Saturday, January 21, 2017

It's the Little Things

Now and then I wonder how I got from there to here, there being where I started in life and here being, well, here, and I got to thinking about Bobby Gene Tyus.  It all started when we were in the first grade.

We probably called him Bobby Gene in those days because it's Texas, after all, but he's Bob now and has been for a long, long time.  We started first grade together and became fast friends.  When we were in second grade, he moved away.  I didn't forget him, though, and when he moved back when we were in the eighth grade, we were instant friends again.  And that's when the first life-changing event happened.

In eighth grade I'd fallen in with a kind of smart-aleck crowd, the kind that sits on the back row of the class and makes clever remarks and annoys the teachers no end.  In those days we got grades for "Attitude" and "Conduct."  Let's just say that I wasn't doing well at all in those areas.

It took Bob about two days to figure this out.  He took me aside and told me that I was acting like an idiot.  I knew he was right, but I didn't know what to do about it.  He did.  He told me that I wasn't the person I was pretending to be and that he wanted me to move to the front row and sit by him.  So I did.  All my grades improved, and I felt a lot better about myself.  Lesson learned.

I learned a lot of other lessons from Bob, too, but here's the one I want to mention.  It happened when we were juniors, probably the spring of 1958.  We were talking about English class, and Bob mentioned that he couldn't remember the author of a story we'd read.  I told him the name.  "That was quick," he said.  "I know who wrote everything in the book," I told him.

I didn't think anything of it.  Maybe I thought everybody knew who wrote everything in the book.  Not everything had been assigned, of course, but I'd read everything anyway.  Didn't everybody?

Apparently not.  Bob got out his English book and started going through the table of contents, skipping around, asking me who wrote this or that.  Now and then he'd switch off and give me the author's name and ask what he or she'd written.  I always got it right.  Bob was amazed.

I have to say this about Bob.  He was a guy who was a math whiz.  Give him a problem, and he could solve it for x, y, and z while I was still agonizing over where the equal sign went.  He could explain the binomial theorem if you asked him.  I thought that was a special talent.  Bob pointed out that I had a talent, too, although it had never occurred to me.  It might've been that day that I decided on my college major.

Bob and I went on to The University of Texas at Austin, where we remained friends.  He majored in math.  I majored in English.  He taught math in community college in California and Washington.  I taught English in Texas.  We're still in touch.  He's still my friend.  And it all started in first grade.

I'm still not sure how I got from there to here, but I know it would've been a different journey if it hadn't been for Bobby Gene.

13 comments:

James Reasoner said...

Wonderful story.

Jeffrey Meyerson said...

Great story, though it's hard to see you as a back row cut up.

Deb said...

Great story--and it's so wonderful that you're still friends with someone who helped set you on your career path! I think we all have moments of "you mean everybody doesn't know how to [insert talent/gift you thought was nothing special here]?" For me it was in my 10th grade English class when we were reading TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD and we were given 20 minutes of silent reading time each day. After the second day, I told my teacher I was finished. "Finished the chapter? Well just start the next one and read ahead." "No. I've finished the book." I'd taken the book home and read at night--didn't everyone do that?

Jerry House said...

We all need a Bobby Gene in our lives.

Richard Robinson said...

That's a good one, Bill. I'll say again that I hope you're putting all these pieces into an autobiography. Boy, I'd love to read it!

As I remember it, seats were always assigned alphabetically, so as an R I was always near the back somewhere. There was a girl I didn't like much, a real smarty-pants, always with her hand up and showing off, and her last name was Roth, so she was always sitting near me and showing me up.

Karin said...

What a great friend to have.

Don Coffin said...

Very nice story. I particularly like that you are still friends. By best friend from about age 4 until our senior year in HS, when something happened, I don't even remember what...we had essentially no contact from then until just a couple of years ago, when our 50th HS reunion was looming...but the old friendship has not re-emerged...

Cap'n Bob said...

Another of the Great Bobs of History.

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Friendships can be inspiring. Thanks for sharing this lovely anecdote, Bill.

George said...

Having friends who are willing to take you aside and tell you, "You're being an idiot," are more valuable than gold!

Jackie said...

One of the integral pieces of "the reading process" that became a big part of literacy in the 90's was collecting stories. We had the students keep journals where they noted things they might write about in the future like overheard conversations, news items and memories.

This was a great memory. Bobby would be a fine addition to your future memoirs or the next Sheriff Rhodes book.

Jackie

Anonymous said...

You're a great writer. You should write a book. I have no trouble seeing you as a back row cut-up. Thanks for the memory.

sas

Seepy Benton said...

As I always say, if you know a mathematician, you'll have "sum fun!" ;-)