'd talk sometimes, and other times he was silent. But he was relaxed, as relaxed as Mike could ever be, that is. When I asked him how he got out of his new school early enough on Fridays to come see me, he said, "I don't go to school on Fridays! I gotta hitch-hike to get here."

"You hitch-hike all the way to Omaha every Friday?"

"Yup."

I don't know where Mike's mother had moved them, or what his new school thought of Mike being a four-day-a-week student, but I didn't pry. Even tamed tigers still had claws. You don't push it with tigers. And the truth is, I liked Mike, and I think he needed those 2 hours in that quiet room doing helpful work.

When summer vacation began, my time of seeing Mike was over for two months. I never saw Mike the next year, either, though, and I have no idea why he never came to see me again. What happened in his life for the next three years I have no idea. But I do know what happened when he was 18 years old.

Three years later, when I got home from school one late afternoon, I was reading the Omaha World-Herald newspaper, and there it was, a small item on the 3rd page. This same Mike, my Mike, had a girlfriend. She lived in Omaha, Nebraska. One night he pounded on the locked door of her apartment, but she wouldn't let him inside. There was screaming and yelling back-and-forth, and Mike, crashing against the door until it started to splinter. The girl had a shotgun inside her apartment, and she pulled the trigger. Mike was killed. End of Mike. End of his story.

You're probably wondering why I even bothered to write this for you to read. What did you do for that poor kid, Terry? He was born into a no-win life. So, he visited you. Big deal!!! What did you do for him to help his situation, after all, Terry? Nothing… nothing, but I remember Mike. Always will…

The point is that when I wrote about Pat, I got the nicest comments from a couple of people about how sad it was. The sadder part is that Pat and Mike were only two out of hundreds of my ten thousand students who had tragic ends. I could write at least 100 more of these sadnesses, but I won't! Just know, reader, that teaching school professionally isn't merely teaching "the curriculum." If that's all it were, I'd have quit looong before I retired.             

Friday, August 1, 2014

"There is no grief like the grief that does not speak."  ~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow


Pat Flynn popped into my head again, and it seems like he always does about this time of year. I don't know why... there's nothing I could have done to stop him, I guess. But I'll never know. He's dead.

I already wrote about coming to California and substitute-teaching long-term because some art teacher had decided that he wanted to be a professional surfer, and teaching wasn't for him! You remember... He was the one who I first saw carrying a girl student on his broad shoulders around the black-top in front of his art room WHILE his class was in session...

I wrote about my getting the long-term replacement job and unwittingly teaching a first-rate graffitti artist how to write his name perfectly in the Old English alphabet over every blank wall in Orange, California. And I told you how I was hated by all 220 students for actually teaching art in that art class!

But I didn't tell you about the 221st ninth-grade student who walked into my class one day. And, if I already did, I'm going to write it again because it's the time of year I remember Pat.

It was the middle of the school year, and I had finally turned the kids' opinion of my class around, kinda. They seemed happier, at least comparatively. The day before, they had done some really good torn-paper collages, and now they were in the midst of drawing a still life in ink over the top of them, when in strolled a new student. He handed me the transfer slip. His name was Pat Flynn.

When I looked up, I saw my entire 1st period class was, naturally, looking at Pat. The girls were swooning, some shyly, and the boys were sizing him up. Pat was tall, close to 6 feet, and so I didn't see much of a challenge on any of the boys' faces.

I found him a place at one of the large wooden art tables with 3 other students working on their collage/drawings. As soon as he sat down, he smiled. Within minutes it seemed, he was friends with all 3 kids. He seemed comfortable in his own skin. His smile seemed genuine, and he told me that art was his favorite class. Just about the time I got him the supplies he would need and started to explain what we were doing in class, the bell rang, and class was over.

The next day when class started, I sat down at Pat's table to help him understand the project and help him catch up with the class. He was friendly, and he seemed nice. I asked him why he'd transfered from the Catholic school across town to our junior high right in the middle of the year, and he said, with a smile, "Well, I didn't exactly 'transfer.' I got kicked out of school."

"What did you do to be kicked out of school?" The entire class was quiet. We all wanted to know.

"Well, nuns don't like it when you talk back to them. In fact, they hit you, and I don't like to get hit," he said with a smile. And it wasn't a sneer or a sinister smile. It was just a warm, kind of cordial smile. And with that, the entire class was "in his pocket!" 

Pat was funny, comfortable, and the fact that he was good-looking, too, didn't hurt. There was something about Pat I'd never seen in all the students I'd taught for those 12 years. As a matter of fact, if I could have had those 10 kids of my own that I'd always wanted, I sure would have liked Pat Flynn to have been one of them. 

He lived quite a distance from school, it turned out, but he was never late for my first period class. He told me that he walked to school and back everyday. He went out for sports and was a really good baseball player, according to one of the coaches. But the thing he liked most of all was art. That "warmed the cockles of me own heart, it did!"

June rolled around one day, and the school year finally ended. Pat came into my room after that last day was over, and he told me that he loved my class, and he asked me if it would be OK for him to come see me some days after his classes at the high school were over. Of course, he could! And he did, once in a while. And time passed...

It was maybe eight years later or so when I got home from school one day, stretched out on the couch with the newspaper, and relaxed. It wasn't until I was reading the local news that it hit me...

The day before, a man had been killed by the freight train that ran though the town of Orange. I never read things like that... too awful... too sad. But I did read this one.

The engineer saw a man walking straight down the middle of the track! Frantically, he blew the train whistle, over and over and over. He said that the man kept walking, but turned back and looked at the train once. Then he just turned around and kept walking down that track... The engineer did every single thing he could do to try to stop the train in time, but it was a TRAIN! It takes such a loooong time to stop one. 

The train hit the man, and it was over just like that.

The 22-year-old man's name was Pat Flynn.

I'm not going to wallow and slobber all over this page, asking why or how or... anything. I cried. And when I think of Pat, the tears come all over again. And I wonder how many times a smile you see is not really a smile... I wonder what that smile might really be saying...