Meeting a New Friend on a Woodland Walk

We met in the woodland trails, yesterday, the day before Thanksgiving. He wore the familiar black and sweatshirt with orange lettering—“West Warwick Wizards.” I called out, to him, because West Warwick is my alma mater, too, a big football school that has won more than its fair share of football championships over the years. Quite simply, West Warwick is football. We shared history.

With extended hands, we introduced ourselves. His name was Mike and we figured he was one of my father’s last classes at West Warwick High School—last before he retired. I told him I was the daughter of West Warwick principal John J. Kelly which set off a flurry of memories.

He told me of the time that he and a buddy (2 seniors who were athletes on the team) were consumed in pre-game jitters and they went careening down the hallways, then into the library where they crashed into the librarian. She was tousled but not seriously hurt. Theirs was youthful exuberance gone awry. My father punished them by telling them they wouldn’t be getting their yearbooks (they’d be held) and they’d miss Class Day (a huge loss). He told them, furthermore, he should punish them by making them miss their graduation.

They and their parents challenged the edicts. Said they were too harsh for boys that had done nothing wrong for the 3 years prior. The boys had had perfect behavior up to that one incident.

I listened and understood. After all, I was a teacher for 30 years and I’m a parent.

I told Mike how I used to sit in the auditorium before one of my father’s addresses and worry about what he’d say. On once memorable occasion, he’d convened all of us to hear what we couldn’t do after the football games: “No one is to go to Turcotte’s Hall” (a place where dancing and drinking took place after victories). Apparently, merchants in town were complaining. Students seated all around me mumbled angrily: “Who does Ol’ Chrome-Dome think he is (my Dad was bald), telling us where we can go when we’re out of school? He’s not our parent.” No, he wasn’t their parent but he was mine.  I’d slouch down in my seat, hoping they’d not make the connection.

The story and my reference to “Ol’ Chrome Dome” got Mike to double over, in laughing.

I told him how I got sent to the principal’s office by Miss Davis, our French teacher, for misbehavior, once, and my father sent me back, saying “Colleen, I don’t have time to talk…Go back to class.” When he asked me, later, at dinnertime why I didn’t tell him I was there for discipline, I simply said “Because you didn’t ask.”

Mike laughed again. He knew Miss Davis…He could envision all.

I told Mike that if he thought Mr. Kelly was a stern taskmaster at school, he should imagine living with him 24/7. Told him no boys every came to take me out on a date, in high school. Just too risky (at least I thought that was the reason). We laughed again.

We parted on that trail, after a lovely exchange of 30 minutes or so, laughing often, against a backdrop of woodland color. Mike said he’d be going to the football game the next day, cheering for West Warwick High School. He continually pressed my hand (and Paul’s) in handshake because he was so grateful for our conversation, said it brought him back all those years. I could tell—he was greatly touched.

And I knew: There’s really nothing like the West Warwick connection. We don’t forget.

It’s just lovely to meet a fellow on a random path, one who shares memories of a time way back and the people who affected them.

I am grateful…..

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