October 2016

A thing learned

By David Feela

Some of us hope the lessons we’ve learned as young people serve us as we grow older, and that the lessons we impart as adults play an important role in the development of younger lives. As for breaking the law, well, that can happen at any age.

After the officer wrote the speeding ticket, he passed it through the pickup’s open window to an aged but all-too familiar hand, an arthritic one that belonged to a retired public school employee, a man who’d worked the disciplinary beat at the same junior high school where the officer once attended classes as a boy.

The two knew each other well, perhaps too well, because the boy had been sent to the front office on more than one occasion to receive a paddling. The disciplinarian’s job back then was to intervene, trained to respond when misbehavior arose. His technique required the child to bend over his desk, then he delivered one firm whack, always stopping to ask, “Is one enough?”

For most of the students, one swat was more than enough, but some of the incorrigibles refused to give in and the paddle for this particular child’s behind had landed repeatedly until it was the adult who finally had to give in, which speaks volumes for the tenacity of some youth.

As the retired school official reached to accept his speeding ticket, the officer held it tighter, just for a second.

“Is one enough?” the young officer asked.

The old man nodded, “Yes sir, one is more than enough.”

The officer smiled and returned to his patrol car. The moment had come to him like a charm. He would remember writing this citation for the rest of his life.

His career in law enforcement, however, did not endure like that of the junior high school disciplinarian. The young police officer married and found new employment in the business world, a job where he could afford to raise his own children. As a father, he’d also have occasion to develop his own style of discipline. Any dedicated parent must deal with the trouble when children learn to test their willpower against the house rules. A spanking has served as a template for many parents, and some spirited children can attest to the expediency of this model only as they mature.

It was the ex-officer-businessman who shared the speeding-ticket story with me, not the retired disciplinarian. I had been the young man’s high school English teacher. We crossed paths again much later in life, completely by chance, while I was shopping for a vehicle. He sold me a used car, and more – he told me this story, which I have carried with me for more than a decade.

I also knew the retired disciplinarian, met him when I first moved to the area in the early 1980s. He always impressed me as a kind and generous, hard-working, good-old-boy kind of guy who “yes ma’amed” my wife for the 30 years we were acquainted. Even more curious, he made a habit of waving as drivers in nearly every vehicle passed by, because he knew nearly everyone in our little town. Educators are like that: they carry their encounters their entire lives, like scrapbooks that constantly need updating.

The older man who received the speeding ticket eventually died. Everyone who knew him in our little town was shocked, and saddened. We thought that just like his old brown pickup – one he’d purchased new in 1971 – he would keep on running up and down our county roads forever. Apparently life doesn’t get that kind of mileage.

I had the chance to tell my old friend before he died about my encounter with his former behavior-challenged student. He remembered every detail of the incident, nodding at each unfolding of the plot as I retold the speeding-ticket story I’d heard.

“So, if you hadn’t paddled that boy’s butt until it glowed, do you think he’d have let you off with just a warning?” I searched his face for any clue that he harbored some kind of resentment for the way the arresting officer treated him.

“Nope,” he replied, “I don’t think I had a chance and really, I deserved that ticket, because I’ve probably gotten away without being stopped more times than I care to count.”

“But didn’t you think the young police officer was out of line when he threw those words of yours back in your face?”

“Not at all. I was just proud he remembered the lesson.”

David Feela, an award-winning poet, essayist, and author, writes from Montezuma County, Colo. See his works at http://feelasophy.weebly.com/.