Monday, November 05, 2007

Borrowing a Meme

Actually, I'm not sure you can borrow a meme, since it is something that's transmitted. And what I'm actually doing is probably closer to outright thievery, but here goes. The intrepid Uncle Ben of Hammerswing75 fame ( covered an idea a few days back - go read his treatment of it first by hitting the link I provided. Go ahead, I'll wait.

Okay, so now that you've done that, we can begin. The idea is to talk about what you were doing 10, 20 and 30 years ago. For a younger guy like Ben, the 30 year question doesn't necessarily have a lot of detail; in fact, he's young enough that probably a fair amount of what he was doing 30 years ago may have involved copious use of Fischer-Price gear. But not me; since I'm a bit (ahem) older than Ben, I have an answer for what was shaking in 1977. So here goes.

Ten years ago: Mrs. D and I were living in Shoreview. Our son had turned 1 at the end of 1996 and we were house-sitting for a guy who was, at the time he left, engaged to Mrs. D's sister. The guy worked for a large construction company based in Minneapolis and was working on a long term job in Anchorage, so we got to live in his townhouse for about 2 1/2 years. During the course of that time, Mrs. D's sister broke off the engagement with this guy, which made things a smidge uncomfortable for us, but we'll let that pass. The thing was, the job in Anchorage was ending, so we needed to move. We decided to buy a house, which we found here in lovely New Brighton. And we've been here ever since. That was a pretty big transition.

Twenty years ago: I was on the move then, too. I began the year working for my alma mater, sainted Beloit College, as the sports information director (or, as one of my friends put it, the Minister of Sports Propaganda). This was a cool job, but in those days the college paid you in dryer lint, so there wasn't much point in staying. Like a lot of young guys, I decided it was time to move to the big city to seek my fame and fortune. The City of the Big Shoulders, that is. So like so many other small town boys of the sort that Sandburg referenced, I moved to Chicago. Once there, I moved in with a couple of my college buddies who were living in an apartment in Oak Park, a suburb best known for being the home of Frank Lloyd Wright and Ernest Hemingway. Papa referred to Oak Park as a "city of wide lawns and narrow minds," but it was a fairly congenial place and I ended up living there for five years. As the year went on, I went from having two roommates to none, as my buddies left for other places. Somehow, three months after I'd moved there, I was in possession of an apartment all by myself, with only a temp job and a $500 phone bill that one of my roommates had left behind. Illinois Bell did not take kindly to this and cut off the phone service, so I lived there without a phone. But eventually I found a better job. And the next year Mrs. D came into my life.

Thirty years ago: another year of transition. I graduated from the eighth grade and became a 13-year old high school freshman. 13 is a strange enough age under any circumstances, but because I was already in high school, it was tough. Intellectually it was no issue, but socially and emotionally it was a mess. I had figured out that I liked girls; in fact, by then I'd figured out that I liked them a lot. But when you're 13, sporting a pretty good case of acne, bad horn-rimmed glasses and thousands of crazed, hormone-fueled emotional outbursts, you don't exactly cut a dashing figure with the ladies. And being in a Catholic high school in the 1970s was enough to cause anyone to have a severe case of cognitive dissonance. A quick sketch: I was sitting in Sister Renita's Honors English class. Sister Renita was the best teacher I ever had, bar none. But she was also the most intimidating teacher I ever had, too. We used to say she ran her class the way Mao ruled China. One of the students in the class was a cheerleader and she was wearing her cheerleading outfit on this day. I was half daydreaming, half admiring this cheerleader's budding feminine form from across the room when suddenly Sister Renita pounced on the cheerleader, who was staring somewhat absent-mindedly at the blackboard. Sister Renita asked the cheerleader her opinion about something we read - the Odyssey, I think - and the cheerleader started to answer in a very soft voice. Sister Renita shot a withering glance at the cheerleader and thus began the following exchange:

"Miss, what are you wearing?"
"My cheerleading outfit, Sister."
"You are a cheerleader, but you can't speak up in my class? How are you able to lead the cheers, miss?"
"I can, Sister."
"But in here, you're a mouse?"
"But Sister--"
"You know, I ought to lock you in that broom closet and see if you can scream your way out. Maybe that will teach you how to speak up in class."

The rest of the class stared at Sister Renita, mouths agape. I was amazed and almost wanted to go over and offer comfort to the cheerleader, maybe give her a big hug. Not that I had any ulterior motive beyond the milk of human decency, of course. But Sister had her reasons for this exchange - she wanted the girls to be strong in their opinions, to not be mousy, to share their thoughts with the same enthusiasm that the boys did. And it worked. The cheerleader in question did very well in Sister Renita's class. And the demanding standards that Sister Renita maintained benefited everyone who was in that room. The tough teachers are the ones you remember, because they are the ones who care.

So what were you doing 10, 20 and 30 years ago? Go ahead, take the meme out for a spin.


Uncle Ben said...

Don't you worry a bit. I'm happy to share! Actually, I just plain forgot to name anyone at the end like you're supposed to with this kind of thing, so really you were just gently correcting my selfishness. ;)

Anonymous said...

10 years ago ... living in Appleton, working at St. Mary Central and getting ready to fly to China to adopt our first daughter, Gwen.

20 years ago ... In the midst of the first and only courtship in my lifetime with the current Mrs. Miller. Working as a sports scribe for the world-famous Oshkosh Northwestern. And, slowly but surely, beginning to add at least some weight to my scrawny 6-foot-1 frame.

30 years ago ... Frosh at the best school in the country -- Appleton Xavier. Getting ready to try out for the freshmen basketball team under coach Mike Bates. I recall hitting a leaner in the lane during tryouts and coach Heideman yelling from the top of the bleachers, "Who hit that shot." Somebody replied, "Miller." I was wondering if he thought it was my older brother, Mike, when someone else shouted, "The skinny freshmen." I knew I had made the team after that second comment. Oh, one last thing, I was still basking in the bright sunshine of Marquette's 1977 title team several months earlier. Jim (the Cloud Piercer) Dudley ... live forever.

Anonymous said...

10 years in Appleton, doing color commentary on radio broadcasts of Valley area basketball games.

20 years ago...coaching Xavier girls in the state championships.

30 years ago...attending Wayland Academy and being the only wrestler in state to have worn a mask in a bout.

Mark said...

Best part was, you definitely didn't need a mask. Thanks for sharing, good sir!

Mills, at every step of the way, you were making great choices. Especially in courtship.

Anonymous said...

Pat read that comment and said, "Aww ... Aww ... Aww. I always liked Mark Heuring."

Kudos. And she reminds me it's "frightening" and certainly not "freightening" ... from the other post.

Anonymous said...

Mills at 6'1"? Do you have an afro now?

Anonymous said...

6-1 since 11th grade.