Sometimes, Chaos Evolves Into Order
by David Norris
A child fortunate enough to be born into an educated family is headed for college the moment that first breath is taken. Parents with an education know that college is about more than learning something that will make money, that it is about more than career, that it is about seeing the world through a whole new set of eyes. If I ever have a child, that little boy or girl will be headed to a university somewhere some day as soon as those two little eyes open.
My momma was the first person in my family to finish high school, and then I and my sister followed in her steps, but for some reason, I am the only person in my family to ever go to college, to get bitten by that “education bug.” I wasn’t headed there, but an odd set of circumstances set me on that path; perhaps it was entropy.
The summer that Pop died, I broke my ankle playing football while going around left end. I had a bad habit of cutting back between end and tackle, something my coach repeatedly had bashed me for doing, and just when I cut back, I turned my ankle and a great big tackle weighing over 200 pounds came down on my shoulders. I never played football again, and I never went to Vietnam. Complications evolved and eventually I ended up over in Roanoke in a hospital. Momma’s husband called to tell me, “Pop died today.” I cried. I was sad, but at the same time, I knew he was better off gone. He had already slipped down to about 85 pounds when I went off to the hospital. One night when I was changing his diapers about 3 in the morning, on crutches myself, he had said, “Honey, I wish I could die.” Russell later told me, “He left peacefully.”
So it was at this time that I went on up to Indian Draft Road in Callaghan, Virginia, to live with my mother and Russell. This meant that I had to transfer to the new county school, a big rival of my former team. Had I not been injured that year, I could have stayed at the old place on an athletic scholarship, but that big ole boy who came down on my shoulders had taken care of that, or to be really honest about it, my own hard-headedness that wouldn’t listen to the coach had brought it on me.
Down at Alleghany County High School, I somehow found myself taken under the wings of two fellows in the senior class. They became my advisors and taught me things about life on the other side of the tracks. You see, they came from what I called at the time “rich families.” Kenny taught me to dress and Dee became my academic advisor. And let me tell you, I needed some mentors about this time in my life. I was running the roads 5 nights out of 7, coming home drunk as a skunk every night. I never took a book home with me to study for an exam, and the only homework I ever did was in study hall. By my senior year, both Kenny and Dee had graduated and moved on, and I was sinking deeper into this self-destructive pattern.
Then Christmas vacation came, and Dee came home from the University of Virginia to visit his parents and friends. We were out riding around one night in his father’s Rambler Station Wagon, drinking beer and talking, when he said to me, “So, where are you going to college?”
I nearly choked on that Budweiser. The thought of continuing my education had never even crossed my mind. Turning in my seat to look at him, I answered, “I ain’t going to college; I’m going to work at the Paper Mill.”
He replied, “Yes, you’re going to college.”
“Why do you say that?!” I asked, the hairs on my neck bristling.
“Because you’re too smart not to.”
* * *
Those three little sentences changed my life. No one had ever told me that, none of my counselors, none of my teachers, no one in my family. Dee got me to thinking, and by that following Monday I had decided to give it a shot. With graduation looming only a few months in the future, I actually started to take some of my textbooks home for the first time, and the teachers I asked for advice surprised me with their enthusiasm. However, none of the schools I applied to accepted me. I was turned down by 100% of the universities where I had submitted an application, as I had taken no college prep courses and was about a C student at best, in everything except English. As a consequence, I ended up at the little community college that had recently opened just outside the city limits of Clifton Forge. They had an open-door policy, which meant they would let me in, but I would have to prove myself once I had gained admittance. Even though I had convinced myself that I was the dumbest person to ever walk through the front door of a college and doomed to failure, I was going to give it my best shot.
I made a schedule of the 7 days in a week, and I filled in the boxes from 7 a.m. until 11 p.m. with my schedule. I applied myself academically for the first time in my life and started getting hooked on it. I had hated high school, but I loved college. I still remember what it felt like when my professor, standing in the front of a classroom, looked at me and asked, “What is your opinion, Mr. Norris?”
When my first term ended, Dee called me long distance from Charlottesville to ask how I had done.
“I don’t know for sure,” I said. “I don’t know how to read these numbers!”
“Just tell me what are.”
“3.75, is that good?”
That sounds preposterous to me now, that I couldn’t even read my grade slip, but a lot of water has run over the dam since then.
I didn’t know what I wanted to major in, and no one in my family could offer any advice, so I went to the richest person in the family. I asked her, “Aunt Dorothy, I’m gonna go to college, and I don’t know what I want to major in.”
“David, if I were a young man, I’d major in business, because if you study business, you can always make money.”
So on that day I became a business major. Two years later, I applied to one of the top schools in Virginia on a Monday and was accepted by Thursday of the same week.
As Old Charley would say, “It’s funny how that stuff works.” Sometimes, chaos evolves into order.
Want to read more of David’s writing at USADEEPSOUTH? Click these links:
Sometimes We Just Have To Let Them Go
55 Minutes Past the Hour
Harlan Martin’s 7 Turkeys
Cherry Blossoms and Our Lives
No Durian Allowed
David has more great stories listed in our USADS Articles pages.
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