Mythical Me

A Portrait of an Educator as a Young Man

I am both a Christmas present, I was born in August, and a child of elderly lust, my mother was certain that she had successfully endured menopause. Technically I am a mistake, but I prefer to see myself as an unexpected surprise. Among my parents' friends I am known as Vasectomy Boy because a rather large number of men placed themselves under the surgeon's knife just before and after I was born. Thus, I entered the world with a certain amount of fuss and fanfare.

I am the youngest of five children. I have two brothers and two sisters who are twelve to eighteen years older than I am. I was, to a certain extent, an only child. My oldest sister, however, must have had compassion for my situation because she gave birth -- much to my parents' chagrin -- to my niece when I was three years old. Off and on for the next eight years I had a younger sister.

My first attempt at public schooling started out auspiciously; as a mere kindergartner I was allowed to eat lunch at the elementary school with all my first and second-grade friends! Everything seemed to be going along fine, but then, one day, as I was walking to school, several older boys stopped me and wanted to take my lunch money. I don't remember the particulars. I know that I refused to part with my money and that I resisted their forceful attempt to take it from me. The story, as my brother likes to tell it, suggests that I preemptively hit the largest boy with a stick. The incident culminated in my expulsion from Lafayette Elementary school. Later that year, however, I went on to become one of the only students in recent memory to successfully graduate twice from Hickory Dickory Dock Nursery School; an event that is well documented in my mother's photo-album (see spring of '71 and spring of '72).

My parents and I moved to Newington, New Hampshire, shortly after this incident. Newington is a very small New England town of approximately 630 people. There were in my youth more dairy-cows in this town than humans. The elementary school that I attended had only 57 students in grades K-6. There weren't even enough students to assemble a basketball team. Consequently, my classmates and I were forced to create our own extra-curricular activities. Two of the more common amusements were cow-tipping and military police taunting.

The latter of these two extra-curricular activities tended to get me into trouble; trouble which required my father to think of creative disciplinary measures. His most creative and effective disciplinary measure had to have come after he returned from Washington. He had been called to Washington by Admiral Rickover. It seems that the exploits of my friends and me on the Air Force base had made there way up the chain of command. My father didnít appreciate the ass-chewing he received, so gave me to my uncle in indentured servitude for forty days.

My uncle was a fisherman and in the summer he typically focused on lobsters. My father, to punish me effectively, requested that I be given the two worst jobs on the boat; baiting the traps and pegging the claws. My fatherís stroke of creative genius was when he opened up a betting pool with the rest of my family. My tour of servitude was to be forty days, each day became a square, and each square was sold for $10. The purpose of these squares was to guess on which day I would lose or break an appendage. If I succeeded in neither losing nor breaking an appendage I would get to keep the $400.

Lobster fishing is nasty, dangerous work. Lobsters find their food through a highly developed sense of smell, but please try to imagine just how badly something has to smell in order for it to be found under water!! Consequently I spent my days placing the most hideously rotten, maggot ridden, and nauseous fish slime into the traps. Cuts and scrapes on hands and fingers could easily become infected and gangrenous. Laying the traps and hauling them in require winches, pullies, and miles of coiled rope. Professional fishermen tend to fish in all kinds of weather, so accidents are common. My uncle was missing a finger and my cousin had broken both arms and legs after having gotten them tangled in a line. Therefore, my father was expecting me to get hurt, but he was also giving me an incentive to avoid it if possible.

I negotiated my forty days fairly successfully. I was able to avoid gangrenous infections and amputations. I was able to avoid being ensnared by a multitude of voracious winches, pullies and ropes. However, on the thirty-ninth day as I was pegging the claws of some lobsters, an old man of the sea deftly grabbed my ring finger and crushed it; clearly breaking it above my first knuckle.

As with donkeys and asses, it is best to use both the carrot and the stick.