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March 23, 2013

Each of us has our good and bad times

Life is full of ups and downs — and that’s a good thing. Of course, most of us would prefer ups to downs, but life sees it differently, so we get our share of each. I remember two incidents in my past that balance each other — both happened in school, although I was a child for the one and an adult for the other. As I remember, I preferred the up to the down.

First, let’s get the down out of the way. I wrote about this years ago in a column, but both my readers have relayed out since then so it should be new to you.

When I was in fourth or fifth grade, my mother got her old violin out of the attic and gave it to me. (I never even knew she had played the violin, and now I would love to know the story behind that!) Mr. DeProspero, the traveling instrumental teacher at grade school in those days, took me on, and for several years I had a fairly uneventful learning experience. Apparently I was good enough that when I was in seventh grade I was scheduled to play a solo in the school-wide assembly. I have no idea what I was supposed to play and I don’t remember being nervous about it.

No doubt eager to show off (always), I sat in the front row, violin in hand, and got up when my name was called. Ever mindful of public relations, I’m sure I smiled at everybody, and slowly walked over to the steps that led up to the stage. There were, maybe seven of them. Apparently I thought there were six. (Or maybe eight.)

I have no doubt that the entire assembly was electrified when I fell flat on top of my violin. Right in front of the whole staring host of heaven, I smashed it to smithereens! In that one moment of fire, I suspect much of my future character was indelibly etched into my brain, although I have no evidence for this. Still, I am sure I have not been the same person since,

The reason I have to speculate about so much of all this is that I don’t remember it. I draw a blank from the very moment my foot hit that top step. I don’t remember people laughing. (I would have roared, I’m sure!). I don’t remember faculty members rushing to pick me up. (No doubt, they did.) I don’t remember gathering up the pieces of Mother’s violin, or taking them home, or telling her about it. I remember nothing after impact. And not a single recall has trickled through the cloud that surrounds this whole incident in my brain. Actually, in a tremendous act of self-survival, I just forgot about the whole thing!

Probably that was the best thing that could have happened to me — I was able to heal until I was about 25.Then, somehow, the bare facts of the moment (although no other details to this day) gradually trickled back into my mind — and I was able to think of it fairly objectively. And at least, if not actually with a smile, with a sort of wondering bemusement at the whole sorry affair.

Pain gone, it has made a great story ever since.

The up I want to tell you about was a whole different ball game.

Now, I’m sure you haven’t forgotten that my father was a minister (it seems to come up a lot), and a Lutheran minister, at that. I never remember being particularly hemmed in by this, as so many preachers’ kids claim to be, and goodness knows, I learned a lot. For instance, in those days, most kids went to two years of catechetical instruction — somehow, I got five! (It makes me wonder of Daddy was doing some babysitting at the time!) And, as you can imagine, some of the instruction was about Martin Luther. I learned a LOT about Martin Luther!

Twenty-five years later, when we lived in Washington, I got my first real part-time job serving as a substitute teacher in the public schools. Mostly I subbed at High Point High School, and loved every minute of it. (I also enjoyed making real money again, after years of being a housewife, but that’s a different story.)

Anyway, all substitute teachers go through hard times just getting a little respect. Having to bluff your way through everything, more or less, you often leave the students with the idea that you don’t know anything. I’ve always marveled at how important it is to kids who couldn’t care less about learning anything at all themselves to have substitute teachers who know what they’re teaching. Even if the kids don’t want to hear it.

Anyway, my first day at High Point, I was assigned to a history class, and I knew I was in trouble when I saw a boy in the front row running his finger down the index of his textbook. (The rest of them were throwing spitballs.) Oh, dear. A student interested (or pretending to be) in history? Trouble ahead.

Eventually, he raised his hand. I swallowed hard and called on him. “Ms. McDaniel,” he said, slowly and distinctly — and loud enough for everyone to hear. The room quieted. “Could you tell me, please, what are the dates for the life of — Martin Luther?”

Bingo!

Oh, the joy of it! But I didn’t rush it. “Mmm,” I said, “Martin Luther. Let me see.” I rubbed my chin with my finger, looking for all the world as if I was stalling. I bit my lip. “Let me think.” Then, with every nerve wide open, I said, “Oh, yes. 1483 to 1546.”

Word got around, of course (it always does) and cemented my whole career at High Point. The kids listened respectfully, no matter what I taught them, because, hey, this was the substitute teacher who knew what she was talking about. No matter what it was.

Luckily I never had to teach calculus.

Maude McDaniel is a Cumberland freelance writer. Her column appears on alternate Sundays in the Times-News.

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