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How I gambled on a snowstorm and lost

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Posted: Tuesday, December 11, 2012 12:00 am

"No need to worry. Christmas vacation is coming. I'll catch up on my chemistry assignments then," I assured myself.

In the early 1960s, I attended Longfellow — a private Washington, D.C.-area school, which later became a second campus for Sidwell Friends. President Obama's children, along with Vice President Joe Biden's grandkids, now attend there.

This might be a dream place for some, but it was a competitive nightmare for me.

Parents put out big bucks for this place because they want their kids to have all of the academic advantages. Anything other than an Ivy League future is simply unacceptable.

But I was originally a California kid, not a descendant of the Daughters of the American Revolution. This put me somewhat out of my element — sort of like Larry the Cable Guy at a debutante ball wearing a spaghetti-stained tuxedo.

Being a laid-back left-coaster, I was not raised on hoards of homework. But at this school, it was a regular routine. Unfortunately in my junior year, things got out of hand.

With some of my classes, I could get by with a minimal amount of effort. English literature was easy. Skimming the reading and with the help of outlines, I put much of it on the back burner. History was another subject in that category.

However, chemistry was a different story. Failure to complete tri-weekly assignments was a continuous problem.

The instructor was a retired Air Force chemist. Today, he reminds me of the "Old Man" character on History Channel's "Pawn Stars." His teaching style easily bored students, and consequently they often got into mischief. Squirt gun fights were part of that activity when the grandfatherly figure turned to face the blackboard.

The difference between the other kids and myself was that they were getting work done. One of my friends warned me that I was closing my eyes to the consequences. But as long as those effects were not happening at that moment, they were simply ignored. I suppose it's something like the reaction of most people to today's national debt.

Then, just after Thanksgiving, the white-haired Colonel wanted to have a little chat. It was a wake-up call. Eighteen missing assignments would be due right after Christmas vacation. If they weren't completed, I would fail the class.

The first weekend of the winter break came, and I simply let it go by. After all, there were still 15 days left and plenty of time. Monday rolled around and the snow came. That brought a number of fun activities my way. There was the church choir performance — singing with my girlfriend. Then there was shopping, Christmas day (of course, I can't do anything on a "family holiday"), New Year's football and, well, you can guess the rest.

Panic didn't set in until the evening of Jan. 1. More than two weeks had gone by, and nothing had been done. But there was still an ace up my sleeve. The WRC-TV channel 4 weather guy was predicting six to eight inches of snow that night. If it happened, schools would be closed, and I would be saved!

I went to bed — confident that an apocalyptic dawn had been postponed.

The next morning, I awakened early. Couldn't wait to peek through the Venetian blinds and give thanks to my snowflake saviors. But alas, there was nothing!

I cursed the weatherman, as if divine prophecy had been unfulfilled. My feelings were like a wounded antelope in the eyes of a cold, hungry tiger.

Dad was livid when he eventually got my report card. I knew my days at the uppity private school were numbered, and my senior year would soon be set in a public facility. Of course, Pop couldn't be blamed for his decision. I had gambled and lost.

It seems like the story for most of my Christmas vacations were all pretty much the same. They were always there to provide precious time and opportunity to put grades back on par. But then, somehow...

Steve Hansen is a Lodi writer.

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