Chapter 4 Off To Griswold High
It was a sunny September afternoon in my freshman year. It was also the first day of high school cross-country practice. I stood with a small group of boys, waiting for the coach to show up. We were all dressed in white gym shorts, tee shirts and dime store sneakers.
When Coach Miles arrived, he looked us over and said, “Okay boys, today I want you to run the course. Harry knows the way, just follow him.”
We set off at a quick jog, angling off the football field into the woods where the trail dropped down to the riverbank and ran along the water’s edge.
The sun shone through the breaks in the trees, dappling the ground and the runners. It was much like the times I went running up on the hill to round up the cows. I had always enjoyed searching for them at a run, which both got me in good shape and eventually made me decide to go out for cross-country. Faster was always better.
I found the pace very easy and ran right behind Harry, silently encouraging him to go faster. When we came out of the woods we were a mile below the school and looped around to run through the fields back to where Mr. Miles was waiting.
As we stood around panting, I asked, “What’s next?” and was startled when everyone laughed.
“What do you mean, ‘what’s next?’ ” asked Harry. “Wasn’t that enough of a workout for one day?”
I didn’t reply; the redness in my face wasn’t there just from the workout. Again I felt like a fool.
The quiet munching of the cows filled the barn. I lay on some hay in the manger, looking intently at my Latin book. Latin was especially difficult and required extra work if I was going to be prepared for the next day.
This was one subject that I wanted to do well in, so worked hard at it. I had no idea that this was part of God’s preparing me for the future nor did I know what a huge role these Latin lessons would play when I began learning other languages I would learn to speak fluently. The concept of cases and adding endings are not taught in English grammar, but were the essence of Latin as well as the other languages I would learn.
Suddenly my book was pushed aside by a cow trying to get some hay out from under me. I laughed and patted her affectionately on the head.
“Well,” I said to myself, “I guess that’s enough Latin for tonight.” I got up and made one last check on the cows before going home to bed.
The persistent ring of the alarm clock penetrated my consciousness and I opened my eyes to look at the clock. It was 4:30 am. I rolled out of bed and began dressing. This was the spring of my sixteenth year, and I had full responsibility for the livestock left on the farm.
I went out into the dark, the air damp and chill. The cows were in the orchard behind the barn where it was so dark that I could only see them by looking out of the corner of my one good eye.
They, however, saw me coming and willingly went to the barn and into their stanchions. I gave them some grain, washed off their udders and began milking.
Several cats gathered around hoping for some of the milk. I squirted a stream in the air towards them and laughed as the “mama cat” deftly caught most it. “The rest of you have to wait until I’m finished milking,” I said. After finishing each cow I’d pour a bit of milk in the cats’ pan.
I was done by 6:30 and after turning the cows back out into the orchard went to the house. First I took a bath—I couldn’t go to school with that stable smell on me! Then I did my Bible reading and joined my siblings at breakfast.
The bus came at 8:15 and we wanted to be at the bus stop on time. Running up the driveway to catch the bus was not “cool.”
“OK,” shouted the coach, “enough for today, hit the showers.” As we ran into the locker room, I went into a bathroom stall and punched the door with my fist, leaving the marks of my knuckles in the metal. We’d lost the basketball game again! It was only a gym class game, but I hated losing!
My insecurities were looming larger now and fueling my inner anger, which popped out everywhere. The week before when one of my cows was being stubborn, I had punched her between the eyes and made her stagger. I knew these surges of anger were not a good thing.
“Bring the ax here,” said Dad as he held a chicken under his arm. I handed the ax to him and then stood back while he carefully chopped the chicken’s head off. He handed the bird to Mom who dipped it into a pail of hot water and then began pulling the feathers off.
“Hand me another chicken,” Dad ordered. I obeyed, as always. The ax swung and the bird was headless, but still struggling. It slipped from Dad’s grasp and ran to one side of the stall, bumped the wall and ran back before dropping at our feet.
Twenty birds later I said, “Hey, it’s almost 10:30! Time to get cleaned up so we can go for my driver’s test!” I had stayed home from school on this long-awaited day when I would hopefully pass the test and get my driver’s license.
“Ok,” said Dad. “We’re about done here anyway.” He set his ax down and picked up a tray piled high with the now featherless birds. “I’ll take these to the kitchen and your mother can clean them while we’re gone.”
We arrived at the State Motor Vehicle Department in good time and made our way to the licensing section. First the inspector gave me an eye test. It was a wonder that my being blind in one eye didn’t faze him; this was a gift from God.
Then he took me out to the car. I got in confidently. Since the age of six I’d been driving tractors on the road, pulling big harvesting machines behind me, and I’d been driving trucks for the last six years. Driving a car in small town traffic was a snap.
However, when we returned from the test drive, the inspector shook his head. “I really shouldn’t give a license to you,” he said. “You are too sure of yourself and are going to have an accident!”
My heart sank; I was going to fail because I was too good a driver!
After a pause the inspector continued, “But, because you are technically competent, I’ll give you your license, but only on the condition that you make sure to drive carefully! Don’t be too cocky!”
I was quick to agree to his condition and admonition. That afternoon I was able to proudly drive the blue Studebaker station wagon to high school and pick up my siblings.
My sixteenth year also brought me another kind of license, one to doubt. I had been thinking a lot about church, the Bible and God. I had become aware that many of the people around me who claimed to be Christians were, as far as I could see, not living out what they said they believed.
One day while riding home on the school bus, I stared out the window thinking about these things. Just as the bus began going down the big hill before the farm I said to myself, “Christianity is the best theory there ever was, but I’m not going to trust my life to a theory!”
This decision did not change my lifestyle, or my belief in God. My daily Bible readings continued and I sought to live as a good person. But there was an increasing uncertainty about things, one which would lead me to look for answers in other places.
It was the Spring of my junior year. The runners came around the last bend of the track, all in a bunch, the mile run almost over. I tried to get my aching legs to go faster, opening up a short distance on my closest rival, but in the last ten yards blackness closed in and I fell, sliding on the cinder track.
I knew inside that I didn’t really have to fall, I could have pressed on even without full sight, but it made a dramatic finish, and I knew others would feel sorry for me. I was struggling regularly with the lengthening shadows of depression, and I sought to escape them in any way I could. Getting attention from others drove away the darkness for a while.
Picture: Track practice wearing cut off jeans, cool but not very practical. The lack of flexibility resulted in me losing more than one race!