Junior, that peach-fuzzed philosopher of Maple Street, who stands now head and shoulders taller than the mother who birthed him 17 years and change ago and eye to eye with his old man, got his ACT test results in the other day. His score was several points higher than The Observer's ACT rack up long and long ago, enough to make us damn proud of him, not to mention breathe a little sigh of relief. Between the tuba playing and his score, we're hoping he will be able to get a scholarship to one of the state's finer diploma mills or cow colleges, anything to get him that magic, door-opening piece of paper without piling on the lead-lined student loan debt that seems to hang about the dreams of so many of his generation like a boat anchor.
When we heard his score, The Observer was taken back to our own high school days, getting such education as was doled out at good ol' Paron High, Home of the Lions, where you could pitch a tennis ball underhand from one end of the main high school building to the other. The Observer, who had a vague sense that we probably needed to go to college but no clue at how to get there (especially given that we were then holding down a generous 2.1 GPA), had resigned our self to working a few years on Pa's roofing crews while we figgered it all out. We signed up to take the ACT for the proverbial shits and giggles, mostly just to see what would happen.
As if that bad attitude wasn't enough to signal failure, the day before we were scheduled to show up at Benton High School with our sharpened No. 2 pencils and scratch paper to take the test, The Observer and our baby brother were on the way to school in our beloved 1963 Chevrolet with the pearl white paint and the flashy rims when we topped a rise, dropped a tie rod end — one of those greasy, invisible parts that delivers your deft and loving touch on the steering wheel to the front tires — and careened headlong into a stand of old-growth timber. The car had settled into what would have been a spectacular barrel roll when it hit a pin oak bigger around that a No. 9 washtub squarely in the passenger side door, a blow hard enough to crush the top and bend the car in a U. How the hell the two of us survived it, we'll never know, but we did. Our brother, however, bears a mangled scar on his forehead that he'll carry to his grave, and which he regularly and successfully uses to guilt trip his older brother.
The next morning, beat to hell, half The Observer's back covered in a bruise that snaked from shoulder to tailbone, we limped to the world's hardest chair at Benton High School and took that test. Pulled a respectable score, too. Not great by a long shot, but respectable. Respectable enough that we walked around convinced for a while that there had been a mix up between our test and some kid who actually made the effort. Whatever the case, the good folks at UALR were kind enough to extend a tuition-only scholarship, dependent on maintaining a 3.5 GPA for all four years, a number so stratospherically high that we expected it to be a one-semester and done deal. The Observer, however, is nothing if not greedy for other folks' money, so we buckled down, held on and kept that sucker for a full ride. If we can do it, so can you, pilgrim.
We've got our hopes set pretty high that Junior can as well. Strange how things can change over a number, ain't it? The older we get, though, the more we realize how quickly a fortune, a future, a lifetime can pivot on the tiniest of things. Living proof right here, sons and daughters.