One of my tasks this year is to be more encouraging to people, part of my PIKE way of life that I've created, owned and adopted... and in that, I made it a point to go onto Facebook and anyone having a birthday on the little birthday calendar thing, I put a personal note on their page to say Happy Birthday. And I seldom just say "Happy Birthday", I try to add something to it, to make it a little more personal so people know I'm not just copying and pasting that phrase over and over.
Sometimes, a name will pop up that I am very good friends with, and I'll add a few lines, make a joke or whatever. Other times, it might be someone I haven't spoken to in a long, long time, and so I'll say something about the time its been, or that I hope they are well and so on. Just to make it personal.
Tonight, I came across the name "Kenny Weeks". Kenny is turning 44 today... I had to dig into my high school yearbook to verify, but that puts him in the Class of 1988. And that puts me in 7th grade when he was a senior. For those reading this from Samson, its the yearbook that says "Just the Right Year" on it, with the painted tiger, the corner pic of the high school, and the words "SAMSONIAN" emblazoned across the front. In this book that is no more than a 125 pages max, you'll see student pics from the seniors all the way to the kindergarten.
What's fun about flipping through a yearbook like this is you kinda recognize a few names on Facebook, with a "Oh... THAT is who that is... geez... woulda never gotten that." The senior class included names like Missy Ausley... Lydia Phillips (lovely girl, but has a total 1988 hair do with a complete Simba mane)... Shane Bowdoin... this was a class heavy on attractive people, I gotta tell ya. I was always a Lisa Bradshaw fan myself, but I honestly do not believe I was the one who wrote the word "FINE" over her yearbook pic... for starters, its not my handwriting, plus, I would be way too afraid she would see it. I guess its safe now, though.
Back to Kenny.
Kenny was a stocky guy, kind of a soft voice, seemed like a good guy... as a matter of fact, something happened in 6th grade that made me always think he was a good guy.
One of those random acts of kindness, kind of like the one that my schoolmate Shanna Nowling did for me, as chronicled here. (if you haven't read that post, go ahead and read it. its one of my favorites in the last year or so)
Our high school was small, and in 1987, it was kind of run down... at that time, we had a high school in a larger building, and the junior high (back then, it was "junior high", not "middle school", in the same way it was "junior college" not "community college". it was a simpler time) was a smaller building kinda off to the side. It had classrooms that were not even used, and in complete disarray... a set of steep steps coming up to the center hall, and a dilapidated auxiliary building that I eventually took 8th grade civics class in with Mr. Weeks. That's Danny Weeks, not Kenny Weeks, though I'm unsure of any relation.
My thinking was I was in 6th grade for this story, but I actually think I was in 7th... anyway, you come out of the junior high building in the back, and it opens up to a huge courtyard area--a pleasant way of saying a big dirt road. Across that area you get to the baseball field, and during PE class on a hot 1987 fall day, the boys were sent out to the baseball field to do whatever it is we did during PE.
Let me stop here and explain something... I was a scrawny, tiny little runt of a dude. I was chased around in 6th grade by Shane Gillis and Drew Snell, and in 7th, was scared to death of Sambo Cade... that's not a racist remark, people actually called him "Sambo". Like, I probably developed my sense of humor, good or bad, as a defense. If you were going to chase me, I'd at least get a good zinger in. Years later, much of this hasn't changed, which is probably a bad thing.
Anyway, it goes without saying, sports were not my thing. I was still about 4 years away from learning tennis, I had no understanding of football or baseball or basketball other than the sportscards I collected--and still have--and so every day, PE was torture for me. Cause I couldn't do anything, and I literally was the last person picked in team sports just about every day.
My friend Greg was a big dude, so he was slower, but in games like dodgeball or even tackle football, he was picked ahead of me.
Do they even do team lineups and picking teams and such now? I mean, it seems like a mean thing to do to a kid, but looking back, so what? I did just fine. Anyway.
So, on this day, the guys get out there, myself included. I'm already sweating, cause its south Alabama in the early fall, the baseball field, not really needed until January for ball practice, wasn't mowed well, so there were weeds everywhere and I had bugs on me and maybe chiggers...
(do we think that "chiggers" is a racist term in the bug world? like, chiggers can say "chigger" but other bugs like ants or grasshoppers can't dare say it? just curious.)
...and it was miserable. That day, there was a group of guys on the Samson High football team out there running a scrimmage... I say that, but they actually were just tossing the ball, running some plays, who knows why they were there. Kenny Weeks was one of them.
For whatever reason, I cannot tell you why and it really doesn't matter for the purposes of this story, the seven or eight football players asked 7th grade us to join them in playing some ball. Now, I was truly one of the littlest guys out there, but there were some guys with some size to them, guys that went on to play in high school themselves... not me, though.
Of course, I was one of the last guys to be assigned a side, though if I remember it correctly, we didn't actually play a game, the high school guys just kind of directed us young folk where to go and what to do, to help them run plays and all...
And in my sweat and misery, I remember making the comment of, and this is paraphrasing, but this is almost perfectly right, "this is about as fun as eating a bowl of Fruity Pebbles and reading the Wall Street Journal." (note: I misquoted myself when I first posted this column--as I lay in bed an hour later, it came to be exactly what I said, which is what you read now, as I corrected it) I said this because I felt so out of place and stupid for not knowing what a fullback was, or what an end tackle was supposed to do. I mean, where were we supposed to learn this stuff?
When I said that, a few of the guys laughed, older and younger. My friend Chris McCall was just like me, not a sportsy guy, but he was a lot more popular than I was, so he could coast on that. Not so for me. So when I made all of them laugh, it kinda made me feel good and all...
So Kenny Weeks called me "Wall Street" while we were out there. He would say "Hey Wall Street, make sure you cover Jason" or "Ok, Wall Street, when I hike the ball..." or whatever. I actually thought it was a badge of honor... I mean, Kenny was a popular cat, so it was really cool to be recognized like such.
A little while later, the game broke up, guys started walking away, our grade's PE was almost over, and Kenny asked me, "So, Wall Street, you don't like football, huh?" I just shrugged and said, "I don't really know how to play it. So its hard, cause I don't know what I'm doing."
Now, he could have been condescending and made a joke. He could have said, "That's too bad, man," and walked away. Kenny could have even said, "Its not hard. You should learn it."
But no. Here's what he actually did...
"Heads up," he said, tossing me the ball lightly, so I could--and did--catch it. He asked me to throw it back to him, and I kinda sorta did in a haphazard way, as it flopped through the air.
"Come here, let me show you this," he motioned. I walked over, and Kenny Weeks, high school senior, guy who not only was popular but actually probably talked to Lisa Bradshaw on a regular basis, gave me a 2 minute lesson on how to toss a football. Fingers on laces, let it roll off the hand, release like this, here you try it, not bad, try it again, that's pretty good, here catch...
I know it was only a few minutes, nothing more, as time was winding down and we all had places to be... but I remember that. I remember that act of kindness... that act of someone much older, in a much higher position in my eyes taking the time to not just talk to me, but talk to me in a way that I wasn't beneath him, that I wasn't behind him in age, but that I was his peer. He talked to me as if we were both buddies in the same class.
So, happy 44th birthday, Kenny Weeks.
And another lesson in kindness to you all... the big stuff usually gets remembered, sometimes. But there are so many little things that mean more, because they are so little, yet so impactful. You don't know when your little act of kindness will still be talked about 27 years later.
(7182 words written for #20KWords in March... 12,818 words to go)