Cautiously emerging from Covid protocol practices, I was recently blessed to reconnect with a former teacher/colleague Gordon Anderson aka, Mr. A.—Gordy—Sir Gordo, who belongs to a pantheon of gifted math teachers. He fully understands that math can be a daunting discipline, especially for right-brain dominant students. He has an uncanny ability to help students make the necessary inter-cerebral connections that form the language of mathematics. However, perhaps more importantly, he assumed that it was his personal/professional responsibility to mathematically prepare each one of his students to succeed in the next phase of his/her life, academically or other. He became a legend during his tenure at SHHS.
We are both retired and so it was natural for us to wax nostalgically about the “good-old-days” that are certainly old but were not necessarily good.
In 1964, the salary of my first teaching job at Middletown High School was $4,800 per year. My take home check was $350 per month. This meant that I was paid less than $3.00 per hour for teaching classes of 30 students in biology and chemistry. Understandably, it was necessary for most young teachers to work at summer jobs to survive financially. I was able to learn carpentry skills and spent many summers building additions to friends’ homes.
After moving to St. Helena, I accepted a job on a friend’s home, seven miles east of town in the mountains above Lake Hennessey. While we were working together, we could hear two college boys (Adam and Scott) who were hired to repurpose an old barn on the neighboring property. There was much laughter and banter between the squeaks and creaks of the barn boards being dismanteled.
One day however, the laughter was interrupted when one of the boys screamed, “Call 911. Can you guys come over to help? We have a crisis here!” We quickly dropped our tool belts and raced to the scene of the plea for help.
As we arrived at the barn, Adam was frantically pointing at Scott’s foot. Scott stood perfectly still, with a sheepish grin on his face. I knelt down and what I saw nearly caused my stomach to lurch and my heart leapt into my throat. Evidently it was noontime and the boys were working on the 2nd floor. They decided to prove their athletic prowess by leaping eight feet down to the lower floor.
Scott’s foot was standing on a board and the point of a 16-penny spike was protruding out of the top of his work boot. My mind raced to find a solution. I mentioned that it would take half an hour for an EMT to arrive and we couldn’t transport Scott to the closest ER with a board nailed to his foot; he was not experiencing pain, so I thought we should investigate cautiously.
And then, in a sort of “out-of-body-experience,” I heard my voice say, “Hand me the crowbar!” Adam yelped!, “Are you crazy!? You are not going to pry the boot off, are you!?”
However, he quickly acquiesced and handed me the crowbar. I gently slid the prying edge under the toe of Scott’s boot. With every ounce of tenderness that I could muster, I lowered the lever an inch. No movement resulted. We all watched intently during another inch down. I think I saw the boot raise a bit. Another inch down and this time the boot moved noticeably. Scott’s eyes began to open wider. Meanwhile, my heart was pounding and my sweaty palms were trembling. The next inch downward proved to be the pivot point and the boot lurched off the offending spike.
I quickly unlaced the boot for removal. We all expected to see blood gushing out of the sock, but it was dry. However, as soon as we could see the nail hole in the sock, Scot began to roar with laughter. This was not superficial titter, but cathartic belly-laughter. The other three of us found nothing to laugh about and feared that he may be going into shock and becoming delirious. After too long of a pause, Scott stopped laughing long enough to begin to reveal the ongoing mystery.
He said, “When I was in high school, during showers after gym class, my classmates would look at my feet and laugh. I was embarrassed, but there was nothing I could do and here is the reason why.”
He removed his sock and revealed a classic case of “arachnodactyly.” It is a rare genetic disorder which produces exaggerated length of fingers and toes; ergo “spider fingers” or “spider toes.” Suddenly, it was the three observers’ turn to laugh with relief and react with a dollop of schizophrenic disbelief.
As I floated back to our work site, I mumbled aloud, “I think we just witnessed a minor miracle.”
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