Exciting Week Ahead!

Sometimes one gets bogged down in routine. We get up (tired); go about doing the same daily tasks; eat our meals at the same time, often the same menu week after week; do the regular routine chores, following the same pattern or schedule; and then go to bed (tired), sleep, and then get up to start it all over again the next morning. But occasionally a few unexpected, non-routine events come along, disrupting that hum-drum routine and bringing a bright spot to the otherwise gray, predictable, hum-drum schedule. Looking forward to such moments (or hours or days) is good. It helps one get beyond the routine.

I’m not saying that I’m bored or in a rut. Actually, I thrive on routine; I dislike change or disruptions to my schedule. But I’ve been looking forward to next week in anticipation of a welcome break from that routine.

My brother, whom I see maybe once or twice a year and that for maybe a day at the most, will be visiting us for about two and a half days! Granted, he has other people he also wants to see during that time, but it will still be the longest time we’ve spent together in quite a while. I’m looking forward to talking and laughing and drinking a lot of coffee with him. And I’m sure there’ll be a fair share of good-natured, brotherly ribbing.

I thought that nothing could top that momentous upcoming event, but then I got a call from Craig, a friend and former roommate from our sophomore year

of college. We not only were roommates but also were both history education majors, so we had many of the same classes together. We crammed for exams together; read each other’s term papers; discussed economics, history, and politics; played practical jokes on each other; worked together in the same extension ministry; and were in each other’s weddings. Then life happened. We each went our separate ways.

I haven’t seen Craig in six or seven years, and then for only an hour or so. Before that, we had reunited only one other time in about 35 years. During our recent phone conversation, we reminisced and laughed a lot. And then Craig said that he’s coming to town next week and would like to visit for a couple of days. I’m looking forward to doing a lot more laughing and reminiscing with him next week.

Now when something as momentous as these two events occurs–and both in the same week at that–even an old tied-to-routine guy like myself is willing to cast aside that routine. All the people who think of me as always having my nose in a book will be shocked; I won’t be doing any reading next week. Everyone who thinks that all I do is sit behind a computer tapping out articles and books and other drivel will be similarly disappointed; I won’t get any writing done next week. And all of you who think that since I work from home I’m retired and don’t really work at all but have all the time in the world to do as I please will, for once, be almost right.

Only one week, and such a rare one! I’m looking forward to relishing every minute of it. Reading, writing, and routine can wait!

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“A Man of Arms Surrounded by Tenets of Faith”

The title of today’s blog describes one of the most studied and most misunderstood but also most revered–by many–soldier in American history. That title comes from a work by the historian perhaps most knowledgeable of that soldier today, James I Robertson, author of the 950-page biographical tome Stonewall Jackson: The Man, the Soldier, the Legend.¬†Following are a few of the things Robertson says about Jackson.

  • “Jackson’s faith permeated every action of his adult life. He began each task by offering a blessing, and he completed every duty by returning thanks to God.”
  • “Jackson fervently absorbed the biblical assurance that ‘all things work together for good to them that love God.'”
  • “Modesty was among his greatest attractions.”
  • “Jackson, in short, was an unaffected commander who cultivated humility as he sought success in the name of God. To many acquaintances, the motto of his life was, ‘Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do.'”
  • “He prayed often, in the solitude of his tent and in the chaos of battle. In preparation for combat, one of his brigadiers noted, Jackson ‘did not reach his conclusions hastily, but after mature deliberation and prayerful consideration; and when once definitely reached, he was like a meteor in executing.'”
  • “Jackson read the Bible; he prayed; he meditated; he examined the nooks and crannies of scriptures and his own soul. In doing so, he began to undergo a change that would eventually create the very foundation of his being.”

But that’s what a 21st-century historian says about Thomas J. Jackson. Here’s Jackson in his own words:

  • “It is painful enough to discover with what unconcern they speak of war and threaten it. I have seen enough of it to make me look upon it as the sum of all evils.”
  • “People who are anxious to bring on war don’t know what they are bargaining for; they don’t see all the horrors that must accompany such an event.”
  • “My religious belief teaches me to feel as safe in battle as in bed. God has fixed the time for my death. I do not concern myself about that, but to always be ready, no matter when it may overtake me.”
  • “Never take counsel of your fears.”
  • “I have so fixed the habit in my own mind that I never raise a glass of water to my lips without a moment’s asking of God’s blessing. I never seal a letter without putting a word of prayer under the seal. I never take a letter from the post without a brief sending of my thoughts heavenward. I never change classes in the section room without a minute’s petition on the cadets who go out and those who come in.”
  • (His last coherent words, spoken on his deathbed): “Let us cross over the river, and rest under the shade of the trees.”

Here is a man whose life is well worth studying! And Robertson’s biography of Jackson is a book well worth reading.

 

The Thin Edge of the Wedge

The history of empires has often hinged on seemingly little, insignificant actions. Befogged by the maelstrom of events happening at the moment, those most affected by such actions failed to see the future applications and implications of those actions. In hindsight, however, historians and others can discern what was about to happen to the people of the past. They cannot warn them, however; history is unalterable. But they can use those lessons to warn their own generation.

Such was the case in German following World War I. Weak, vacillating, uncertain men ran the Weimar Republic. Their weaknesses propagated unrest that erupted in violence, not spontaneous, self-generated violence but a violence intentionally agitated for and instigated by those who hoped to benefit from the unstable conditions. From this environment arose the National Socialist German Workers Party, better known as the Nazis.

I’ve done quite a bit of reading and study about this period of history (and what resulted from it, including World War II), and I’ve found no more astute and telling published study than the three volumes by Richard J. Evans: The Coming of the Third Reich, The Third Reich in Power, and The Third Reich at War. Throughout the series, Evans reiterates how the Nazis came to power on the back of legally legislated restrictions on freedoms that the Weimar government had passed, and then the Nazis incrementally expanded those restrictions until no one was free.

One aspect of those numerous freedom-limiting laws was gun control, allegedly to quell the chaos and violence that existed (much of it purposely instigated). But as Stephen P. Halbrook points out in Gun Control in the Third Reich, the first such law, the 1928 Law on Firearms and Ammunition, focused “not on repression of armed violence, but on regulation of the predominantly peaceable citizenry.” Permission to carry a firearm was limited to those “whose reliability is unquestioned.” Sounds innocuous enough. But criminal types (including the Nazi Brown Shirts) did not surrender their weapons; only law-abiding citizens did. The Weimar leaders didn’t intend to repress the people, but they set the precedent whereby, when the Nazis gained power four years later, they did repress the people. That initial law was the “thin edge of the wedge.”

Once in power, the Nazis legally passed sequential legislation first requiring registration of all firearms; then requiring licenses to make, buy, or sell firearms; and then prohibiting possession of firearms by selected groups of people (e.g., the mentally unbalanced or those who had proven themselves to be violent, Jews, and others who were not “reliable,” that is, loyal to the Nazis). Eventually, only the police and military could possess firearms. These actions not only restricted the exercise of the natural right of self-defense but also (and most importantly to the Nazis) prevented any armed uprising of the people against the atrocities that the Nazis were determined to perpetrate against them and that Hitler himself had promised.

The Nazis did not really care about the safety and security of the citizens of Germany. But they knew that to gain and retain power to do what Hitler envisioned (i.e, the destruction of all Jews and the domination of the world by the “Aryans”), the Nazis first must disarm the people. He said as much in 1942:

The most foolish mistake we could possibly make would be to allow the subjugated races to possess arms. History shows that all conquerors who have allowed their subjugated races to carry arms have prepared their own downfall by so doing. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that the supply of arms to the underdogs is the sine qua non for the overthrow of any sovereignty.

But it could never happen in America–could it?

Consider the vitriol leveled by U.S. senators against professing Christians during the recent confirmation hearings. Consider the angry and violent orchestrated and choreographed protests that have occurred, with the encouragement of many elected officials, against what heretofore had been the norm for a moral people. And then let your mind’s film reel replay the scene in Germany, in which Jews were the targets. Given the opportunity, such could easily become the fate of Christians–and other groups who might oppose government schemes to erode our freedoms. Sadly, masses of citizens would applaud and support such actions–for “safety and security,” of course, especially “for the children.” And all the legal forms for bringing it about could already be in place. The fate of all the freedoms enshrined in the Bill of Rights hinges on what we do with the second of them.

But rather than wait for that time to come, why not study and learn from those who have gone before us? After all, the truism is that those who fail to study and learn from the past are condemned to repeat it. So what did our Founding Fathers have to say about the issue of gun rights? Here are a few examples from the volumes of similar statements:

  • “They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” (Benjamin Franklin, Historical Review of Pennsylvania, 1759)
  • “The Constitution of most of our states (and of the United States) assert that all power is inherent in the people; that they may exercise it by themselves; that it is their right and duty to be at all times armed.” (Thomas Jefferson, letter to John Cartwright, June 5, 1824)
  • “To disarm the people . . . [i]s the most effectual way to enslave them.” (George Mason, referring to advice given to the British Parliament by Pennsylvania governor Sir William Keith, The Debates in the Several State Conventions on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution, June 14, 1788)
  • “Before a standing army can rule, the people must be disarmed, as they are in almost every country in Europe. The supreme power in America cannot enforce unjust laws by the sword; because the whole body of the people are armed, and constitute a force superior to any band of regular troops.” (Noah Webster, An Examination of the Leading Principles of the Federal Constitution, October 10, 1787)
  • “Guard with jealous attention the public liberty. Suspect everyone who approaches that jewel. Unfortunately, nothing will preserve it but downright force. Whenever you give up t hat force, you are ruined. . . . The great object is that every man be armed. Everyone who is able might have a gun.” (Patrick Henry, speech to the Virginia Ratifying Convention, June 5, 1778).
  • “This may be considered as the true palladium of liberty. . . . The right of self-defense is the first law of nature: in most governments it has been the study of rulers to continue this right within the narrowest limits possible. Wherever standing armies are kept up, and the right of the people to keep and bear arms is, under any color or pretext whatsoever, prohibited, liberty, if not already annihilated, is on the brink of destruction.” (St. George Tucker, Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England, 1803)
  • “The Constitution shall never be construed to prevent the people of the United States who are peaceable citizens from keeping their own arms.” (Samuel Adams, Massachusetts Ratifying Convention, 1788)

The lessons of history and the warnings of our Founders are there for our learning. If we ignore them or fail to assimilate them in our current environment, we have only ourselves to blame when our freedoms are lost. If you still doubt my assessment, study carefully the cited works by Evans and Halbrook and then make up your own mind.

Copyright (c) 2018, Dennis L. Peterson

 

Clothes Make the Man (or Woman)

My mother used to tell us kids, “You might not be able to wear the most expensive new clothes, but you can always be neat and clean.”

I recently was reminded of her mantra when I saw a photo posted on a local history Facebook page that I follow. It featured photos of a man and a woman in the 1940s who were walking along the sidewalk of the main shopping district of my hometown. The man is wearing a suit, a tie, a hat, polished shoes, and an overcoat. The lady is wearing a pretty dress, gloves, dress shoes, a hat, and even a coat with a fur stole. And the people in the background are similarly dressed; these two people were not exceptions. That was the norm in that time.

Those photos sparked a host of follow-up comments from readers who were contrasting those days, when people “dressed up” for even mundane tasks such as shopping downtown on a Saturday, with the current atmosphere of slovenliness. The vast majority of readers who responded longed for a return to “the good old days.”

I have always been impressed when I see photos of spectators at baseball games during the 1920s through the 1950s, a time when males wore suits and hats (or at least sport coats or vests). One is hard pressed to find anyone in the crowds who is not so dressed.

I recall my mother and father “dressing up” to go shopping on Saturday mornings in Knoxville. Mother was always impeccably dressed, and Daddy always wore a sport coat and a tie. (In winter, he might even wear a hat, and in summer, he might “slip” and not wear the tie, but the sport coat was inviolable.) My parents were especially particular about our appearance when we went to church, not because they were trying to impress anyone with what we wore but because they knew that we were entering the presence of God Himself for worship. We weren’t going to play. Sunday was a day when we were to look different from the world around us because we were about the King’s business. We weren’t dressed weirdly, but we were neat, clean, and dressed appropriately for the occasion. Only after church did we change into “play clothes.”

Performers today, instead of “dressing up” (suits, evening gowns, etc.) as they once did, dress haphazardly and bizarrely. Remember when the Beatles first hit the big time wearing suits and ties? The only bizarre thing about their appearance was their long hair. Contrast that with how today’s performers look. The more bizarre and outlandish their appearance the better, it seems.

Having been a classroom teacher for nineteen years, I observed that students typically performed better, both behaviorally and academically, when their schools had a strict dress code. Although many schools are adopting student uniforms primarily to avoid shaming students who can’t afford the most fashionable clothing or to eliminate gang symbolism in dress, they also see improvements in academic performance and conduct when their students “dress up” for school.

I also remember being ashamed whenever I had to wear jeans with a hole in the knee when I went to work with Daddy, a self-employed brick mason. People today wear to church clothing that I was ashamed to be seen wearing to work! In many churches, even the preachers dress more slovenly than blue-collar workers with dirty jobs! You struggle to find any difference.

Remember the legendary IBM corporate image as conveyed in their representatives’ dress? IBM’s sales people always wore dark suits, blue shirts, and color-coordinated ties. Those “reps” were the public image of the corporation, and the bosses wanted them to “look the part.”

But rather than merely pining for the “good old days,” I suddenly realized the application of the words that Mordecai spoke to Esther in the Old Testament: “Who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14). Working from home as I do, I could write or edit in my pajamas if I wanted to. Who would know if I was wearing a ragged sweatshirt and jeans with a hole in the knee?

But I’ve noticed that, like the school students I once taught, the way I dress affects my thinking, my attitudes, my behavior, and, I sincerely believe, the quality of my work. Rather than being pulled along by and fitting in with the slovenliness of today’s fashions, why shouldn’t I continue to “dress up” and thereby demonstrate the difference between “that world” and the world I represent as a Christian? We believers are, after all, corporate representatives, ambassadors of the King of Kings on this earth. And we should look the part.

Dare to be different–in a good way, not in slovenliness. If you profess to be a believer, remember Who it is that you represent, and look the part.

 

Twice- (or More Often) Told Tales

Sir Francis Bacon wrote, “Some books are to be tested, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested.”

Such is similarly the case with stories, especially stories that involve one’s family. Some family stories are good for one or two tellings, but a few stories are to be told over and over again. They are, like the title of a set of books that I was given as a child, Stories that Never Grow Old. And they should be told and retold so often that one’s children can tell them accurately to their own children, and their children’s children to their children.

They do not have to be long, elaborate, detail-laden stories; they might be mere passing incidents. But, told and retold, they become part of family lore and potentially carry with them strong family values. That’s how the children of Israel passed their religion from one generation to another with the purpose “that the generation to come might know” (see Psa. 78:1-7).

For example, when our daughters were young, my wife and I were driving in the city with them one day. We were driving the speed limit, but when a traffic light that we were quickly approaching turned yellow, I couldn’t stop safely, so I sped up ever so slightly and sang out, “We’re going through! The commander’s voice was like thin ice breaking.”

In response to my daughters’ curious inquiries of “What was that?” and “What did you mean, Daddy?” I told them about Fred, a college roommate who was a cinema major/speech minor. Fred had a lot of speaking assignments for his classes, and he practiced all of them before the mirror for hours on end. One night, when I was trying to study int he room, he was practicing an excerpt from James Thurber’s story “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.” As he practiced, he was increasingly dissatisfied with his rendition of one particular segment, and he kept repeating it in attempts to get it right–the right sound, volume, tone, and intensity of feeling. In fact, he repeated it so often that I had that part of the story memorized as well as he did by the end of the evening. And I’ve never forgotten it.

When I went through the caution light, the situation reminded me of Fred’s story line, and I instinctively repeated it aloud. After I had told the story to the girls, I used the phrase every time I went through an intersection on a yellow light. They soon became so familiar with it from my repeated recitation that they started saying it before I could.

The other day, one of my daughters told me of an incident that occurred as she and her husband were driving in their city. They had almost entered an intersection when the traffic light changed to yellow. Reflexively, she cried out, “We’re going through! The commander’s voice was like thin ice breaking.”

Her surprised husband looked at her strangely and asked, “What was that outburst all about?”

Suddenly realizing what she had done, my daughter burst out laughing.

“What made you say that?” her husband pressed.

Between fits of laughter, she explained the whole backstory of the exclamation. Now he knows. The story is spreading.

My sons-in-law are getting used to such things as they happen often in our family. Just as they’ve become used to saying, in chorus, “We were meant to be here!” whenever we’re out shopping and find a parking spot close to the store when the parking lot is crowded.

I recounted that lengthy explanation as an illustration of how family stories, legends, and even values get passed from generation to generation. That particular incident is inconsequential, but some family stories are critical to an understanding of who we are as a family, how we got to where we are today, or what makes us tick as a family.

What stories do you have to tell your descendants? Tell them! And then retell them–over and over again. Your family will, in turn, tell them again. “That the generations to come might know. . . .”

 

 

The Beauty of Dirt

“Don’t touch that-!” a mother says to her little toddler son, who is playing with a stick that he found on the ground.

“Now don’t play in the dirt,” a grandfather says to his little granddaughter as they step off the deck of their house and into the backyard.

In both instances, the message being sent is well-meaning, clear, and unmistakable: Dirt is bad.

Upon reflection, I now beg to differ. There are different kinds of dirt, and they can be either good or bad. Too often, however, we too quickly assume the negative.

God made man from the dust of the ground (that’s dirt!), and, as one old farmer put it, “God don’t make no junk!” With the creation of the earth, God stopped making dirt, so we’d better take care of what dirt we have.

Sure, there are some impurities and other dangerous things in dirt, but we can’t condemn all dirt as bad just because of that. In fact, where would we be without it? Even with the advances made in hydroponic agriculture, we still need dirt to grow most of our foods. We need dirt for construction of homes and roads. And think of all the things that are made using different kinds of dirt. For example, bricks and tiles. And think of the things that are extracted from dirt–things such as gold, silver, lead, and iron ore. And diamonds!

We tend to get all worked up over dirt. Dirty hands. Dirty fingernails. Dirty faces. Dirty diapers. It’s not dirt itself, however, that is bad. It’s where it is and when it gets there that present a problem.

It’s not so bad for a child to have dirty hands if he’s playing. That’s a child’s way of learning. He’s feeling the dirt, getting to know it, its texture and qualities and characteristics. He scrapes it into a pile He scatters it about. He throws it into the air and watches how it falls back to the earth again. He throws clods of it. He builds highways in it. He makes hills and mountains of it. It gets into his pores and under his fingernails. He eats it.

Stop! That’s far enough!

There are limits to what one can and should do with dirt, even in an otherwise good pursuit.

I played in the dirt when I was a child. I built those highways for my Tonka and Buddy-L toy trucks. I tossed dirt clods into the air and hit them with sticks or threw them, pretending that they were hand grenades, and watched them “explode” in a cloud of dust. I slid in dirt when we played baseball. I got it under my fingernails and in my pores. Sometimes I even got it in my mouth, such as when my brother and his friends convinced me to play football with them and it evolved into a game of “pick up and smear–Dennis.” But I can’t remember ever eating it–or even wanting to.

No one had to tell me, “Don’t eat dirt, Dennis.” I just knew not to. Just as no one ever taught me not to eat worms. If I had tried to eat either, I’m sure that someone would have stopped me.

To an overprotective parent or a fastidious person, perhaps dirt is ugly. But to an archaeologist dirt is wonderful. To a mineralogist, it’s great stuff. To a farmer, it’s beautiful.

Jesse Stuart wrote of “the beauty of dirt.” He was a man of the dirt of the rocky hills and mountains of Eastern Kentucky. He saw that dirt was the root of man’s sustenance, the place of man’s labors, the home and playground of God’s creatures. He, like other people of the soil, recognized the beauty of dirt. Just as a sculptor looks at a lump of clay and sees a bowl or a pitcher or a vase, Stuart looked at the soil and saw corn and beans and okra and maple syrup and sassafras tea. The soil produced weeds and thorns and thistles as well, but they were the price one paid for the use of the good things that the soil produces for man.

Stay clean, of course, but learn to see the beauty of dirt.

The Womb of the Morning

I’m an early riser. I guess it was ingrained in me from my youth.

My parents were sticklers for punctuality. They expected my brother and me to be at the breakfast table when Mother brought the biscuits from the oven to the table with the sausage or bacon and eggs. He expected us to be ready to go to work with him as soon as he finished his breakfast and put on his work boots. And he expected us to get our jobs done when they were supposed to be done on the job site.

I guess that trait just rubbed off on me. In fact, I think that my parents’ training of us kids was so good that I became an even greater stickler for punctuality than they were.

I never wanted to be late for school or church. I never wanted to be late for meetings. Neither did I want meetings to start later than their scheduled time. After all, if I made a point of being on time to get to the meeting, the least the one in charge could do was start (and finish) it on time. As a teacher, I expected to be in my classroom early so I could get everything ready for the day’s activities and lessons. I expected the students to be on time. To me, rushing to their seats just as the tardy bell rang was being late. I expected them to get their homework assignments done on time, too.

As a morning person, my best time for devotional reading is early in the morning. Sitting in my recliner (but not reclining) with a cup of coffee and my Bible (and possibly a notepad or a commentary), I’m ready to begin the day. If I’m late getting up because I forgot to set the alarm, or if I fail for whatever reason to have that quiet time alone with God, the rest of my day is out of kilter.

Perhaps that’s why a particular phrase rang true to me one morning during my devotional time. It leaped at me from the page as I was reading Psalm 110: “the womb of the morning.” I began to meditate on its meaning for me. Now. Today.

A mother’s womb is the place of beginnings. For the developing baby, the womb is a place of warmth, quietness, nutrition, comfort, and safety. It’s a place for the development of something promising–a new life filled with potential. The womb symbolizes youth and the strength, vitality, and potential that accompany it.

So it is with each new morning. The early morning is the beginning of a brand new day. It is filled with promise and potential of what could be developed, of what could be produced, of fruitful accomplishment.

In the early morning, we look forward, get organized, plan, hope, and pray. We get our mental and physical potential moving. We begin to turn potential energy into kinetic energy and to develop that potential into reality. We produce something that will eventually bear fruit, sometimes immediately but at other times eventually.

The Scriptures speak often of rising early. Job did it (Job 1:5). Abraham did too (Gen. 19:27). As did Moses (Exo. 34:4-5). And so did David (Psa. 57:8). But the example of early rising that I like best is Jesus Himself (Mark 1:25). If He, the very Son of God, thought it necessary to rise early so he could go to a “solitary place” to pray, how much more should we?

I don’t know if Ben Franklin’s proverb “Early to bed, early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise” is a guarantee of any of those three alleged benefits, but following it surely helps one get a lot more done during the day than if he slept away half the day. Once one gets into the habit of early rising, failure to do so seems like such a waste of time, almost as criminal as stealing someone else’s property. It seems the next kin to sloth.

So here’s to rising early, to the promise that the “womb of the morning” holds out to all who will give it a chance to give birth to great accomplishments. It holds out potential for fruitfulness and productivity even in old age, when the womb is normally barren. Like old Sarai, whose womb was barren for so long and yet bore the son of promise in her old age, the habit of early rising can produce fruit for us even in the heretofore barren womb of time.

Nobodies

Reclusive poet Emily Dickinson wrote a short bit of verse titled “Nobody.” It proclaimed the virtue of being a “nobody,” someone who had no special significance or influence and received no public recognition. That’s how she wanted to be perceived because that’s what she thought she was.

I have often felt like that. I’m not famous for anything. I’m not widely known. Even when I go “back home” to the community where I grew up, no one knows me. When I left there to go to college in another state, no one, not even my closest friends or track teammates, kept up with me or what I was doing. Forty years later, when the hometown newspaper published an article about the release of my first book (along with my phone number and e-mail address, courtesy of the editor, who was a family friend), only two former classmates contacted me. Like Dickinson, I’m “nobody.” Are you nobody, too?

But then I’m reminded that God often uses nobodies, sometimes without their even knowing that they are being used.

Robert Fulghum wrote in All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, “You may never have proof of your importance, but you are more important than you think. There are always those who couldn’t do without you. The rub is that you don’t always know who.”

First, you are important to your spouse, even if he or she sometimes doesn’t seem to acknowledge your value. Then you are important to your children–or, if you don’t have children, your sibling’s children, or those of a friend or a neighbor. Even little kids whom you don’t know–or maybe haven’t even seen before. But they see you. They watch you.

To quote Fulghum again, “Don’t worry that children never listen to you; worry that they are always watching you.”

But that also goes for the adults around us. They’re watching what we say and do. They notice how we deal with frustrations, disappointments, tragedies, and joys. They see how we treat others, not only our closest relations but also those who work for us or with us or for whom we work.

One day, in response to a statement by someone on Facebook, I replied, “It’s nice to hear from former students.” I wasn’t fishing (or is that phishing?) for posts from my former students but merely stating a fact. But I got several responses from people who had once survived one or more of the junior high history classes that I taught. Many of them responded. Soon, their posts turned from private messages to me to reminiscences among themselves about things that they recalled from my classes.

Many of the things that they mentioned I had long forgotten–but they had not. It was fun to be reminded of the incidents. (And a bit shocking as I read about how those junior high students now had children of their own who were older than the parents had been when they were in my classes!) It was especially humbling to know that a few of them had become teachers–even one a history teacher!–because of my influence.

I had never known, perhaps might never have known but for that Facebook exchange.

If you don’t think that you’ve had or are having an influence on someone else, think again. You might not be aware of the influence you’re having or have had in the past, but it’s there nonetheless. You might be a nobody in the world’s eyes, but even nobodies exert an influence on someone. Silent, unsung, unheralded. But important and influential to someone.

Teacher and author Jesse Stuart was right when he said, “I am firm in my belief that a teacher lives on and on through his students. Good teaching is forever and the teacher is immortal.”

I hate to disagree with you, Emily Dickinson, but no one is really a nobody–not even you.

Rocket Ron and His Still Never Equaled Feat

While searching recently for some tidbit of information needed for a project, I happened across an amazing accomplishment by a player for a minor league baseball team in Tennessee, a feat that has to this day never been equaled.

One day in May 1952, a pitcher for the Bristol Twins did something that got him a quick ticket to the major leagues. His accomplishment seemed to be a harbinger of great things to come in his baseball career. It even caught the attention of the legendary Branch Rickey, the man who signed Jackie Robinson to a contract with the Dodgers, desegregating baseball. His feat even had the experts comparing him to Christy Mathewson and Dizzy Dean. The National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues called his deed “the greatest individual performance in the history of baseball.”

Western Pennsylvania native Ron Necciai had signed a professional baseball contract right out of high school when he was barely 19 years old. He was assigned to the Class D minor league team in Salisbury, N.C., where the manager told the young first baseman that he was going to be a pitcher. Necciai did what he was told, but he admitted to the manager that he was a bit nervous. When he had pitched in high school, he had broken a batter’s ribs when a fast ball got away from him. Ever since, he had preferred not to pitch. But he would do what he was told.

His prospects for a successful pitching career didn’t look very good at first. In his first two games in the minors, Necciai walked six batters in three innings; he also surrendered seven runs. In another game, the opponents scored three runs without his getting a single out. Necciai was ready to throw in the towel, but the coaches prevailed upon him to give himself time.

He went to spring training in 1951. That’s when hard-to-impress Branch Rickey saw him pitch and sent him back to Salisbury, where he promptly lost seven straight games and again was ready to quit. But the manager offered to pay him an extra $90 a month to drive the team bus. After a pep talk by the coach and a chewing-out by Rickey for not throwing harder, Necciai stayed and won the next four games he pitched. The Pirates sent him to their AA team in New Orleans. And in spring training the next year, they had him pitch against the defending world champion Giants, and he pitched five shutout innings and that against such legends as Alvin Dark, Monte Irvin, Sal Maglie, Eddie Stanky, and Bobby Thompson.

Necciai’s pitching seemed to be improving, but his health wasn’t. He had a nagging pain in his stomach and was losing weight and vomiting blood. Doctors diagnosed bleeding ulcers, prescribed medication, and put him on a strict diet. The pain persisted. He asked the team to send him down to Bristol to get back into shape, and they did.

Necciai started the Opening Night game for Bristol, striking out 20 Kingsport Cherokees in a two-hit shutout. His next start was against the Pulaski Phillies, 19 of whom he struck out, and he beat them 7-4. A few days later, pitching in relief, he faced 12 batters and struck out 11 of them. The media began calling him “Rocket Ron.” (George Stone later wrote a book about him using the nickname as his title.)

Then came May 13 and the game against the Welch (WV) Miners. Necciai started the game despite not feeling well. His manager noticed that he didn’t look well either. But Necciai took some medicine and by game time said he’d do his best. And with his first pitch of the game he began to throw strikes. There were some errors, some dropped foul balls, a wild pitch, and a hit batsman, so it was by no means a perfect game. But there were also strikeouts. A lot of them. But Necciai wasn’t feeling well. In fact, between the fourth and fifth innings, he threw up in the dugout. Nonetheless, he kept pitching, and the strikeouts kept coming. By the end of the eighth inning, he had amassed 23 K’s. But he wasn’t keeping track; his mind was on the pain in his gut.

In the ninth inning, the first two Miners struck out, one swinging and one looking. The third batter came up and swung wildly at the third strike, but the ball squirted past the catcher for a wild pitch and went to the backstop, allowing the batter to reach first. Necciai had no idea was what happening; he just wanted to get the game over with so he could get something for the pain in his stomach.

The fourth batter of that inning also struck out. Necciai had struck out an unprecedented  27 batters in a nine-inning game, a feat that had never been done before. And it has never been equaled. Seventeen batters went down swinging; ten batters were sent back to their dugout on called third strikes.

Necciai was a relief pitcher a few games later, and he struck out the first eight batters he faced. In his next start, he struck out 24 while giving up only two hits in his third shutout in four starts. When the final stats of the season were calculated, Necciai had struck out an average of about 23 batters for every nine innings he pitched.

On August 6, the big team called him up to help them salvage something from a terrible season. As a Pirate, he faced the Chicago Cubs on August 10, and they pounced in the first inning, tagging him for five hits, including two doubles, and scored five runs. He ended up surrendering seven before the manager mercifully removed him for a pinch hitter.

Yet, the next night he came on in relief and pitched three no-hit/no-run innings, striking out five. But he gained only one win the rest of the season. And then he was drafted into the army. He injured a shoulder muscle and never managed a comeback. His baseball career was over after less than a month in the majors.

Necciai landed a job demonstrating sporting equipment at shows for outdoorsmen. He got married and had three kids. His ulcers suddenly vanished. He gained weight. When he retired, he moved to Florida, where the Bradenton Pirates had him throw out the first pitch at a spring training game on March 3, 2016.

Necciai’s career didn’t last long. But he wasn’t bitter, and he often said, “I gave baseball a nickle and got a million dollars back.” And he holds an enviable record that even Nolan Ryan couldn’t touch: he struck out 27 batters in one game. You can’t do better than that.

Copyright (c) 2018, Dennis L. Peterson

Put the Cookies on the Bottom Shelf!

An effective teacher teaches such that the lowest-achiever, the least capable student in the classroom, can understand. If the lowest student can understand a concept, certainly everyone else will be able to. . . .

The best teachers take complex concepts and present them simply and meaningfully to their students when the time and subject matter are appropriate and the students are ready to learn them. This does not mean “dumbing it down” or being anti-intellectual. It does not mean either resorting to mere entertainment or rejecting the teaching of higher-order thinking skills. It does not mean teaching junior high and high school students using one’s college class notes. And it does not mean assigning professional-level materials as “ancillary” or “supplemental” readings.

It does mean taking students from where they currently are, making them stretch (but not too much at once), and guiding them slowly onward, as they are ready and as far as you can take them.

Let’s start putting those cookies on the bottom shelf!

(Excerpts from Teacher: Teaching and Being Taught by Dennis L. Peterson, 2017, pp. 208, 215)

Copyright (c) 2018