Walker Percy, once wrote, “(in) spite of the great scientific and technological advances, man has not the faintest idea of who he is or what he is doing.” It doesn’t take much living to figure this out.
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It’s that time of year ~ Graduation ~ when our educational systems release their inmates to the general public. Beware – everything is in danger!
It was the last day of school, May 1955. I remember it well. It was the day I escaped the dreaded wooden paddle. You remember that ‘corrective’ device, right? The board, the one with three holes bored into it for effect. Apparently I had no idea of who I was, and a reminder of that fact was about to be administered to a tender part of my anatomy. For ‘good measure,’ you understand.
I remember this because my daddy told the teacher, “Honey, the boy is just not right. That’s all I can say.” He always called women ‘Honey.’ Either he couldn’t remember their names, or there was something more going on. We lived in the town that coined the concept of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.’ She apparently bought the compliment and didn’t beat me within an inch of my life. Threats were always measured in inches in those days. Such reasoning remains obscure.
Looking back, I don’t think I ever thanked my father for this act of kindness. It must have been hard for him to admit that the imbecile gene ran in our family. But, I digress.
It’s a sultry South Georgia morning, hot and humid. A group of us sit outside on the back steps of the library, beating off boredom. We dust the felt erasers on the brick walls and on each other’s heads. Imbeciles do this. Rectangular white remnants on the red bricks are our rebellious graffiti. The chalk marks are what remains of black-board wisdom the teachers had tried to cram into our granite-crusted brains. All dust. Metaphors are alien creatures to youth.
Students today don’t have to endure the chore of dusting erasers. It’s all digital now. At the click of a keystroke, instantly, another year is deleted, sent hurtling into cyber space. We threw erasers at one another…laptops are more valuable than erasers.
So here we are, waiting for the final bell to ring, signaling that school is over for the year. Summertime. Sweet freedom. I’m 13, graduating from the 8th grade, soon to be in the bottom class of high school. I wonder what the future holds. At least I knew my gender.
Time marches on. On another hot May-day, our high school graduation occurs. It’s tough to figure who’s the happiest, teachers or students. My best friend and I drive the open-air jeep with no seat belts down to the creek to swim. It’s a bitter-sweet day. One thing’s over, another begins. Now we’re about to become college freshmen. The bottom again, the future still a mystery.
College graduation ends in May, too. Somehow I pop out of the Higher Ed pipeline and emerge in the ‘real world.’ I toast with beer, not a swim. The bright lights of the big city beckon. The diploma is my meal ticket to a fabulous future. So I think. Only I’m in the bottom of the next class—the Job Market. I keep wondering why the future is so amorphous.
In time the crisp diploma yellows. It’s relegated to a scrapbook. Nobody cares about it anymore. I move on without it. The realities of life assault me: job, marriage, children and mortgages. Summer vacations become occasional weekend escapes. The barefoot summers of youth vanish. I keep wondering what happened to the future I envisioned.
Years come and go. Age slows some things down, but life gains clarity. The fond memories of the Mays past make me kick back, savor some sweet tea and blow the brown gnats away. Even now the future remains a diffused mirror, uncertain of what’s looking back at you.
It’s funny, now that I think about it, that this one particular day remains fresh in my memory. The dust of those erasers held the essence of a whole schoolyear. With a few slaps on the wall, it’s gone. Poof. Vanished. Over. The whole year, wiped clean.
A lot of things have changed since that May in 1955. The red-brick school of my 8th grade has disappeared. Only memories remain.
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It was a long time ago when we dusted erasers there. We wondered about the future, only to now discover that it ends in dust, just like residue of those erasers, and too soon. Much too soon.
May 14, 2021