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Blogs by Robert A. Mills

PEER PRESSURE
11/6/2010 6:11:44 AM    [ Flag as Inappropriate ]

Writer’s Cramp: A few readers wrote to sat that my Op-Ed blog last week erroneously stated that election day was “Tuesday, November 4.” Upon review, I saw only “Tuesday, November 2.” How some received copies that stated November 4 is an unsolved mystery. Perhaps Lamont Cranston clouded their minds with an indelible “4” because that is the date in 2008 Barack Obama was elected the 44th president of the United States—as good an explanation as any.

PEER PRESSURE

They say, “Behind every great man there is a great woman.” I don’t know who “they” are, but I think that’s only half right. Better “they” would boast that “behind every man of any consequence there is usually a great man or great woman.”

That makes more sense.

All of us, not matter how we turn out, are what we are and we’re usually what we’ve become because of someone else. And these benefactors have appeared at various times, normally when we least expected them. I call them the “Defiance Hurlers.”

Others call them “centers of influence”—peers or mentors. I remember most of mine fondly, and as I grow older, I think of them quite often.

One of the earliest was Elizabeth Schnabel, my 4th and 5th grade teacher at Sumner Elementary in Buffalo. She was the first person who ever suggested I might someday, with luck, become a writer; she taught me all I really know about grammar and composition. Her flaming red hair, Irish cream skin and aqua blue eyes of moist passion helped, I’m certain. I was ten or eleven at the time, and the word “testosterone” had just entered my psyche or bloodstream (or both,) but not yet my vocabulary.

Baileys Irish Cream was not marketed until 1974 and this was 1942 and ’43, but I had always been something of a prophet. Mrs. Schnabel later became "Anna Theresa Tortortetti, née Pauline Mooney," in my first novels. I never saw her again after leaving Sumner, and if she is still alive, I’d peg her currently between 99 and 105.

Then there was the scoutmaster at Troop 15. I can’t remember his name (he had remnants of white hair and skin the color of bleached leather,) but he taught me how to swim at the local “Y” —- not very well, I admit, but well enough that I never knowingly drowned (nor did I make Eagle, though I came close.)

Speaking of my time in Scouting, there was a fellow recruit named Charlie Sircusa, a kid the same age as I, who was already a master musician. He was not tall but had perfect posture and curly black hair. A profound influence on me, I wanted to be just like him. I never was; my musical talents were nonexistent compared to his. I would sit quietly for hours and, enthralled, listen to him play the piano.

A major mentor came along in my senior year in high school. His name was Harold Cowles; he taught English, Chorus and Voice. Because I stuttered and had a terrible “Tobacco Road” accent, he forced me to absorb all the Shakespeare I could while listening to recordings by Olivier, Richardson, Gielgud and Barrymore. Once I mastered the nuances of their deliveries (sort of, about .03%) I never stuttered again and soon won auditions for jobs in broadcasting, even at eighteen. I began to fantasize I might have a drama career in my future (it was not in the cards) or at least worldwide acclaim as a pop vocalist (the ability to stay “on key” might have helped.)

My greatest mentor, however, was my uncle, my father’s youngest brother, a skinny waif fourteen years my senior, named Rollin W. Mills. The “W” stood for Wilson, who was the only worthwhile president my grandparents could tolerate between 1918 and 1931. If FDR hadn’t come along when he did, I don’t know what would have happened to us -—
we’d probably have wound up living in cardboard boxes in the Zerbiadition (our town’s Hooverville.)

Of course, as did most families back then, we all lived under one roof in Ohio, and Uncle Rollin and I, owing to his uncanny sense of humor that so closely paralleled the one I wanted for myself, were inseparable -— the clichés that jump to mind are “two peas in a pod,” “birds of a feather,” “two of a kind,” “brothers under the skin”, “soulmates”, “partners in crime” -—
awrgrotgwrhft, excuse me, while I retch all over the keyboard.

After he graduated from high school, Rollin, an extremely talented artist who could draw anything, got a job as a freehand sign painter at Miller’s Drug Store in our hometown (this was eons before computers and PhotoShop software.) Rollin’s unique price signs were works of art for which he was given studio space in a tiny storeroom in the back of the drug store and paid a fulltime salary of $11.27 a week.

As the Great Depression wore on, my father was “transferred” by his employer to Dover, then Kenton, then Youngstown (all in Ohio), then Watertown, Syracuse and Buffalo (in NY), then Norfolk (VA), then back to NY: Rochester. Thanks to this nomadic life, I attended eleven different schools in twelve years -— talk about a well-abounded education!

Somewhere along the way, we got involved in World War II and Rollin, having gained three or four pounds, was drafted into the U.S. Army.

Uncle Rollin went in as a private and was mustered out five years later as a PFC. He was sent overseas but he never saw action (my “action” was mastering the intricacies of V-Mail; I set records with 143 pieces a month to him!)

Rollin’s influence over me never diminished as my father’s traveling salesman’s escapades flourished. The happy-go-lucky uncle finished high school in time to get married, then drafted -— and early on, he “hit the sawdust trail” and became a pillar of the church.

When he returned home a not-so-conquering hero, he was once again hired by Miller’s Drug Store, but his burning ambition was to enroll in Bob Jones University and become a full-fledged minister of the Gospel, a sort of modern day Elmer Gantry without the lust and scandal. I think the Army confirmed his status as a conscientious objector.

One summer he finagled a job for me as an apprentice clerk at Miller’s. I had no interest in a retail pharmaceutical career, but I was between semesters and the extra money (28¢ an hour) plus proximity to my mentor seemed like a good idea. Things went along quite well until the fourth day (Thursday) of employment when an anxious young farmer came in and demanded, soto voce, “Gimme a pack o’ rubbers, kid.”

Maybe it was the negative connotation of “kid”, but I pretended to have no idea what he was talking about (actually, I wasn’t entirely sure,) so I dutifully went to the notions counter and got him a box of rubber bands. Old man Miller saw no humor in this (not that I had seriously intended any,) but my job at the apothecary shop went downhill until payday (Saturday) when I was let go.

Sometime during the war, Rollin had become, as he fancied himself, a student of theology and Bible history, and that summer I sat and listened to his exhortations until I was, as only a teenager can be, mesmerized to the point where I too wanted to go to Bob Jones University and follow in his steps.

I was so serious about this that I somehow earned the embarrassing nickname “Rev” during my last year in high school.

That absurd nomenclature -— plus the opportunity to advance quickly in the broadcast business -— was the wake up call I needed. I never did attend Bob Jones University, but I followed (and secretly admired) the career of my ecclesiastically endowed uncle.

He and his wife Helen produced several offspring, and their firstborn, Billy, grew up to earn a college degree and go into academia in South Carolina; Billy, like me, is now retired, and we correspond occasionally. Linda Sue, who came later, stayed home and took care of her parents in their dotage, while daughter Janet went on to live a somewhat normal life, or at least as normal as any of us.

Rollin passed away several years ago, and I unexpectedly spoke briefly at his funeral; his final flock was in Liverpool NY, and that is where he is buried. I was proud to have been asked to say a few words from the very pulpit in the Liverpool Baptist Church where he had influenced and changed so many lives during his prestgious decades -— but I was ill-prepared and somewhat vague and have wished many times since I could do it all over again.

I would tell them in no uncertain terms that Rollin W. Mills was the great man behind this fumbling fool.


Copyright©2010 by Robert A. Mills


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From Darkness to Light by Dr Audrey Coatesworth by Audrey Coatesworth

The poems in 'From Darkness to Light' by Dr Audrey Coatesworth have a commoon theme of suffering and pain. However,most of the poems move the reader along a path of hope...  
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