Friday, October 14, 2011
During the forties and fifties as a rural urchin, my criteria for brilliance was quite simple. The kid who engineered the sod dam each summer across Shingle Creek, in my mind... possessed true brilliance and was a genius.
High school and a four year stint in college, afforded me the opportunity to work summers as a telephone lineman. This was an unique experience, because the town had it's own telephone central office. The telephone operators were in command twenty four hours of the day, plugging in calls from all over the town, country and world. My boss Walt, was the first person to teach me an actual craft, from climbing poles to hanging a "crank" telephone. When he opened the back room of the central telephone office and I viewed the incredible maize of telephone wires, it was always astounding. In that old time frame I quipped, "The room had more wiring than the Pentagon." As the years passed, I would stop by the old central office and visit Walt. He was always sitting, propped up in an old swivel chair and greeted me with a smile. I would have to listen, again... to his old stories. His favorite repetition was that when he hired me, he thought the 120 pound kid... soaking wet... would be his worst lineman. He told me that he was amazed of my climbing ability and ended up being his best climber. Walt was a good friend of my dad, who passed a couple of years before I started working for him. He became a conduit to the past and shared many wonderful stories I never knew about my father. At the time, his friendship and wry sense of humor were appreciated. As time has passed, this lost craft is fondly remembered... Walt had true brilliance.
After graduation from college, I meandered through a couple different occupations. My final career, started and ended as a "country school teacher" in a small rural town.
In 1974 I met the new english teacher down the hall from me. We hit it off from the first bell. Jeff's humor and mine intertwined like two stand up comedians... and in our own minds we were "brilliant", interchangeable "straight men." Twenty two years we spent golfing, laughing, teaching and policing the "hallowed halls of ivy." Jeff and I were stalwart hall duty icons. We lined up together in the hall at the beginning of school, at each class ending bell and at the end of the school day. We were the guardians of what we affectionately dubbed, "The Gates of Hell"... that being the intersection of the seventh, eight and ninth grade hall and lockers. I could write a book on our experiences together in school, inservice training and various arduous "hoop jumping" teachers endure. We could never sit together during these sessions, for we would invariably "lose it" if we made any eye contact. It was scary that two people could have such identical perceptions. I could also write a few pages of one liners we would use in dealing with various high school "intellectuals". One such quip to rowdy seniors, who thought they were untouchable the last week of school... "You might want to tell your mother to freeze the graduation cake."
I wasn't much of a golfer when Jeff first arrived, I had played golf sparingly and my clubs basically gathered dust in the garage. My friend was as close to a professional golfer that I encountered and became the school's golf coach. He taught my two sons to be good golfers and respected students of the game. At the time my boys began golfing, Jeff talked me into resuming the golf game. I would marvel at his beautiful "draw" and prowess of chipping and putting. He got me hooked on the game and one day he told me, "You swing like you are screwing yourself in the ground." When you hear a statement like that, you either quit or strive to improve. I chose the latter. Through the years with Jeff's help and my buddy the athletic director, they shaped me into an "adequate" golfer. We played many golf tournaments together and in my "post formative" years I ended up winning the senior golf club championship a couple of times while Jeff won the club championship. His favorite saying after a good round was, "Not bad for a couple of country school teachers."
Our episodes together ended with my retirement and moving out of the area in 2003. Each time I came back to town I would stop at school and visit Jeff and other friends. Jeff ended his english teaching tenure and became the dean of students for the high school. I would always remind him of one of our concepts of "upper management." That being, the administration was busy in their offices "spinning in their chairs." I would now ask him if his chair was stationary....... I never checked.
Jeff retired a year ago and sadly, on September 26 of this year, played his last round of golf. He was found on hole 14 sitting in his golf cart, he had died of a massive heart attack... ironically, the hole where his son Jon scored a hole in one. My wife and I traveled back to school where Jeff's memorial service was held. Hundreds of students, former students, teachers, administrators and townspeople gathered to pay their last respects.
I noticed on the front cover of Jeff's memorial was a design of a Blue Jay. During my retirement years I had become interested in wildlife photography. Jeff was a computer genius and we would email back and forth information about Photoshop and images in general. We also would discuss cameras and I knew he was interested in photography, but did not know to what extent. It was not until after the memorial service that I found out from Jeff's sister how much he enjoyed my bird images. He had sent me photos of an albino deer, but I never knew he was interested in bird photography.
The Blue Jay design is now dear to my heart, for I spend countless hours almost every day of the year photographing birds. Each morning at daybreak, I throw seeds and peanuts on the lawn and watch six to eight Blue Jays fly in for breakfast... they now are a living memory of a Master Teacher, loving husband, good friend and another chapter of brilliance that has touched my life.
I don't fear death, but I sure don't like those three-footers for par.
~ Chi Chi Rodriguez