Kickball lessons at Bell's Hill Elementary
My years in grades one through six at Bell's Hill Elementary are probably remembered by the teachers as the elementary school equivalent of Sherman's march to the sea. I achieved total destruction by the time I moved on to junior high.
I don't recall a single teacher who returned to the school the year after having me as a student, including my fourth grade teacher who had a nervous breakdown before the school year ended. That particular year, we had a substitute teacher finish out the semester with us.
She didn't return the next year either.
To this day, I still remember my teacher in sixth grade, Mrs. Seidel, whom I called a communist one afternoon. I didn't know any suitable curse words to express my anger over what I was sure was a totally unfair disciplinary action, so I called her the worst thing I could think of . . . it was, after all, 1962 and communists were considered pretty awful. How she managed to keep a straight face for the remainder of the day, I'll never know.
Still, she managed to teach me in spite of my dislike of her and send me off to seventh grade better prepared than I was willing to give her credit. Years later I married a woman I met at college with the same last name; but, we're pretty sure they are not related. And, I'm equally pretty sure that my wife is not a communist.
There is another person from sixth grade, however, who forever changed my life. And, he changed it without even knowing. His name was Edward.
Edward came to Bell's Hill during the school year, a transfer from where, I don't know. Today, we would refer to him as "special needs." Back then, we wondered why he wasn't in "special ed." He was different, and we instantly didn't like him. We never gave Edward a chance.
As with many kids, recess was my favorite part of the school day and when we played kickball, I was in Heaven. I excelled at kickball. So, one spring morning, we were playing kickball on the playground. I was the captain of one of the teams and had surrounded myself with some of the best talent at the school. I'd also chosen Edward because he was the last person remaining and it was my turn to choose.
We were batting in the last inning, our team was down by one run and we had a runner at third base, two outs. It was Edward's turn at the plate. In his previous two times at bat, he'd struck out once (I'm not sure how it is possible to strike out in kickball, but he did). He kicked a weak pop fly that the pitcher caught for an out. On that particular kick, he simultaneously kicked both the ball and a large clod of dirt. The ball barely made it to the pitcher's mound. The dirt clod landed in right center field.
So, now Edward was at bat and we were doomed.
As captain, I signaled for a time out and proceeded to tell Edward I was substituting myself into the batting order in his place. Although I had already batted in the inning, and scored a home run, the move made perfect sense to me and most of my teammates. The other team protested violently; but, in sixth grade, the debate is always won by those who yell the loudest.
Mrs. Seidel was no where to intervene, no doubt reclining in the teacher's lounge with a cold washrag draped across her forehead. Edward continued to tell me it was his turn as I made my way to home plate. Finally, I turned to him, with my face only a few inches from his, and screamed at the top of my voice, "Edward, go to hell. I'm going to bat!"
I have never seen another person in my entire life, before or since, hurt so much by something I've said or done. Never. Edward was humiliated. I've never forgotten the look on his face.
I'd like to tell you that I did the right thing, but I can't. I'd like to tell you that I at least kicked the ball over the roof of the school and into the street beyond for a two run homer, winning the game and causing a minor traffic accident at the same time, but I can't.
Instead, I kicked a rather "Edwardesaque" weak fly ball caught by the girl playing second base ... the girl playing second base. I was out. The game was over. We had lost. The other team was cheering, while my teammates grumbled almost as loud. No one was talking to me. Somewhere through all of the noise, I heard the stinging sound of Edward's voice as he said, "He should have let me kick."
Edward was right. I should have let him kick and I should have apologized.
I did neither.
By the time I was mature enough to understand how wrong I had been, Edward had moved on to another school, maybe even another town, and certainly to another group of classmates. Many a night since, I've prayed for Edward, specifically asking that he's being protected from people who might treat him the way I did.
I'm also confident that if I'd met Edward at a different time in my life, I would have liked him. In reality, he had the kind of quirkiness I now celebrate in others, but couldn't accept at 12. I am still as passionate and competitive as I was in sixth grade, yet I learned something about myself that day.
I never again want my passion or competitive spirit to result in another person looking at me the way Edward did. He deserved better and I missed an opportunity to give it to him.
At the end of life, I can imagine myself in a long line of people, waiting for my portion of the "book of life" to be read and judged. When we get to the Edward incident, my shame will make me feel as though there is no need to continue. Just give me directions to the elevator and push the "down" button. And, in the twist of irony that seems to be my constant companion, I'm sure I'll catch a glimpse of both Edward and Mrs. Seidel waiting their turn in line. I will probably also hear a voice saying to each of them, "You spent the sixth grade with B.J.? Come right in."
I guess even communists are allowed in Heaven.
B.J. Greaves is a Waco architect.
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