Unless you are in the fun house at the carnival, mirrors don’t lie. I am reminded of that every morning, as a Gillette Sensor razor rakes swaths of Edge shaving cream and mostly-salt-and-scant-pepper whiskers off my face. And during that just-before-sunrise routine—staring back at me—is the reflection of a 69-year-old man who can’t believe that 70 candles will be on his next birthday cake, if he’s lucky.
Saturday morning was different.
Thanks to my friend Will Bacon, I was thinking more junior high than senior citizen. In their Atlanta home, he and Angie were going through a spring-cleaning, decluttering exercise and came across a photo of one of his mom’s eighth-grade classes. With a click on my computer, I was catapulted back to 1962 and standing with three rows of awfully young-looking students.
Over on the right, in the back, was Will’s mom, Nanelle Bacon. Until she died four years ago, she never failed to ask me: “Do you have your homework?” I was always quick to reply—as I did back then—“Yes, ma’am.”
Years ago, fire destroyed the old high school on East Plum Street which had become our junior high. The smell lingers even today, but I’m not talking about the smoldering rubble. With the least prodding, such as a dusty photo, my nostrils recall the almost sweet scent of the red sawdust-like sweeping compound the custodians sprinkled and then pushed with a broom across the oil-soaked pine floors.
At the same time, I can hear those floors squeak under the heavy steps of well-polished wingtips, worn by our teacher’s husband, James E. Bacon. His principal’s baritone voice could make our teenage world skid to a stop. I will never forget the day I discovered that behind his often stern demeanor and tucked beneath his starched-white-shirt-and-black-necktie façade was a generous heart.
French was a popular eighth-grade class, but your seventh-grade English teacher had to recommend you. Mrs. Peterson balked at my request, so I asked whether we could discuss the matter with the principal. When we got to his office, she said, “Mr. Bacon, this young man barely has a grasp of English. I don’t know how he could possibly handle a foreign language.”
Mr. Bacon pulled his glasses down to the end of his nose. Peering over the black frames, he asked, “Son, do you really want to take French?”
“Yes, sir!” I exclaimed.
Readjusting his glasses, Mr. Bacon said, in his commanding voice, “Mrs. Peterson, I believe we should give the boy a chance.”
Fifty-six years later, yes, I know what some of you are thinking.
Mrs. Peterson might have been right.