AN UNCOMMON YOUNG MAN
Roy Oliver (Senior Picture) 1957
My latest book, HALLEY, awarded 2015 Jefferson Cup Honor for Historical Fiction, awarded the Moonbeam Silver Medal for Young Adult Fiction, and awarded the 2016 Frank Yerby Award for Fiction. Available at: NewSouth Books: www.newsouthbooks.com/halley and Amazon.
As kids these days might say, many of my memories of my school days suck. Being one of the biggest and oldest in my class, because my parents didn’t bother to put me in school until I was well past eight, didn’t help. Neither did being poor and barefoot until 6th grade. Extreme shyness added to my problems. With all that, however, there were bright spots—a few teachers who took an interest, books which I soon found provided a world of adventure I could share with siblings, and several amazingly wonderful kids who took the trouble to be my friends.
First among these would have to be Hazel Brooks. Hazel was so well liked by everyone that just being her friend guaranteed me a certain degree of acceptance, Miss Albertson (Later, Mrs. Brackett) and Mr. Benson were two of the East Side School teachers who encouraged and praised me. Then, much later, there was Roy Oliver. I didn’t know Roy until 10th grade, when four Whitfield County Schools formed a consolidated high school. My school, East Side, was the poorest of the county. One of the high school teachers told me much later that East Side kids either sank or swam in that new school, and that it seemed sometimes more were sinking than swimming. In everything but math, I guess I was swimming, though only by great effort. Roy Oliver was from the far more prosperous and scholastic Pleasant Grove School community. He was involved in sports—lettering in football—and he was popular with both students and faculty. Every year he was one of the class leaders. This is a lifetime responsibility, by the way, Every reunion we’ve ever had, Roy was there to call us to order. In addition to all this, Roy was intelligent. He was the valedictorian of our class.
With all this going for him, you’d think Roy would have been stuck on himself, but he wasn’t. He was nice to everyone. He was gentlemanly. One big proof of this (for me) was something that happened senior year. Back then, each homeroom was responsible for cleaning the room. This meant sweeping, emptying trash cans and pencil sharpeners, and cleaning chalkboards. The janitor took care of halls and restrooms. I don’t think this was a bad system, by the way. Students were included in the responsibility for maintaining the appearance of the school. The chores were rotated among homeroom students, two of us each day. Somehow, on one of my days, my assigned partner was absent, and that suited me fine. I didn’t have to make small talk with anyone. At recess, I got the broom and waited for the room to clear so I could begin work.
Suddenly, there was Roy, moving desks for me voluntarily. “Two people can work faster than one,” he said. “Be there in a minute,” he called to his friends.
Embarrassed, I protested, “I can do it. It’s no trouble. You don’t need to help.”
It was no use. He refused to leave until the last of the cleaning was done. It was a small thing, but not so small either—for one of the most popular boys in school to be so kind to someone who definitely wasn’t in the In Crowd.
The years have taken us in different directions—Roy and me—and yet Roy Oliver is still on a short list of those people I’ve most respected down through the years. His values were in the right place in 1957, and, from what I’ve heard of him since, his values are still rock solid. People like him are not found in great abundance.
But then, they never have been.
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