As a child, my parents drilled into me the importance of showing up.
Dad taught by example:
In twelve years of school I only missed 1 day in Junior High School, and in 33 years of working for Southern States Cooperative, Vepco, and Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Company, I had perfect attendance. I thank God for giving me good health and I thank the school system for teaching the importance of being there every day and being on time. They have stopped teaching that today along with a lot of other things. People today think of any excuse to miss work or take their children out of school at the drop of a hat. Of couse that might keep them from being shot on the school yard that day. Times have changed and will continue to change at a more and more rapid pace.
Whether it was for school, or church, or later, for work – you needed to be there. The five of us rarely missed school. I had perfect attendance in grades 1, 2, and 4 through 12. Though I can’t recall the details, my siblings had similarly good attendance records, with very few missed days. I had one (or two, perhaps) of those childhood diseases – chicken pox, maybe – in the third grade. I don’t recall getting anything as a result of that effort, though, until high school. I was one of a handful of students recognized for perfect attendance at my graduation ceremony. My sister Shannon was recognized at her graduation for nine consecutive years of perfect attendance. I seem to recall the school’s administration wanting to revoke my perfect attendance because I had an exceedingly large number of late arrivals and early dismissals. But – I was there every day.
There was, however, more than just showing up
In high school, Dad had his own wheels as a senior, but it was different than when I was in school:
The old John Marshall High School was located at Seventh and Marshall Streets in downtown Richmond. We rode the bus, caught in front of Meadowbridge Pharmacy, hitched a ride in front of Highland Park Pharmacy, if we were out of uniform, and in my senior year I bought a ’51 Chevy and drove to school and then to work at Spotless Hardware on Fulton Hill. Parking downtown for students was a real game. We would run between classes and rub the police chalk off our tires in the two hour zones or swap car positions to beat the two hour limit, or park way over in (the bad part of town). Sometimes they would steal batteries or even wheels, but we could not afford to pay to park. Gas was 18 cents a gallon and it was not unusual for us to put 25 cents worth in my car and more than once we would have to push the car two or three blocks to get to the gas station. You could buy a used Maypop tire at Seventeenth and Broad Street for 3 dollars. The tires that had any tread at all went on the front and the ones the the cord showing on the back, then ride till they pop.
High school years were even more structured [than the junior high activities he was describing prior to this]. The Cadet Corps demanded every minute and the some. Lunch time was drill time and every Wednesday was a formal “P.M. Parade” on the Parade Ground. Every night, after some time on the books, we had to spit shine boots until you could see your face, iron military creases in our white shirts, and shine brass until it sparkled. If shoes were not shined perfect or brass had the tiniest smudge the upperclassmen would give you penalties to march off after school in the basement of Gray’s Armory. We also had on-going paper drives and fund raisers on weekends to raise money for Company activities Every Sunday during the school year, the Cadet Companies played intramural sports. Everybody played We had baseball, football, and basketball teams and we played the other Companies on Sunday afternoons except for two Sundays each semester. On those Sundays we attended the Church of our Sponsor or the church of the Company Captain. We also, once a year, attended the Memorial Church down on Broad Street, next to MCV Hospital This was a Corps activity and we all attended with the Sponsors, in full uniform.
He -like me- tried to acquire a couple of bad habits. I don’t recall ever seeing him drink beer growing up, so he didn’t keep that one for long. He did smoke well into my teens (I thought he quit earlier than ’85; it was more like ’77 or ’78, when I was still in high school), but he quit cold turkey one year. For a distraction, he built a kitchen table that’s still sitting in my Mom’s breakfast nook.
I did not drink or smoke cigarettes until I was out of High School and to my knowledge, there were no drugs of any kind available in schools during those years.When I started to college, I went Ape Manure and started drinking beer, event between classes, and started smoking, a stupid habit which I continued until about 1984 or 85 when I ended up in Doctor’s Hospital with a bad tachycardia attack which convinced me to quit smoking and drinking caffeine. I know that my Mother and Father didn not approve of any of us drinking or smoking and I am sorry now for any anxiety that it may have caused. It is so easy to see in reverse, but not so easy to see how you hurt loved ones when you are shaking hands with the guy in the red suit.
I foolishly picked up the smoking habit my first year of college, and continued for ten years. I quit that when Debbie got pregnant with Lindsey – couldn’t smoke in the house anymore, so might as well quit. I drank alcohol too, but decided to give that up until the kids were grown. So for about 18 years, I didn’t have so much as a beer. I enjoy them -in moderation- now. Getting drunk is much too painful when you’re not a young buck anymore.
About that nearly-revoked perfect attendance award:
Image of Chris DeCap
The late arrivals were largely on account of the fact that I used to skip riding the school bus (a fate generally considered to be worse than death), and caught a ride most days with my friend Chris DeCapri (who also had a large number of late arrivals), who lived down the block from me. I think we were late about 40 times during my senior year. The early dismissals were all excused – I had a “note” from my mother to leave for one reason or another on a bunch of days. I had pretty good penmanship back then, and was able to do a decent job of signing her name to the notes. They must have fallen for it; if they hadn’t, I’m sure my Mom would have let me know about it. She had an uncanny way of knowing what I had been doing before I even arrived home – (a large network of spies, I think) I was caught on a number of occasions doing things she disapproved of.
Image of Toney Lineberry
When I was a senior, I left early on a number of occasions to “help” my friend Toney Lineberry. Toney had been a champion wrestler, and was in an auto accident in which he broke his neck. He missed a whole year of school in rehabilitation, and came back for his senior year. As a quadruplegic, he had a lot of challenges, but he was able to drive his own van to school. My brother John, Danny Kelley, Jeff Strabley, Scott Jones, and (I’m sure) a couple of other folks used to help him out by pushing his chair around school, and helping out with books, and assignments. We also attended a lot of sports activities and parties together.
On a side note: Toney was not exactly a good student back then – he focused his energies on wrestling before the accident, and when he came back I can recall “guiding” his answers on some government tests ( I used to go with him in a separate room and write his answers on the test paper). He would later reveal in a book he wrote that he considered himself to be functionally illiterate when he graduated high school. He got interested in history, though, and read himself to being educated. He eventually graduated (magna cum laude, I think) from Randolph-Macon College, and from law school at the University of Virginia. I was proud of him, and for him: he overcame a lot of obstacles, and did a lot more than just show up. I’m glad we became friends; before the accident, I used to fear him (even though he wrestled 119 lbs, and I was 165 lbs) – he was a mean little cuss, and I steered clear of him.
Some days, Toney needed extra help – this involved five or six of us getting early dismissals at the same time and leaving school “to help Toney pick up his medicine”. This consisted of four or five of us pushing him out of the school building and into his van, then driving to the nearest store and buying a case of beer. The assistant principal at the time used to wink at this particular activity (he HAD to know something was going on, didn’t he?), but we never got in any trouble for doing it. He’d drive us out to his house in Goochland, or somewhere else convenient, and we’d all “take the medicine”. Yeah, I know: this is horribly irresponsible behavior, and I shouldn’t glorify it by recounting it here. But things were different then: the drinking age for beer was 18, and at least half of us were legal – and if Toney was driving, we didn’t let him drink (he needed that hand to turn the custom-made steering wheel on the van).
I did participate in the “normal” kinds of activities, like football, marching and symphonic band, soccer, and even track one year (not being very fast made that a sort of conditioning exercise for me, and not much else) but that’s a topic for another day.