Everyone knows only a fool believes in happy endings

Everyone knows only a fool believes in happy endings
                        

Just when you think everything is smooth sailing and it’s all blue skies and honey-hued clouds, life has a nasty way of reminding you that while it might be your fantasy, reality resides elsewhere.

I’m not a big fan of the what-if game.

What if your mother had never met your father?

What if JFK had never gone to Dallas?

What if I’d never applied for admission to Notre Dame?

What if Hurricane Damian had decimated Emerald Isle?

It’s a fruitless pursuit of impossibilities, unless you believe in time travel, parallel universes or the writings of J.K. Rowlings.

I’ve been through enough disappointment to understand without reservation that only a fool believes in happy endings for everyone.

But I’m also enough of an optimist that maybe, perhaps, somehow, some way, I could be wrong.

It’s not like it would be the first time.

My kindergarten teacher was a lovely young woman who had everything you’d want in that key role.

She was kind.

She was intelligent.

She was patient.

She was perfect.

So, naturally, I hated her from day one.

Well, maybe “hated” is the wrong word.

As my brother is wont to say, hate is too much work.

Let me tone it down a bit.

I simply disliked her from the start.

Already, at the age of 5, I had a deep-seated mistrust for anything — or anyone — too good to be true.

I could blame it on Roman Catholicism, the faith of my father and my mother, because it’s wholly rooted in feeling guilty about things you had no control over, be it Original Sin or the Crucifixion.

Or I could lay it at the feet of Bill Mazeroski, whose ninth-inning home run in the seventh game of the 1960 World Series crushed my sporting spirit, having been a Yankee fan since the womb.

But I think the main reason I mistrusted my first-ever teacher is because she liked me from the beginning.

I have no idea how such a thing could have happened because I was a reluctant student and an even more suspicious little boy, the kind of kid any right-thinking educator ought to have relegated to the metaphoric scrap heap of ne’er-do-wells and incorrigibles that have existed in every classroom since one-room schoolhouses.

But despite my best efforts to disengage from organized learning in general and her kindergarten laboratory in particular, she was determined to make if not a scholar, then certainly a respectable student out of me.

I wonder if she’s still among the living.

She couldn’t have been a day over 25 that fall, which means she was born around 1935, making her ...

I have no idea.

I was always awful at math.

Which is not her fault.

As I recall, the curriculum involved finger painting, blocks, recess, the ABCs, lunch, numbers, nap time and memorizing the American presidents in order — with their vice presidents — before you ever dreamed about becoming a first-grader.

Well, I made up that last bit.

But thanks to that teacher, I think I could have done even that.

She was a remarkable lady, and I was lucky she was there for me.

I didn’t like to even think about disappointing her, which I did with regularity before it occurred to me that being smart wasn’t stupid.

Between my high school graduation in June 1973 and my first day of college, I had the great, good fortune to see a movie titled “The Paper Chase,” which was being shown at the Colfax Theater in downtown South Bend.

It’s set in Harvard Law School and focuses on a first-year student named James Hart, a Midwestern boy with a lot to learn.

About halfway through the film, Hart comes to Professor Kingsfield’s contract law class unprepared — having been preoccupied, among other distractions, with courting his teacher’s daughter — and there is a memorable collision of wills.

“The facts of the case?” asks Kingsfield, surveying the captive audience that his students provide. “Mr. Hart?”

Hart shrugs his shoulders and says something flip about having nothing to contribute to the discussion but if perchance he does have something to offer, he will raise his hand.

Kingsfield, his Sam Ervin-like eyebrows arched, reaches into his pocket and stares down at the young man from Minnesota.

“Mr. Hart,” he says, producing a coin, “here’s a dime. I want to call your mother and tell her there’s serious doubt about your becoming a lawyer.”

It is one of the best lines in the movie, one of my favorites in all of classic cinema. But it gets better.

Hart gathers up his books and makes for the exit before stopping and turning his gaze upon his professor.

“You,” Hart says bitterly, “are a son of a bitch, Kingsfield!”

The class erupts in disbelief before the craggy professor calls out, “Mr. Hart! You may take your seat. That is the most intelligent thing you’ve said all day.”

Hart smiles, tosses the dime into the air and pockets it.

And that’s our lesson for the week. Class dismissed.


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