Ask Not, Unless You Can … “Handle the TRUTH!”

Ask not “for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”  Dismal connotation aside, this poetic admonition guides us from questions to undeniable conclusions.  Google English poet John Donne. 

School beginnings approach earlier year after bustling year.  Seems summer fun has just begun, and clanging bells and droning buzzers herald that programmed education must now commence.  This fact of life resonates across the spectrum of age brackets–the aroma of brittle autumn leaves and chalk dust will soon fill the crisp air.  We can all relate.

Thirteen “championship” seasons in a row for most of us, we rode bikes, trudged through rain and snow, or endured packed, noisy, rattly school buses.  Memories accumulated which never leave us and forever onward inform our present and future.

August’s calendar page about to be ripped off, September demands text-book expenditures, back-to-school clothes, and supplies.  No longer do affordable spiral notebooks, No.2 yellow pencils, and rulers send parents to local downtown 5 & 10 Cent Stores.  Laptops for everyone regardless of the financial burdens which that expectation may cause.  Pull out those credit cards for  H.H. Gregg or Best Buy cashiers to scan.

Our thoughts follow the children to their schools.  Anticipation, adjustment, uncertainties, and opportunities characterize each academic year looming ahead. 

My thankfulness for what seemed an endless number of days, strapped to a desk throughout the 50s and 60s, falls into exactly two categories which shaped my mind and attitude.

Elementary education, within West Ward halls, supervised by kindergarten teacher Olive Sheehan, charming first grade instructor Madge Woodham, and delightfully fun second/third grade “down to earth” soul Betty Leffel, propelled me onto the path toward the thrill of learning.  However, taskmasters D’Maris Smalley and Marie Friskney, no sterner characters ever devised in the creative and often grim mind of author Charles Dickens, instilled my most valuable, unforgettable, all-encompassing lessons. 

My fourth and fifth grade teachers lit the spark in spite of their regimented manners of intimidation. 

Armed with the “basics” of education by those two ladies, one day my collegiate experience would breeze by happily and successfully.  How I would have relished dropping the entire pretense at age 11, matriculating into university mode with the snap of my fingers!

Appreciation for intellects far superior to my own and ecstasy via that experience of  choosing one’s individual path in life were both facilitated by the firm foundation provided through-out those earlier “grammar school” days.  While recess outings once ended with a teacher’s raised hand or the blowing of a whistle, limits governing collegiate merriment resided in this sorority girl’s own burgeoning sense of responsibility. 

Both facets of my education I recollect fondly.  One laid the groundwork and established rules, while the other allowed freedom of expression.

Although junior high, freshman, sophomore, junior and senior years intervened, the “socialization” aspect of those half dozen years still puzzles.  Peer pressure having never rated as one of my favorite school subjects,  I would have thought it heavenly to focus on countless other topics on my own time.  That possibility ranks as “A Modest Proposal”, and only satirist Jonathan Swift or America’s infamous juvenile delinquent Huckleberry Finn might agree with me.

Between the requisite primary days of education and the optional “Halls of Ivy” phase, one hovering experience still haunts and motivates me. 

On November 22nd of 1963, Civics instructor “Doc” Eudolph Holycross abruptly interrupted his lecture, moved toward the door of our class-room, quietly thanked an audio-visual student rep, and asked that we “scholars” turn our desks around to face the back wall.  Our eyes glued to the freshly-arrived, black and white, portable television set, news anchor Walter Cronkite removed his spectacles and announced that President John Fitzgerald Kennedy had died in Dallas, Texas, from gun-shot wounds.

I shall always remember the sad walk home from Columbia City Joint High School that afternoon.  My public education took on dimensions of a major proportion–I learned more that fateful day than all of my mandatory as well as eventual college instruction ever provided.  Kennedy’s inaugural words, from a recent frosty morning on January of 1961, repeated themselves in my mind:  “Ask not what your country can do for you.  Rather, ask what you can do for your country.”

Life magically and mysteriously combines moments of joy and pain, of happiness and anguish, of freedom to choose and rigid expectations all mixed into a blend of some endurable sense of balance when all is said and done.  Calendars and clocks dictate to us.  Only occasionally do we pursue our dreams and our own thoughts.  No matter how confusing life can become, we usually manage to jump through imposed “hoops” and muddle through to its conclusion.

Bells, alarms, whistles, starting times, closing times, anniversaries, birthdays, holidays, and seasons all mark time.  Although Donne’s famous line of poetry emphasizes the inevitable death knell toward which we are all headed, the clamor of that old familiar leaden bell swaying to and fro within a tower atop some brick school building is the stuff of both fact and fiction and hopefully signals the successful, promising start of each individual life.   

Only yesterday, my childhood friend and classmate Dr. Harry Staley, unbeknownst to himself, provided the closing sentence for this remembrance of bygone school days.  He wrote, “My motto:  Never let school get in the way of a great education.”  Two locally home-grown minds clicked with but a single thought. 

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