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Then there’s Bill. He was a guy who lightened the load no matter what was going on. I don’t remember Bill’s last name. I knew it then, but it never mattered. Everyone in Small Town and far beyond simply knew him as “Bill.”

To put it bluntly but still kindly, Bill was the Small Town Drunk, very much like the fellow Andy Griffith regularly tossed into the Mayberry tank “to sleep it off.” This was back when the word “drunkard” or “drunk” was used and people knew what you were talking about.

As many people know from harsh experience there are “Mean Drunks” and there are “Happy Drunks.” Bill was a Happy Drunk. In fact, I’m ashamed to say it, but Bill was a Hilarious Drunk, partly because he was funny to begin with and when he got just a little sauced, which was about every other day, he’d let loose with gut-splitting comments about everything from presidents to preachers to people close by.

I recognize that Bill’s addiction is a sad thing and that it plagued him through the end of his life. So I don’t celebrate his inebriation. But as a character he was classic. He was the kind of guy that looked for ways to get out of work, yet everybody liked him. He told raucous stories but never mean-spirited ones. He loved baseball, had I don’t remember how many wives, kids, and grandkids, and thoroughly, infectiously enjoyed life. People, even hard cases, brightened whenever they got within twenty feet of him.

I smile as I remember Bill but am saddened by the fact that this fellow who possessed great charisma and a Reagan-like sunny disposition still found it necessary to fill the hole in his heart with what used to be called demon-rum.

Bill and I talked a few times about spiritual things. He knew I was in Christian college, knew what I believed, and could talk his own basic Christian-knowledge, yet he stopped short of embracing the Lord. He took this stance primarily, I think, because he thought he’d have to quit drinking. I told him it wasn’t about drinking—it was about the Lord—but still, he didn’t or couldn’t trust the idea he could come to Christ without first discarding his bottle.

I feel for Bill now even as I remember. I’m glad I knew Bill, but his life, to me, is one of those over which you write “What could have been.”

 

© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2010

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow Dr. Rogers at www.twitter.com/RexMRogers.

 

While I gained my earliest invaluable work experience on Grandpa’s farm, in the spring of my senior year it was time to try my wings. Beginning part-time in April and full-time the summer after I graduated from high school in 1970 I began working for Cashway (now Carter) Lumber Company. The company was located—still is—on  the edge of town and the experience turned out to pay much more than a paycheck. For the next four summers I helped work my way through college slinging lumber and doing inventory (counting each piece of molding in the bin) for two weeks each Christmas break.

I made good friends there. And, believe it or not, I thoroughly enjoyed the physical work the first two years “in the yard,” tossing lumber off boxcars and helping customers fill their orders.

The last two years our manager—“Mr. Horne” to his face and “the Boss” when he wasn’t around—moved me inside behind the counter. I’m not sure why he did this. To my recollection he never said. I do remember he and a couple of other fellows tried to persuade me to opt for a career in lumber, but by that time I was thinking education.

Behind the counter I met more customers and learned more about the human race. I came to understand that most people are pretty nice if you pay any attention to their needs.

I also learned that a few people are jerks no matter or in spite of what you may do for them. Actually, I eventually figured out the jerks are often insecure and unhappy with themselves, not with you, so they’re never satisfied and it’s a no-win situation. For them you Get In, Get Out, and Get Away as soon as you can. Still true with people I periodically meet today.

Four of us lined up behind the counter to receive-all-comers/customers. Saturdays were the most fun because it was non-stop, wall-to-wall all day. I was placed second from the end, Tom on my left, Sherman on my right. Tom was a bit older than me, but young, smart, and on the way up. He later ran the outfit.

Sherman, or “Sherm” as he was called, was maybe 110, or at least it appeared so to me, a college kid. Sherm was skinnier than a telephone, no flag, pole. He knew every builder in six counties and he wrote left-handed, slowly, with precision on our B.C. (Before Computers) order pads. I used to pride myself in how I could process three customers to his one—until I figured out that I was filling orders and he was serving people. Sherm taught me customer relations and he taught me the lumber company business.

True story: Middle-aged man walks in one day and says to me, “I want to build a garage.” I say, “O.K.” He looks at me, I look at him. Then I say, “What do you need?” He says, “I want to build a garage.” That’s it. That’s all he knew. He wanted to build a two-car free-standing garage, and he wanted to purchase everything from foundation up that he needed to get the job done—but he had no clue what materials were what or how much (in truckloads) he was talking about. Now I could sell product but build a garage? My salvation was Sherm. He leaned over and said, “Can I help?” For the next two hours the Sherman-ator and I (mostly writing down what Sherm said) filled this guy’s order, tallied one of my largest sales, and sent the guy away happy. Great Sherm story with a moral that lives on.

Customers can be funny. And we’re laughing with them not at them. Of course we are.

Lady says, “I want to buy a board.” I say, “OK, what kind?” She says, “I don’t know. My husband just told me to come buy some boards.”

Another poor faithful spouse says, “I want to buy 10, 8-foot boards.” I say, “What kind?” She says, “I don’t know. Are there different kinds of boards?”

Back in the day before Map Quest or GPS, directions were even more fun. Customer says, “Tell the truck to go 4 miles down Old Barn Road off Route 20, then turn at the big tree.” Or, “You count 3 red barns and 2 white ones and turn left. Can’t miss it.”

I say, “What’s the name of the road on which the delivery truck should turn?”

“I don’t know. It’s paved.”

 

© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2010

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow Dr. Rogers at www.twitter.com/RexMRogers.

 

We attended high school during the peak of the 1960s counter culture. Scholars have since described our high school years as some of the most socially volatile in American history.

The Counter Culture Movement, generally dated 1956-1974, reached its zenith between 1965-1972. Our high school years were 1966-1970.

We were part of the post-War Baby Boom, among some 70 million teenagers in the 1960s. This many youth, this relatively affluent, and this able to access education was something the country had never experienced before. We were post-Sputnik (1957) teens, the older generation’s hope for defeating the Soviets and “godless communism.”

We witnessed the Space Race. In 1963, our own Col. John Glenn, who we proudly noted grew up in a village not far from Small Town, became the first American to orbit the earth. By the time we got into high school we watched with the rest of the world while Apollo XI orbited and Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon July 20, 1969. Months later during our senior year we watched in tense anticipation as the “successful failure” of Apollo XIII played out on national television April 11-17, 1970.

We watched the Civil Rights Movement change society forever. We got to see and hear one of the greatest speeches ever delivered, Martin Luther King’s Jr’s “I Have A Dream,” from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial August 28, 1963. We experienced the landmark passage of the Civil Rights Act, 1964, and the Voting Rights Act, 1965. We winced at pictures of violence during the Selma Marches and the Watts Riots in 1965. We grieved with the nation when MLK, Jr. was assassinated April 4, 1968 and RKF was assassinated June 5, 1968. In the midst of it all we learned to say “Black” instead of “Negro.”

Our years in high school were peak years, if peak is the right word, of the Viet Nam War. It was a difficult time not only for the American personnel lost—58,267 KIA, 303,644 WIA, 1,6711 MIA—but for our rapidly declining faith in the capacity of national leaders to tell the truth. We endured the back-to-back presidencies of Lyndon Baines Johnson and Richard Milhous Nixon, two of the most morally shallow men ever to occupy the White House.

The military “Draft” still existed, ending later in 1973. It was a lottery that determined the order in which people could be called up for military service based upon when their birth date had been chosen.

In 1971, my number was 138. My cousin’s was 365. Go figure. Up till that point in time anyone with a number as low as 138 was going to get called. I was in college by then and wanted to stay there. Ultimately, I wasn’t called because I benefited from Nixon’s “Vietnamization” program, his process of gradually pulling our troops out of Viet Nam while turning over to the South Viet Nam military the responsibility for the war.

Viet Nam dominated the news while we were in high school. And it got worse. Just before the end of our senior year, May 4, 1970, members of the Ohio National Guard fired into a crowd of students on the Kent State University campus. In 13 seconds, 67 shots were fired, 4 students died, and 9 were wounded. This set off student protests across the nation forcing the closing of hundreds of college and university campuses and eventually influencing national politics.

A lot happened in those years that rank as stressful. Some things rank as silly. Mini-skirts, Go-Go boots, men’s hair getting longer by the week, wide collars, Nehru jackets, ever wider ties that eventually featured 5 inch wide bibs masquerading as ties, Afros, bell-bottom pants that got broader each year, Motown, Rock emerging from Rock and Roll.

Small Town escaped a lot of this, initially, but eventually change came calling.

 

© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2010

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow Dr. Rogers at www.twitter.com/RexMRogers.

 

My freshman year I served as a writer for our high school newspaper and yearbook. I don’t know how I got this job, except maybe that I could type faster than most boys and a lot of girls. Whatever it was I value the experience because it’s one of the earliest memories I have of participating “officially” in the writing craft. I loved to read and I loved newspapers then and now, so writing was an unplanned but logical next step. It wasn’t a lot, but it was a beginning.

This was pre-Internet and pre-everything else. We learned lay out by physical cut and paste, which was a better education in geometry than I got the next year in Geometry class.

I can’t remember my Geometry teacher’s name. Odd, isn’t it? This person who dominated my sophomore year and I can’t remember her name. I do remember that she was the kind of teacher we liked to make jokes about. She was smart and probably a fair teacher, but she was also extremely thin, talked with a squeaky voice, and had what to us were antiquated ideas about how to behave. All that is undoubtedly unfair to her but such is the mentality of sophomores.

Geometry was scheduled after P.E. class just before lunch. One day for reasons I yet don’t comprehend, at the end of P.E. class I changed clothes and I got locked in the Locker Room. Just me, locked in a stinky locker room. I spent the entire next period contemplating life in prison because either no one heard me yell or no one cared to liberate me. So I missed Geometry class.

With the coming lunch hour someone re-opened the Locker Room and I made my escape. I went straight to Geometry class and told Mrs. Thin where I’d been and why I’d missed class. She didn’t believe me and told me so. I did all the things one does in proclaiming ones innocence but to no avail. She eventually gave me a poor grade for that day and I had to like it or lump it.

If I ever needed therapy it wasn’t for being locked in a Locker Room. Maybe if it’d been all night in the dark, but it was 45 minutes in late morning. No, if I ever needed therapy it’d be because of Mrs. Thin's squeaky voiced lack of confidence in my moral compass. I got through that class but didn’t like Geometry then and don’t like it now.

High school offered different kinds of highlights. Us teens knew the best places to go to make out, which I won’t identify just in case these hideouts are still in use. Of course, back then, making out was about all anyone ever did, except obviously the one girl who got pregnant while we were in high school. She was a beautiful girl who hung out not only with the wrong guy—a loud-mouthed tough—but with the wrong crowd. She paid a sad price for her misjudgment, and sadder still, I’m not sure he ever paid any price. While she was permitted to remain in school until she "showed" this was still a scandal in those days, a far cry from the lack of concern, lack of shame, and lack of common sense that passes for teen sexuality today.

We were blessed to go through high school without hearing about our self-esteem, inner self, finding ourselves, being true to ourselves, or you owe it to yourself. We did, however, hear about selfishness and self-starter, the former bad, the latter good. Though it was the end of the 60s, Small Town high school was still insolated and thus insulated from the winds of cultural change that were blowing down establishment ideas and institutions across the nation. The Me Generation was yet to come. We still believed in individual responsibility and social consequences, and for this I am grateful.

 

© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2010

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow Dr. Rogers at www.twitter.com/RexMRogers.

 

High school in Small Town was a series of highs and lows. Really highs and really lows. Or maybe this had more to do with being teenagers than high school.

Looking back one could say our ups and downs were not all that significant, but they seemed so to us. This was true in studies, sports, romance, and even teachers.

In my time in Small Town we benefitted from outstanding elementary and junior high teachers, a whole list of them in the day when teachers took their professional calling seriously. Every teacher to whom I was assigned from 1st Grade to 8th Grade did a remarkable job of helping us slay the dragons of ignorance. In most ways they may have been ordinary people, but they were in our lives extraordinary teachers because they taught and they expected us to learn.

Changing culture changed all that, and not for the better. We got the first inklings of this in high school. By the time we arrived in high school waves of education reform and counter culture were just beginning to weaken secondary schools. Teachers were still in authority and students were still expected to “obey.” But this was a quaint practice, one undermined a little more each month with news of university student sit-ins.

It wasn’t long before the academic establishment rejected the idea one could know truth about anything. All things are relative, the postmodernists said. The logical conclusion of this illogical idea is that nothing matters, particularly religion. Students weren’t long in picking up on the “nothing matters” part and education turned into a river of hedonism, narcissism, and nihilism that still inundates it today. Very soon, it was “Make Love, Not War,” “Flower Power,” and civil disobedience.

But in high school we were still blissfully oblivious to much of this. And we were blessed with a few excellent teachers, no question—Mrs. Burns, Mrs. Crevey, Mr. Farley, to name a few. But we had our share of bummers too. Having spent a career working in academia and knowing what I know now about education I can say without fear of exaggeration that at least four, maybe five, of these people should have been sent to find their real calling in life—it clearly wasn’t teaching.

I’ve mentioned before the broken-nosed former prison guard who masqueraded for a time as our Physical Education teacher. Then there was the Health and Physical Education teacher who mostly got by on charisma. We laughed a lot but didn’t learn much in his classes.

Our nominee for Inept Teacher of the Year would have to go to our Physics teacher. He was a former Presbyterian minister and if he gave as much to his ministry as he did to teaching I understand why people didn’t keep him in the pulpit.

There were about 8 guys and 1 girl in the class. We were all college prep kids so our grades were good and perhaps this is another reason the teacher let us off the hook. Mostly, though, I think he was treading water.

For two periods in Physics class, that’s a good chunk of the day, we did one of two things, or both. Every day four or five guys would gather around this girl, one who was attractive, smart, talented, and highly popular, and basically vie for her attention for two periods. I liked her too and joined the group a few times. But I can remember thinking I didn’t want to be part of the herd, so I chose not to be.

Mostly I played chess. That’s right, chess. For two periods every day our entire senior year a few guys, my friend Larry Yoho being one of them, and I held Physics class chess tournaments. We got to be pretty good at chess but didn’t learn much about physics.

Ridiculous. I look back now and think about the wasted academic time. I wonder why the principal never showed up and how the teacher got away with it. I wonder how a teacher as lazy and unmotivated as this fellow survived in the system. But there we were, flirting on one end of the room, playing chess on the other.

I mentioned Mr. Farley and I should give him his due. In my estimation he was under-rated as a teacher by his peers and his students. This lack of appreciation stemmed more, I think, from his quirky personality and mannerisms than from his teaching. But he was, in a word, an excellent teacher.

Mr. Farley lectured every day, required us to take notes, and administered challenging tests. He asked us questions in class and expected us to know the answers. He clearly loved his subject and was nothing if not diligent in his pedagogy. I sat in both his U.S. History class my junior year and his U.S. Government class my senior year. In both I learned a great deal and consider this experience one influence in my later opting in college to pursue both a Social Science and History major and a teaching certificate.

Mr. Farley nominated me for an odd-sounding award called the “I Dare You Award,” which I earned, probably in large part due to his affirmation. He presented it to me at graduation and, though the name is funny, the idea was to think big, think bigger in terms of ones potential achievements and contributions. It’s a great concept, another large lesson in a Small Town upbringing.

 

© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2010

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow Dr. Rogers at www.twitter.com/RexMRogers.

Certain characters loom large from my youth. One lived across an alley from our house. Others I met later at my first job off the farm.

Mr. Hagen was across the alley. A retired fellow by the time I got to know him, he had a first name but I don’t remember it. He was always Mr. Hagen to me. He was honest, hard-working to a fault, apparently devoted to his wife, loved to tell tall tales, generous, and a first-class gardener.

Mr. Hagen’s gardens: no weeds, big green growing plants, walkways, and continuous harvest throughout the fall. He spent hours on end days on end in that garden. People would find him there and start long chats over the back gate or sitting in his swing.

What made Mr. Hagen interesting was the confluence of exaggerated traits he presented in a short package. He could talk forever, liked to talk to anyone and everyone, smoked stinky cigars, told these long convoluted stories that somehow kept you engaged to the end, and salted his language with healthy, or maybe unhealthy, doses of earthy vocabulary.

I can’t say that I remember any terrible words he taught me—his words were, in today’s context, pretty tame. But I can still remember those long conversations wherein he instilled the idea that I could probably do whatever I set out to do. I didn’t know then whether that was true, and I’m not so sure now, but the thought certainly makes you look beyond. I owe his memory that—far horizons.

 

© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2010

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow Dr. Rogers at www.twitter.com/RexMRogers.