A simple piece of paper

Rick Ryckeley's picture

Goofy Steve seemed so sure of himself. He stood alone in the middle of the street, nose to nose with Down the Street Bully Brad. Though he faced insurmountable odds of surviving the next few minutes, he didn’t waver from his conviction. Bully Brad had gone too far: he had teased his little sister, and it was time to put a stop to it.

We stood on the curb, a safe distance away as Goof had instructed us. Only Goof knew what was about to happen. It was one of the legendary moments that made Flamingo Street so magical.

Just recently something pried the memory of that fight from the corners of my mind. Now I too faced what seemed to be insurmountable odds. Last month at age 50, I decided to finish the only thing in my life I ever quit — college.

Many years ago, I was a brash young man who thought three years at Auburn University was enough. Not having a degree, a simple piece of paper, surely wouldn’t make a difference in my life. I left school behind and ventured out into the world, not knowing how truly wrong I was, how not having a degree would impact every aspect of my life.

At social gatherings or family reunions, I perceive an undercurrent of disappointment from my father. All his kids are college graduates, save one.

Eventually he stopped asking when I would go back and finish. Now, he rarely speaks of his shattered dream, but he doesn’t have to. I see it in his eyes. Over time, his disappointment became my own.

Unfortunately, I became so busy with married life and expecting The Boy that rejoining the college ranks wasn’t an option.

After several years of odd jobs, I answered the calling of firefighter. At the time, a degree wasn’t necessary. A desire to serve the community was.

Saving lives, minimizing the destructive impact from storms, and giving back to the community have become daily events for me during the last 23 years. Even though it has been incredibly rewarding, far beyond all of my dreams, I’ve recently measured my life and found it to be lacking — a simple piece of paper.

Goof had measured Bully Brad and found he too was lacking — muscle tone around the midsection. When he started to swing, Goof side-stepped, kicked him in the belly and ran like crazy to the adjacent vacant lot.

He disappeared into a small clump of trees, leaving Brad bent over and gasping. Before he could regain his breath, an object the size of a basketball arched high over the small trees that lined the front of the lot and landed at his feet. When the hornet nest split open, an angry black cloud swarmed out and covered one unsuspecting bully.

The fight that afternoon forever put an end to the bullying of Goof’s sister. Brad screamed down Flamingo Street, hornets and our laughter stinging him all the way. Goof had faced his fear. With a little creativity, he overcame it.

Now I’m doing the same by taking on-line classes to complete my degree. Unlike with Goof, though, there’s no bully for me to stand nose to nose with. No one to throw a hornet nest at. No one calling me names.

There’s just me. And I’ve beaten myself up for quitting long enough.

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