Iron Mountain ski jump

Iron Mountain ski jump

Tuesday, May 14, 2019


In high school, I was class president three years. I was principal bassoonist in the band and orchestra. I was editor of the newspaper. I was a power-hitting first baseman. I set the all-time record on comprehensive exams [1]. I set the all-time record on the entrance exam at the Potter & Brumfield factory, where they let us start manufacturing electrical relays as soon as we turned eighteen, whether we were out of school or not. [2]

 But the only thing my classmates remember is that I once tried to catch a run-away typewriter.

It was our freshman year, in typing class, with Mr. [Manfred]
Morrow. I had just been elected class president, so I thought of myself as very cool. But I had never before experienced a typewriter. These were manual Royals, with a strong reflex. The first time I hit the “return” button, the carriage raced from left to right with great alacrity. I was sure I had hit the wrong button, done something to ruin the typewriter.

I dove into the aisle between my seat and Linda Luttrell’s, ready to grab that thing when it came loose. I ended up on the floor, empty-handed, and I definitely was not just trying to get a better look at Linda’s legs, although that was the view I had once down there. The whole class laughed uproariously.

So much for being cool. How was a farm boy, for whom fire was advanced technology, who even plowed with horses instead of a tractor [3], to know about such things? In my world, if something flew fast from left to right, it came off.

Whenever the class of 1955 has gathered--the class Miss Grace Robb said was more closely involved with one another emotionally than any she ever saw in her many years of teaching--that is the only story they tell about me. They don’t mention my degrees, my awards, my books, my honors. They just laugh about the skinny farm boy and the run-away typewriter.

They have kept me humble all these years. Whenever I have been tempted to think of myself too highly, I remember Mike and Ann and Bob and Shirley and Hovey and Kenny and Bill and Jarvis and Wally and “Rowdy Russ,” who, of course, was not rowdy at all, and the rest of my 61 classmates laughing at the boy who was so dumb he tried to catch a typewriter.

John Robert McFarland

1] Until James Burch turned his exam in thirty minutes later. Comprehensive exams took all of one day, covering the material of all four years of high school.

2] Until James Burch took the exam the next week. I love James Burch. He was always willing to take the pressure off me. We called him “Wally,” after the Mr. Peepers character of Wally Cox.

3] We later had a tractor, an old, used orange Case. I keep a model of it on my book case.

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