Sunday, October 01, 2006

The First Time it Snowed

I was in the eighth grade the first time I ever saw snow in my little-bitty home town in Texas. My little-bitty home town is near the Texas gulf coast, sort of half-way between Corpus Christi and Houston. There are only two seasons there: Summer and January.

It was January of 1973 and we actually had a snowfall during the night. (The previous snowfall had been in 1961 so that tells you how often we got the stuff). The next morning, everything was covered in white and we just went bonkers even though there was only about two inches of snow on the ground.

It was a school day and a lots of us got to school early to play in the snow. None of us had gloves to wear (it seldom ever got below freezing) so we put socks on our hands as makeshift mittens. We were having a real, live snowball fight just like regular kids on TV. The school principal, Mr. Peacock, was perched at the top of the school steps, supervising the fun and mayhem.

Like I said, we were just going nuts. I let loose with a big snowball and whop! just plastered my friend, Judy, on the side of the head. Her glasses went flying and she ran off crying.

"Mr. Wheat! Can I see you in my office!" called Mr. Peacock.

Oh my god. I was so scared. (Mind you, this was 1973 Texas when a trip to the principal's office meant a corporal assault). My heart was beating, my face was burning. I trudged into the school building behind Mr. Peacock, leaving the snow behind.

Mr. Peacock was known to be very stern but he was also best friends with my grandparents. He also coached my mom in basketball when she was in high school. He was the music leader at my church and had watched me grow up behind the piano. Surely, I'll get off easy.

"That's quite an arm you've got there," he said.

I'm thinking, "You've got to be kidding. For ten years I've tried, unsuccessfully, not to throw like a girl!"

He reached into his desk drawer and pulled out a piece of sheet music.


It turns out he wanted me to play the processional and recessional at our 8th grade graduation in May.

Bless him. In all his wisdom, he knew that I had always been labeled as the quiet kid who played the piano and threw like a girl. He knew that, for years, I had always been the last kid chosen when team members were selected in phys. ed. Even though he had been an athletic coach, he knew I needed a big boost of self-esteem.

The music was a big piano score to "The Bells of St. Mary's." It had lots of octaves and big, huge chords which would be quite a challenge for my developing abilities as a pianist. It was the perfect means of showing off my talent and he knew that. He was also giving me five months to work on it.

"Do you think you can manage this?" he asked.

"Yes, sir"

"Good. I thought you could. Well, run along now. . . . And try to watch it with those snowballs."

What a wise man. Five months later at graduation, I was up there on the stage, just me and the big grand piano, in front of hundreds of people. I was nervous but played really well. It was probably the first time many of my classmates had seen me play. Mr. Peacock had done wonders for my self-esteem.

And five months earlier during a rare snowfall, he had scared the living shit out of me too!

Epilogue: It was thirty years later and I was back in my little-bitty home town. Sadly, it was for my grandmother's funeral. My best friend had quietly passed at the age of 92. The church was packed and I was sitting with my family and relatives.

Mr. Peacock and his family were there, too. He had long since retired, both as principal and as the song leader at the church. However, my grandmother had requested that Mr. Peacock lead the music to the closing hymn at her funeral.

As he was at the podium, he mentioned how much he loved my grandmother, how humbled he was with her request and recounted the days when I first began playing the piano there at the age of ten as he led the music.

I was so moved. So I stood up and announced, "Mr. Peacock, we can do it again!" and walked over to the piano. After shooing away the pianist, he and I led the congregation in a rousing hymn for my grandmother.

I don't think there was a dry eye in the crowd.

As I was playing, "Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus" I was still thinking about the time he scared the bejeezus out of me when it snowed in '73. And how much I loved him.


At 5:13 PM , Blogger Lorraine said...

Amen! Love it.

At 7:37 PM , Blogger Elaine Wheat said...

MY heart went ouch Wasn't he a fine man. You will never know the things he taught me. like, "If you can't make ends meet, take something out of the middle." Budgeting 101. I'm so glad we had those memories, and do you remember that he let even the teachers and you kids throw snow balls at him and held the bell for 15 minuetes. "The Way We Were." Mom responding to Buck's Blog all by myself.


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