RAMBLINGS • 'A Nice Man Cometh'


I've often said, and occasionally believed, that I don't care what other people think of me. If I can please myself, then I'm happy–but it isn't always that way. As I've grown older, I've realized I see myself through others' eyes more than I might want to believe.

Now I'm at a place where I encourage others to say words I like to hear, and I relish that. To be specific, eldest grandchild Kaylyn works as a teller at Bank of Hillsboro, where I've had accounts since 1970 when we moved from the farm to the 'Boro. Why Judy and I chose that bank I don't remember, but as a person resistant to change, once we established accounts there I was not apt to switch. When we lived in the Coffeen area, we were customers at the Coffeen National Bank, now part of the Security National Bank chain. They, too, treated us well.

Kaylyn has always been outgoing, sometimes to a fault, and we had our differences when she was in high school and for a couple of years after that. However, she and hubby Chuck have made me a great-grandfather, and I appreciate that. At any rate, I see her often when I have banking business, though for ethical reasons I go to another teller's window when money is to change hands. Perhaps it was a Freudian slip, but on one trip I thought of a greeting she might use when I enter the lobby–"A nice man cometh"–with apologies to Eugene O'Neill's "The Ice Man Cometh." (The n makes a huge difference).

Why Freudian? Because of all the possibilities as to how I'd like to be remembered upon my demise, that's the one I'd most like. Between 19 and 25, I would have chosen "He's a good athlete," but that was 50-plus years and 100 pounds ago. Even then, that perception most likely was more in my mind than in reality.

I don't think anyone could have called me a scholar. I had good (or better) standardized test scores in elementary school and high school–good enough that occasionally a teacher would say something like "Your standardized test scores indicate you could do better in my class." If a class subject (most anything to do with English) interested me, I did well; if I liked a teacher, I did well; but otherwise I was content with B's. My biology teacher when I was a sophomore asked why I didn't study more, "to live up to my potential." I remember muttering something about B's are good enough (poor Mr.  Zbur).

Perhaps I irritated people who knew I could do better. As a junior I took chemistry. Our teacher, Mr. Boblick, was not a Mr. Reeves. He walked by more than once when I'd be reading Hamlet or MacBeth when he gave us time to memorize the Periodic Table. He didn't vocalize his disdain more than twice (perhaps because I was better than most when it came to balancing equations–I was good at math), but his face spoke volumes. My chemistry grade was a B-.

Though I lived on a dairy farm and thought that was to be my future, I didn't take ag classes. My father wasn't a fan of formal education (though he threatened to do bodily harm to me when I asked about dropping out before my senior year–a dropout after sixth grade himself, he knew the value of the degree even if he debunked the knowledge it symbolized). He insisted he could teach me all I needed to know about farming. Someone from the school system must have told him I should go to college because I was "gifted verbally," but he resented the implication that he and mom should encourage me to go and even help financially. I think he had a place for every buck we earned on those 80 acres, and there were no bucks to send me anywhere but into the workforce.

When I'd make a mistake around the farm, and I made many, he'd say, "For someone who is supposed to be so darn smart, you sure are dumb." It took years for me to understand he didn't intend those words to be hurtful.

He died a week before Christmas in 1965, a victim of the cigarettes that were the only luxury he allowed himself. I often wonder if he'd be proud of what I became. He respected men with blisters on their hands; my hands are soft. He respected men who enjoyed physical labor; I actually liked to sweat, to outwork others who weren't aware we were in a contest, until I turned 50 or so. After that the spirit was willing, but the muscles weren't. He respected men who were good with critters (I was once) and with equipment. The latter was never one of my strong assets, to the extent that during the year we farmed together before I headed to junior college, he preferred I worked with the livestock while he ran the equipment – to me he had an intuitive knowledge about whatever machine he operated.

He seldom showed emotion; he seldom involved himself with my life unless he thought I was going astray. His friends were my friends, but my friends weren't his; I can understand that now, too. I wanted his respect, but he made me earn it. I hope I have, but if so, it's been by living a lifestyle he wouldn't have understood.

His relatively early death kept us from fully understanding each other. I say that based on my own experience as a parent. I have two very special-to-me daughters, but I think they would agree we weren't friends while they lived at home. Both their mom and I believed in parenting (in other words, we'd say "no" if either Dawn or Jenni made an unreasonable to us, perhaps harmful to them request. We were "our house, our rules" parents in a culture that was turning away from conservative values. Sometimes it made one or the other into a sneak who broke the rules (and the law) without our knowledge, but ultimately something worked.

They became hard workers and good parents. Both have made more money per year than I ever dreamed of making, and both are good people. Not only am I proud of them, but I'm friends with them. I enjoy spending time with them. They are old enough now that we have common interests–and almost the same ways of looking at the world.

I'm sure their mom smiles as she watches over us. As much as I miss her, I feel worse about her not having an influence over Kaylyn, Kyle, Kamryn, Quinn, Brody, and now Emma. I've done what I can, but–

As a child, I cared about what my parents thought of me, though even then I'm sure mom had only good vibes about me–that's what mothers do. In high school I wanted Mrs. Montgomery (English), Mr. Coffman (Pennsylvania history), and Mr. Anderson (physics) to think highly of me, but the others didn't impress me, so I didn't care about their opinions.

As far as students were concerned, I was ambivalent about most; I had a "don't bother me and I won't bother you" attitude. Counselors steered me to the academic classes (based on those aforementioned standardized test scores). God blessed me by giving me two reasons to go along with their directions: 1) those students with whom I shared the most interests were in that stream, and 2) most of the attractive girls were in the academic section too. The academic kids were categorized as those with the ability to some day go to college; the other choices were "general"–destined for the work force or the military, and "vocational"–destined for who knows what.

I would have been bored with easier classes (I realize that now) and despite myself, was well prepared for college classes when Judy, a year behind me in high school, helped adjust my attitude about college attendance. I came to care deeply about how she and her family saw me.

When I began my teaching/coaching career, I craved respect from established teachers like Mrs. Evan and Mr. Tarran; they were good, and I wanted to be good too. As I became more established, I wanted respect from peers like Mrs. Hewitt, Mrs. Brink, Mr. Matthews, and Mr. Reeves. We had a good faculty then. I tried to teach effectively, as I wished I had been taught while sitting in a student's chair. I wanted to be liked (as do we all), but to be liked sometimes reduces effectiveness. In the culture from which I came, it took at least a bit of fear to inspire respect. I wanted respect only for what I knew and my ability to impart that knowledge; that's one reason I shucked my coat and tie once I was on tenure.

Youngest grandchild Kamryn and one of her friends, Isabella, laughingly told me I was a legend when I picked them up from school one afternoon this fall. I protested, partly because they are both intelligent enough to be sarcastic and pass it off. That's a trick I've never mastered.

Kamryn then gave me a T-shirt for Christmas that reads "Grandpa - The Man - The Legend." I like the shirt, but I'm afraid to wear it in public (when I was younger, I tended to respond to ridicule with flying fists–I'm too old for that now), and I don't trust the sparkle she couldn't hide in her eyes as she gave it to me.

Kaylyn's chant, though, is more modest and thus more fitting. If you're ever in the bank lobby when I walk in, be prepared to hear Kaylyn, fellow teller Emily, and perhaps loan department secretary Susan (I have hopes Sydney will someday chime in) yell something about a nice guy coming and later "nice guy leaving" as I exit.

Perhaps the latter will be my epitaph.


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