EIGHINGER: When I realized I was a writer, not a fighter

Posted: Aug. 9, 2014 7:24 pm Updated: Nov. 1, 2014 9:15 pm

School starts in the not-too-distant future all across West-Central Illinois and Northeast Missouri.

That got me thinking about some of my not-so-fond memories of elementary, junior high and high school.

Sure, there were tons of great moments growing up that were tied to school days, but there were also plenty I'd rather forget -- but somehow have never been able to erase. So when every new school year rolls around I tend to immediately think of:

French class: I took French for four years and probably knew even less at the end of that time than when I started.

During the summer between my freshman and senior years, about 30 other French students and I traveled to Quebec City and Montreal. It was one of the longest weeks of my life.

While most of the other students were conversing in French with the locals, I might as well have been a street mime attempting to communicate. I could have traveled to Botswana and had more luck asking where the nearest place to get a hamburger may have been.

Calculus: To this day, I have no idea what made me sign up for calculus in high school. For a guy who had trouble with long division, taking calculus was a huge mistake.

As I became more lost by the day in Mr. Mizer's class, my attention began to wane. And when that happened, I tended to start getting in trouble for talking too much, sleeping, listening to Cleveland Indians games on a small transistor radio and generally appearing to be "bored."

Finally, Mr. Mizer and I had an after-school meeting in which if I agreed to not cause any more trouble in exchange for a "C." Or maybe it was a "C-minus." I was the perfect student after that confab.

Forty-some years later, I remain grateful that Mr. Mizer was also a diehard Indians fan.

The paddle: I was a bit of an instigator in sixth grade, so much so that Mr. Sullivan decided I needed to feel how a big, wooden paddle felt against the back pockets of my jeans.

I'll tell you how it felt. It hurt like nothing else I had ever experienced to that point in my life.

Apparently, Mr. Sullivan never subscribed to sparing the rod and spoiling the child. I think I still have bruises from that paddling.

Ooops: When I was a junior, my longtime girlfriend and I had broken up just before homecoming. So I asked another girl to the football game and dance. The only problem to that was when I went to introduce her to some friends I forgot her name. It was Connie. Connie Bishop.

Why couldn't I remember that in 1971?

Lead foot: When I was a sophomore, my driver's education teacher was also the football coach, who was a massive, intimidating man who could barely fit inside the car we were using.

As you might expect, the coach could yell, probably louder than any human being I had ever been around. When I went 60 mph through a school zone I found out just how loud his voice could be.

And in case you were wondering: Yes, I failed my driver's test the first time I tried. I also had some issues with parallel parking.

Change of heart: My athletic career, at least football-wise, came to a screeching halt in junior high. Back in those days (the late 1960s), coaches liked to pair off players for what would now be described as "brutal" nutcracker drills.

You would go one on one and bang heads in an effort to take the other guy to the ground. Getting "your bell rung" was part of the game back then (concussions had not yet been "discovered"). I was paired with a guy who stood about 9 feet tall and weighed 700 pounds. His name was John Brumenschenkel. That even sounds brutal, doesn't it?

I took one look at big Bru, turned and looked directly at the coach.

"I'm done," I told him. "I'm outta here."

It was at that moment I realized I was a writer, not a fighter.

And that, hands down, remains my fondest memory of my old school days.


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