The Least Likely
The teacher grabbed me by the hair of my head and shook me, lifting me out of my seat. When she let go she had a fist full of blond hair to throw away. I was seven years old, in the second grade at Lincoln Elementary school. It is difficult to recall exactly what I did to provoke this teacher. I vaguely remember using my newly acquired cuss words to her, “you ass”, “fuck”, and she just lost it. My cussing really had nothing to do with the teacher. It was a reflection of what was going on at my home. Obviously even at age seven I had some anger issues going on. I do remember what home was like that year, and I was definitely developing a juvenile anger reservoir.
During the remaining years in elementary school I didn’t get in much trouble. But in 7th and 8th grade the young hormones started to kick in and I started to act out. I seemed to choose friends who also had a large dose of anger. I engaged in various sorts of teenage deviant behavior, some of it self-destructive, like drugs. But my anger at authority probably characterized my attitude the most. The first time I was arrested at age 15, I was breaking into a school to vandalize it. At the time I was not self-conscious about my anger. But many years later looking back I realized it as the source of much of my crazy behavior.
I remember walking up the street and seeing an axe leaning against a wood pile, I grabbed it and went on up the road with no plan for it. But then I saw a beautiful white fence, the kind you might see in a painting, around a grassy field with horses grazing peacefully, and I just tore into that fence knocking it to pieces. It was sick! I didn’t even know that person who owned the fence and they had never done anything wrong to me. But I made a mess of their beautiful fence.
One morning a teacher called my house. She was crying when she talked with my dad. She said that she couldn’t face her class one more day if I was in it. My dad talked with me and straightened me out. I knew the class was a lot of fun because my best buddies were all in it together. But I had never thought of myself as the instigator of trouble.
I and my friends used to skip school and go hang out in Millcreek Canyon. Actually I have good memories of happy times living pretty carefree, kind of like Tom and Huck. We didn’t really cause any trouble, just wanted to hang out by the stream, be outside. But on one of our longer day hikes we started exploring some old mine shafts and I found a stack of dynamite. I took home about 20 sticks. Wow, what a find for a boy, this was big time! Imagine Bart Simpson with dynamite and you can get the idea. I made an attempt at the ultimate signature vandalism that could have been spectacular; blowing up the pedestrian bridge behind the school. One problem, there were no blasting caps with the dynamite so it wouldn’t go off. I tried several methods but always they resulted in the fuse just going fizz. I sincerely wished the stuff would blow, just once, like in the movies. But it did not,
I got kicked out of that school and was allowed to attend the brand new Cottonwood High School. From the first day there was something good watching over me there. The principal befriended me. I think he knew I was having problems and he asked if I wanted an afternoon job at the elementary school as janitor assistant. I did it, and it was good for me. I did nothing wrong. I just went to work every day and stayed out of trouble. There were also other adults in the school, teachers, who saw past my attitude, and treated me pretty good. And a neighborhood police officer that was kind and respectable. Sometimes I would get some unexpected praise for something artistic I had done. I got A’s in woodshop; even though I got kicked out of class more than once.
One day the principal caught me smoking behind the school. He said he would have to suspend me from school. I told him the absolute truth, my father had just left home to move in with his girlfriend and my mother would not be able to take the stress right now. I asked him to consider another option and he found a remedy without involving my mother.
A few months later, just before graduation, the principal called me into his office. He said that the Salt Lake Tribune was coming to take pictures of graduates to be published in the graduation edition. Since my name placed me near the top of the alphabetical order he asked if I would represent Cottonwood High as the first graduate in the newspaper. I was not the actual first graduate. There were many fine honorable students that the principal could have chosen to represent the school. But that good man chose me, one of the least likely, least deserving scoundrels, to receive that honor. It reminds me of the saying of Jesus regarding who gets into heaven, “Those who are first will be last but those who are last will be first.”
My life did not change immediately. But within a year I did come to Christ and then life changed a lot. I’ve never been in trouble with the law since. I’ve never vandalized anything since. I quit illegal drugs and I’ve never returned to them. I still get angry, sometimes deeply angry. But I believe I have a place to turn with that now. After 30+ years as a carpenter I’ve returned to school, and I love it! And I always show respect to my teachers. I also tutor kids who are slow readers at an elementary school. I think maybe some may be having some struggles at home.