Wednesday, October 18, 2006

David Beatty, me and what to do in life (1)

By Rick MacLean, June 19, 2006
Students graduating from local high schools, like their counterparts around the country, are fielding the question asked by parents everywhere.
“What are you going to do?”
Anxious over looming university and college bills, parents worry about their child’s future plans. Doctor, lawyer, teacher? Or do they want to make real money and start earning it fast in Alberta? Plumber, welder, electrician.
I’m one of those parents. Beautiful Daughter heads off to Mount Allison University in Sackville in the fall, roommate, laptop and shiny new apartment in tow.
I’ve managed to avoid asking her The Question so far, because I remember my answer. I was 27 by the time I had it - sort of - after trying and giving up half a dozen careers.
I was reminded of that story on a recent day when I stopped at Lake’s country store in southern New Brunswick, as I often do on the way here. It’s next to the water and quiet, except when the wind is howling off the Northumberland Strait, as it was that day.
The store owner was where he always is - if I’m not buying gas, which he pumped at 113.9 a litre that day. He was sitting in the corner of the crowded store, green ball hat on his head. His wife worked the cash register. An ice cream and a chocolate bar chewed up the better part of a $5 bill.
That kind of money would buy a night’s beer at the pub when I headed to Mount Allison University in the fall of 1975. Time at the pub was a rare treat for a serious-minded science student with ambitions of becoming a doctor, and a girlfriend starting Grade 12 at MVHS back home.
“Dalhousie University’s medical school adds 10 marks to whatever you get in your biology courses here,” my serious-minded faculty advisor, a chemistry professor, told me when we first met.
“It’s 15 marks in chemistry.”
I was a chemistry student. At least, I was a chemistry student for two years, until I looked up from an experiment one day and decided enough was enough. I switched to history.
I didn’t tell a lot of people. They might be disappointed. Mrs. Bell, the Grade 6 teacher at Harkins Elementary who could silence a classroom with a look, but brighten the room with a smile. Mrs. MacIver – “Driver MacIver” – who kept us in line and interested day after day at Harkins Junior High, back when it was a junior high.
Mr. McCarthy, the Grade 12, level one math teacher determined to ensure Brendan graduated from high school knowing the quadratic formula. Day after day Mr. McCarthy grilled him.
“X equals –b, plus or minus the square root of b squared minus 4ac, divided by 2a,” Brendan rattled off one day after half the class had spent the lunch hour drilling on him on it.
Mr. McCarthy stared.
Brendan stared back.
Mr. McCarthy smiled.
“Are you sure?”
It turned into a long hour.
I didn’t want to disappoint those teachers. But I didn’t want to be a doctor. I didn’t know what I wanted to be. I’d liked history in high school. Mr. Lohnes made it fun. I’d try that.
Back in the car outside the country store, I chewed on the ice cream and looked up the hill across the road. The battered blue half-ton was there. How long had he had that truck? It was nearly 4:30. Nearly supper time. His family might be there. Best not to stop in.
But, as Beautiful Daughter is prone to pointing out whenever I try to duck out of something we’ve done year after year, “it’s a tradition.”
I’d stopped by around this time of year for the past five years.
The car turned itself left as I pulled out of the parking lot. It turned left again into the green tunnel of trees, complete with foot-high grass growing in the middle of the dirt lane, leading to his house.
David Beatty opened the door.
Dave – Dr. Beatty, Professor Beatty back then – had been a legend at Mount A long before I arrived. His classes in the foreign policy of Canada and the United States were packed and everyone went. Missing a day was rare, even though no attendance was kept.
“Benjamin Franklin was the biggest son of a…”
“You should’ve been there today,” a pitiless classmate crowed the one day I missed Dave’s class that term. “Beatty came in, turned sideways, looked out of the corner of his eye, smirked and that’s how he started: Benjamin Franklin was…”
The guy hadn’t taken a note, but he rhymed off the entire lecture. From memory. And I’d missed it.

Next time: A friendship grows.


Blogger Phil Fine said...

Just stumbled across your comments on Prof. Beatty, Rick. I never knew that much about him, or that much about you. But I'm glad to hear that your daughter followed in your footsteps and went to Mount A.


Phil Fine
Jerusalem, Israel

6:28 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home