Mrs. Ballantyne looked me
straight in the eye.
"Rick, as you have
surely guessed, I have told you my story for a reason. Your
unusual story reminds me very much of
my own childhood. I had it tough. If it
weren't for all sorts of lucky breaks, I might be waiting on tables in a Greek restaurant
today or taking dictation. You sack groceries?
Well, guess what? When I was a kid, I was no stranger to washing
But I made it out of there. I think that if I can overcome adversity, then I bet you can too. In
fact, it looks to me like you are well on your way. You are one of
a kind. I have been around St. John's a long time and I have
never heard of a student working a full-time job after
school. Never. St. John's students have every privilege
imaginable, so I never expected to see a young man like you
earning money for college. Things are tough for you now, but I strongly
encourage you to hang in
there. You have too much going for you to stop now."
As Mrs. Ballantyne intended, her
story inspired me. I nodded quietly.
Her words made complete sense. Here was a woman who had
once struggled as a
child, but had become successful nevertheless. Her tough
breaks had made her tougher. Maybe that was where all that
self-assurance came from. If she could make it,
I could too. I received that message loud and clear.
How strange was this
turn of events? Our stories were virtual carbon copies with
one major difference. Mrs. Ballantyne was at the top of the
St. John's totem pole while I was at the bottom. Who would have ever guessed that the
most prominent mother at St. John's had come
from the same near-orphaned starting point as I did?
Furthermore, which of us was more
surprised to meet the other? At the time, I wondered why
my new friend was willing
to share so much with me, a complete stranger. I was totally
mystified by Mrs. Ballantyne's surprising interest
in me. I have to believe Mrs. Ballantyne was just as shocked
to hear my story as I was to hear her story. Never in
her wildest imagination would she have guessed that a boy from St.
John's could possibly remind her of her own difficult childhood.
Keep in mind that all
attention left me mystified. Many of my observations are told
from the perspective of the man I became, not from the mindset of
the deeply disturbed kid I was on this day. I was hardly some clever
kid wise beyond his years. Far from it... things went over my
head all the time. Although I never realized it at the time, I
imagine Mrs. Ballantyne felt an instant kinship to me and wanted to
help. Why else would she
voluntarily share the sensitive details her life story with a boy
who was a complete stranger?
None of these
explanations occurred to me at the time. All I knew was that I felt very privileged to be
taken into her confidence. However, once she reached the conclusion of her story,
I expected Mrs. Ballantyne would leave. Not so. Mrs.
Ballantyne was in no hurry.
She was not finished.
The third phase of our
parking lot conversation took a form of counseling. Mrs.
Ballantyne was a very intuitive woman. Her mother's instinct
surely sensed I was reeling and she became concerned about me.
"So, Rick, now that you
are about to graduate, what do you think about your time at St.
I answered her as truthfully
as I could.
"Mrs. Ballantyne, I love
St. John's more than anything in the entire world. This school
has been my saving grace for many years to the point of replacing my
own parents. I think my teachers are wonderful and I know I am
getting an incredible education. I guess my regret is that I
don't feel a part of my classmates. I sit in the Senior
Lounge and listen to their stories, but I feel like an eavesdropper.
I never say anything and I never feel like I belong at my own
"It can't be
easy fitting in with students who lead a totally different life of wealth and
She nailed that
observation. I found myself nodding in agreement. She
might be rich, but she understood poor.
"You are right.
I feel completely outclassed. The girls don't know I exist and the boys mostly ignore me.
I feel badly
out of place and I have turned into a complete hermit. If it
wasn't for class discussions and a couple of friends at lunch, I
could go a whole day without saying a word. I am such a loner."
"Why don't you
participate in sports? You are tall
and you carry yourself like an athlete. I bet you could make a lot of friends
Ouch. Mrs. Ballantyne
had just hit another major nerve.
This one hurt a lot, so I had to pause and take a
deep breath. Okay, she asked, so here it goes. I explained how my blind left eye kept me out of football.
Then I added how much I
wanted to try out for the basketball team, but that I decided it was
better to keep my job after school.
I glanced at her.
She smiled and indicated I could keep going.
Now I confided
how much I regretted never trying out
for the basketball team. I
said that it was the hardest decision I had ever made and
that it ate me up inside. I thought I was a really good player,
but I didn't trust the coach. I explained that I needed
this job badly. Although I was sure I had made the right choice, I was
still miserable about it. I hated missing this one last
opportunity to play a sport that I loved so much. I had something
I wanted to prove, but I would never get the chance. The regret
was tearing me apart.
Mrs. Ballantyne nodded in sympathy.
"I know my children
love sports. Whatever season it is, football, field
hockey, doesn't matter.
Playing sports is the highlight of their day."
"That's exactly my
point. I can see how much your son Dana loves to play football and how
much pleasure it gives him. I would give anything to play
sports like your children do, but I am so completely
on my own that I am forced to find a way to get to college."
"The way I see it,
Rick, you had a hard choice to make, but you made the right
choice. College has to be your first priority."
This was absurd. My own mother didn't know the story about my basketball
agony. Isn't it odd that Mrs. Ballantyne was the only
person I ever confessed my
disappointment to? As our conversation
reached the twenty minute mark, this woman
had learned more about me
than any other
person in the entire school except for Mr. Curran, my English teacher.
And even he didn't know about the
All this attention was working wonders.
asked the right questions and
said some very kind things. I actually wondered if
she was a mind reader because she
seemed to anticipate my answers. For the first time in ages, I had actually
begun to smile a little. Not only did it help to get these
problems off my chest, it made me feel good to be recognized
and complimented by this woman I respected so much.
During our talk, I developed a great appreciation
for her ability.
had long admired Mrs. Ballantyne without really
knowing why. Now that I had encountered her remarkable
nurturing skills first-hand, I realized that my instincts about her were accurate
She exuded so much spirit. I could
not believe how much better I felt.
I was a lost kid who needed praise in the worst
way imaginable. I needed someone to share my problems with.
I needed someone to pat me on the back and tell me to hang in there.
I needed someone to
promise me things would work out despite the gloomy skies.
Most of all, I needed a mother.
Yes, I needed a mother
in the worst way possible. I think we can all agree on that.
But not my own mother.
I think we can agree on that as well. So let's pretend a
genie appeared and offered me a choice of any woman in the world to
drop by and play 'Rick's Mother for a Day'.
Who would I have picked?
The woman standing before me, of course. She was my secret choice as the best
mother at St. John's. Therefore the presence of Mrs. Ballantyne
seemed like the answer to some unspoken wish. I needed Mrs.
Ballantyne more at this moment than at any
other time in my life and... poof... here she was.
I was not the most worldly
kid, but I vaguely knew there were theories about prayers and miracles.
Mrs. Ballantyne's presence felt like the answer to my prayer. That
is exactly how I felt. There had to be a reason she was here.
Her presence was too important for this meeting to be an accident. I
began to wonder if there was a supernatural element to this woman's
However, my childlike
mind still couldn't
understand why was she giving me such an abundance of attention.
Twenty minutes ago, this woman didn't even know I existed and yet here she
was counseling me as if I were her own child. That made no sense.
Furthermore, why now?
For nine years, I had fixated on this lady. But not once had this woman noticed me
at a small school with confined spaces. It was beyond
improbable that 1,000 direct glances on my part had failed to produce any
recognition, yet here in the midst of my worst childhood crisis, Mrs. Ballantyne had
appeared out of nowhere to help.
That was very difficult for me to believe possible.
I had no answers to my
questions. All I knew was that this was the moment
when I needed an effective mother as much as any time in my entire
childhood. And here she was! Like a wish
come true, my mythical dream mother had just paid
me a visit.
I was spooked. Stuff
like this is only supposed to happen in fairy tales.
unsettling feelings, I continued to pour out my soul. Mrs. Ballantyne
had earned my trust with her heartfelt life story. I realized this was no phony
society maven standing before me but rather an honest to
goodness caring woman. There was no pretense about
her at all. She was clearly concerned about me, so I let
my guard down completely. There I was, the tough, awkward,
anti-social kid who felt unloved... suddenly trusting a woman I
hardly knew with my rawest emotions.
started talking to Mrs. Ballantyne the same way I would talk to
Mr. Curran. I started babbling without
out all sorts of things...
how unpopular I was, how poor I was, how lonely
I was, how I had never had a date in my life, how ugly I felt. All
sorts of terrible emotions were starting to surface. I
went on a rollercoaster ride of emotions. One moment I was
happy to be talking to her, then I was hurt... or bitter... or sick
of feeling sorry for myself. I was also scared. Most of all I was
scared. Every day I tried to be tough, but right now I was a scared
little boy who needed his mother. I somehow felt I could
trust Mrs. Ballantyne, so I told her everything... except for
the Forbidden Subject of course.
I had to hand it to
Mrs. Ballantyne. She allowed me to be vulnerable and pitiful
yet somehow found a way to allow me retain my dignity. Mostly she just
listened. That's all it took. Her soft touch was
dredging up a considerable amount of the terrible poison I kept
bottled up inside.
She had that constant smile of encouragement and nodded to let
me know she wanted me to continue.
Ballantyne's concern meant a lot to me.
For a young man who felt
like a total outsider, the thought that the most important parent at the
school actually cared about me was a precious, mind-boggling experience.
The entire time Mrs.
Ballantyne just smiled and nodded to let me know it was okay.
words and presence were having a powerful healing effect on me.
However, I was starting to lose control. I could barely
contain the flood of pent-up emotion that was welling up inside
Tears began rolling down my face and I was having a really hard
time not crying out loud. I felt so exposed, so
vulnerable. I could not believe I had revealed all these
to a lady I barely knew. I was terrified I would start
sobbing at any moment. I was right on the edge of
completely breaking down.
At this moment, there was a new
development. The desire to ask Mrs. Ballantyne
about Katina's Jones Scholarship had emerged. I felt very
threatened because there was a good chance I would lose my temper or
lose my composure. I did not want to embarrass myself in front of
this dignified lady.
Of all the people in the
world I had to lose my scholarship to, why did this cherished prize
have to go to this particular woman's daughter? That in itself
was weird beyond weird. Be that as it may, this woman
standing before me undoubtedly possessed the answer to the most
burning question of my life.
I was certain
Mrs. Ballantyne could clear up this mystery that I obsessed over
endlessly. But did I have the courage to ask? How could I ask her to explain
how her daughter got
that scholarship without losing her friendship? I
feared I could not ask
that question without taking the chance of alienating this lady
But I had to know!!
A bizarre Civil War
erupted in my mind. The Porcupine demanded an explanation and the
Puppy Dog pleaded not to bring that subject up.
While the debate raged, I was
still busy pouring my heart out. My consciousness flipped back and
forth between talking to Mrs. Ballantyne and monitoring this internal
conflict. I was having a hard time
keeping it together.
At the moment, the Porcupine was
winning the struggle. The Porcupine demanded
an answer to the highway robbery that had jeopardized my college
hopes. I was getting closer to bringing up the Forbidden
Now I felt elements of
the Grudge re-surfacing as well. The Grudge was even meaner
than the Porcupine. The Grudge warned me this woman was not my friend and that
this whole conversation was a trick. This woman had
Mr. Salls and now she was playing the same trick on me. An element of fear
emerged. As my suspicious side kicked in, the tears stopped. Was she taking me for a
ride? If so, it would break my heart. I prayed she was
the kind of woman I thought she was. God, I hated being
so confused all the time!
The Grudge told me
to knock all this Fairy Tale crap off. This meeting was no
accident. The Grudge called
me a sucker and said it
was absurd to think that the mother of the girl who received the
scholarship just one week earlier had shown up here by accident.
The Grudge was certain this woman had an agenda and had come
here on purpose. So turn the tables and demand to know
how this wealthy woman had persuaded Mr. Salls to give my
scholarship to her daughter.
The Grudge wanted me to tell this
lady that rich
people shouldn't push poor kids around.
The Puppy Dog kept
pleading that the woman was genuine and my friend. The
Puppy Dog tried to point out my new friend had no idea who I was
when we met, so this meeting could not have been deliberate.
And with that, another
facet of my
consciousness emerged. Like an out of body experience, some sort of
All-Knowing Twilight Zone voice appeared to announce the utter improbability of what was
taking place. This All-Knowing voice reported this entire
conversation had entered the dimension of science fiction.
I nodded involuntarily.
The part of my mind I call "Me" completely agreed there was a mythical, surreal quality to this talk.
There was no rational way to explain why the
single person I considered to be
the finest mother on the planet should emerge out of thin air to
take a lonely miserable kid under her wing, but that is what had
There was no earthly reason why the person I held responsible
for my Jones Scholarship problems should emerge out of thin air
for questioning... except that is exactly what had just
There was no way to explain how weird
it felt that the same woman could be both my greatest hero
and worst enemy at the same time.
This woman had no business even being
in this place.
the timing of her appearance was uncanny. Mrs.
Ballantyne could not have appeared at a more important time
if she had tried.
Finally, how was it possible that the most important woman
at my school and the least important student had virtually
identical childhoods? And how was it possible that we
had made this discovery?
In other words, I had become acutely aware that this entire conversation was overshadowed by a
series of highly improbable coincidences. Everything about
this conversation - the significance, the remote
place, the timing, our unusual shared
background, the intense degree of her
interest in me - was weird.
Although this moment
was definitely "real", it was hard for me to accept as real.
Whatever was happening defied all laws of probability. This
felt like it belonged in the realm of the
I understand that a
modern reader might have no idea what the Twilight Zone
TV show was about, so I will offer a rough idea. The
Twilight Zone was a science-fiction series that dealt with
themes of paranormal and bizarre, Kafkaesque situations.
The characters who found themselves dealing with these strange,
sometimes inexplicable happenings were said to have crossed over
into "The Twilight Zone".
Serling was the narrator. At the start of every show,
Serling gave a synopsis. If he had tackled my own story,
it might have gone like this...
As the debate raged
on in my mind, I was a
huge mess. I was trying to
hold back tears, talk to Mrs. Ballantyne, moderate a fierce argument in my mind,
plus contemplate the mysteries of the Universe all at the same time.
Good grief, it felt like my consciousness was splitting into
more personalities than Sybil! My
head was spinning.
The pent-up emotion
of the Grudge won the battle. No surprise there... my Jones
was far too great to subdue. As much as I liked talking to
Mrs. Ballantyne, I could not drive the scholarship issue out of
my mind. My entire future had rested on winning that
award. Furthermore, since only
a single week had passed, I still had far too much energy on that
loss to suppress my troubling thoughts.
I was dying to
ask Katina's mother to tell me why I had lost that
scholarship. If my cheating mistake was responsible, I had
to know. If it was Katina's leadership angle, I had to
know. Maybe Mr. Salls owed Mrs. Ballantyne a huge favor.
Whatever the reason, just tell me and put me out of my misery.
I was desperate to know the answer.
a rich kid had been selected over a poor kid for
a scholarship based on need?
If I could just understand, I believed I could move on.
I was certain Mrs.
Ballantyne could answer that question. So I opened my mouth to
speak.... but no words came out!! I literally choked
as the words got stuck.
I was incredulous. Some part of me
had kicked in and put on the brakes... probably the fearful
Puppy Dog. I was terrified of
confrontation. That same fear of confrontation had previously kept me from holding my father accountable for
breaking his Sixth Grade Pledge. I
was an introverted kid with no experience at dealing openly with
No matter how angry I was, I
was far too fearful to
bring up an inflammatory subject like this, especially with a
woman who was so powerful. If I crossed her, I believed
Mrs. Ballantyne could slice me into a million pieces. So
far I had seen no evidence of her legendary sharp tongue, but I
also was certain I didn't want to see it.
Therefore, at this point our
conversation came to a halt. I was so worried I might say the
wrong thing and offend the lady, I couldn't bring myself to say anything
at all. I was paralyzed with conflict.
The tears had briefly dried
up, but now they returned. Feeling helpless, I stared down at the
pavement with tears of frustration in my eyes.
I shuffled my weight from
one foot to the other not knowing what to do or say.
Painful memories of the lost scholarship, my father's rejection, my bitterness
towards my mother, and my years of social isolation flashed before my
eyes. This conversation had touched on
many raw nerves. Now I had just failed to confront Mrs. Ballantyne
over the most burning issue in my life. I was on
the verge of sobbing when
next words practically knocked
me off my feet.
"Did you know that my daughter Katina was just awarded the
Jesse Jones Scholarship?"
A bolt of lightning flashed
through me. Did she really say that?!?
I felt like I had been
shocked with a cattle prod.
Just when I was on the verge of crying, I was jolted to attention. My
flood of self-pity vanished in a flash and I became riveted.
My eyes grew wide
The coincidence was uncanny.
Ballantyne know this
subject was exactly
what I had just been thinking about? Had this woman just read my
I could not believe
Mrs. Ballantyne had the guts to bring up the
dangerous subject of the scholarship. Now the Twilight Zone music started playing again.
Now I was sure this was a dream. If this
was a dream, when do I start flying?
Mrs. Ballantyne had just escalated the overall
improbability of our conversation into some sort of
distant universe. My mother and father never talked
directly about problems in this manner. No one... repeat no one...
in my world had the guts to openly discuss a subject as controversial as
No one, that is, except Mrs.
Ballantyne. She was apparently fearless.
the Grudge jumped back into the saddle. I felt all kinds
of anger whip through me.
It was a stimulus-response reaction to having my hot
The Grudge immediately chimed in to make me feel suspicious
again. Did Mrs.
Ballantyne have something to do with swiping my scholarship after all?
I couldn't believe Mrs. Ballantyne had the nerve to
shove this damn thing right under my nose. Maybe the Grudge was
right. Maybe Mrs. Ballantyne was
But then the Puppy Dog swept
in to reassure me Mrs. Ballantyne had meant no harm. Calm down and
see what she has to say.
I listened to the
Puppy Dog and began to regain control. The anger had come and gone. So
had the tears. These emotions
had been replaced by intense curiosity. I stood up straight and
began making eye contact again. All right, if Mrs.
Ballantyne wants to bring up this subject, bring it on. This is what I wanted
Although I was about to get my wish answered,
I was still disappointed that I had lost the courage to ask.
What a lucky break that Mrs. Ballantyne had broached the
subject. Oh well, maybe now I would
finally learn what the hell had gone
wrong. I was very surprised
that the Grudge had quieted down. I rarely lost my temper,
but when I did, my temper took
quite a while to cool off. But not this time. For one thing, I decided
the Puppy Dog was right... there was nothing in the lady's statement to
suggest she was trying to hurt me or brag about her daughter.
I actually laughed
out loud when I realized why
I had cooled down. Truth be told, I was too stunned by
Mrs. Ballantyne to hold
onto my temper. I had never met anyone like her in my
life. I was so shocked that she had brought
the Forbidden Subject up on her own that I just stared at her
with a mixture of confusion and awe. I did not know what
to make of this woman or this conversation. This conversation
had become weirder than UFOs and alien abduction. Was Mrs. Ballantyne from another planet??
This woman seemingly
had powers that I had no explanation for. My mind raced back
to the 4th Grade when I had first seen her. This woman had
the most charisma of any person in the school. I recalled
how all those other ladies in the Mother's Guild would gravitate
to her. That is what had attracted me to her in the first
place. Now I had been given this chance to see her in
action, I was gratified to confirm my instincts about her had been
right all along.
I simply surrendered.
That's right... I gave up and looked around for some sort of
white flag to wave. I had the exact same
feeling one might have if Zeus or Hera had strolled down from Olympus to
speak to a mere mortal. I
give up; Mrs. Ballantyne had my number. She had me spinning like a
I was so surprised
at the timing of her statement that I actually wondered if she
was psychic. How was this possible? At the exact moment I
had hesitated bringing up the topic of Katina, she had brought
up the issue herself. I
could not get over the uncanny timing.
Nor could I believe
her boldness. This was the Forbidden Subject!!
Why did she dare to bring this subject up? I had
considerable anger inside me.
I hate to keep putting myself down, but let's face it, I was a
basket case over this damn Scholarship Robbery. Didn't she realize I might be unstable? After all, I
towered over the woman. What if I was a hothead? What would she do if I lost
control and shoved her or started raving like
Most people would
guess this was a subject to be avoided, but not Mrs. Ballantyne.
Like I said, the woman was fearless.
I was too tongue-tied to respond, Mrs. Ballantyne didn't
bother waiting. She simply started to tell
me the story. Mrs. Ballantyne
began by saying that
although it was true her husband was a well-respected doctor, much of
his energy was spent in research.
"Rick, people at
St. John's are completely fooled by my family. My
children and I laugh about it all the time. People
think we are so rich that it has actually become kind of a
joke to all of us. Big
house, fancy neighborhood and all those children at the school... they
assume my husband Jay must be as rich as King Midas.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Jay
does make a good income, but his pay is fixed because he
works for the University of
Texas. Jay studies cancer at MD
Research salary is nowhere near as
lucrative as people think.
In many ways, this
research situation works against him because it caps his earnings
considerably. Opposed to the kind of money physicians can make
in private practice, Jay has no obvious way to expand his
and nice home, my husband's salary can only stretch so far.
In other words, Rick, there are degrees of rich. The
Ballantyne finances are strictly budgeted. Money is
very tight at home."
Seeing me stare
at her with incredulity, Mrs. Ballantyne laughed.
seen that look before and I know what you
are thinking, but I am serious. When my
oldest son Michael first went to St. John's, he came home
convinced he was the poorest kid at the school. He and
I argued all the time, but
right up till the day he graduated, he was the poorest kid at St.
John's. All the kids took his side. You may not believe
this, but my own children think
we are out of our league when comes to money."
I may have been too
flustered to speak, but my mind still worked. That was the most
fascinating piece of information I had ever heard. It also made sense. This was the first time I
had ever considered the possibility that even rich people
struggle to make ends meet.
"This might come
as a surprise, but
every single child in my family is receiving financial aid.
Katina is on scholarship at St. John's just like you."
A huge tingling
feeling came over me. Mrs. Ballantyne was
right again... I was
shocked. I had no idea.
you become a father and raise children, you will begin to
understand that is very expensive to give a child a good
education. But you will also remember your St. John's
education and realize that a good education is the most important gift of
all besides love. Yes, my husband is a successful
doctor, but if people only knew! Based on my husband's
would be impossible to
simultaneously send SEVEN
children to an expensive private school
like St. John's without
I saw her point.
Thinking about how my father complained about the trouble he had
paying for Joy and Charles to attend private school, it had to be
give seven children a quality education all at the same time.
I had a hunch Mrs. Ballantyne had just explained why my father
was so cheap with me. Deadbeat Dad refused to help me
because his two more important children required so much money
to attend private school. This was quite a revelation.
Ballantyne continued. She was so animated, I could tell
she had considerable energy of her own on this subject.
Not towards me, mind you, but towards someone. If I didn't know
better, she was getting a burden off her chest at the same time
as she was enlightening me.
more expensive than St. John's. My son Michael is already in
college at Stanford. You have no idea how expensive Stanford is.
Thank goodness Michael is brilliant... he is on scholarship. So
is Dana. Now Katina is ready for college as
well. After that it will be Marina, then Christie, then George, then Lisa. I lose sleep wondering how we
will afford their education. Things can be so
"What do you mean by
'complicated', Mrs. Ballantyne?"
will need help with her Vanderbilt tuition next year in much the same
way that you will need help. The problem is that college
administrators look at our River Oaks address and my husband's position
at MD Anderson and jump to the same conclusion as everyone
else... 'The Ballantynes must be rich!'"
Mrs. Ballantyne was
correct. I assumed they were rich. No doubt everyone
else did as well.
"Well, that makes me so
mad. If I hear one more administrator say that again, I will scream.
I argue with them all the time. For some reason, all these men can do is see one child at a
time, the one applying to their school. So they tell
me my husband makes far too much money to justify a
scholarship. Can't these men divide by seven?
How hard is that? Believe it or not, Jay's salary will make it difficult for
Katina to get a scholarship at
Vanderbilt. Thank God she won the Jones Scholarship. It is a huge blessing.
I have never felt so relieved in my life."
At that statement, I did a
double-take. This conversation was too weird for words! My
father used to explain to me why he could barely afford to send
his kids to private school all the while seeming oblivious to
the fact that I was the clear loser in the situation. Now
Mrs. Ballantyne was doing the exact same thing! But I
think in Mrs. Ballantyne's case, she wasn't oblivious. In
retrospect, I think she knew something that she was unable to
share with me, but we are getting ahead of the story.
What was important
at the time was that Mrs. Ballantyne had just pointed out her husband's
salary was a handicap to Katina's dreams in the exact same way that
Deadbeat Dad's salary crippled my own hopes of getting a scholarship. For
the first time, I began to understand that Katina was in a similar fix
to me. I finally had my answer... Katina
had a father whose paycheck undermined her chances of
getting a scholarship. I would have never guessed this.
The one thing Mrs.
Ballantyne did not explain was her own role in Katina's award. It
didn't matter. Although I remained convinced that her
political clout had something to do with
Katina winning that scholarship instead of me, my sense of fairness
had been restored.
Grudge or no grudge, I had long admired Katina.
As long as Katina needed the money too, I
could not think of a more worthy candidate.
My burden was gone. All this time I
was under the assumption that filthy rich and greedy Mrs. Ballantyne wanted Katina to have the
prestige. Nothing could have been further from the truth. I
I suddenly realized
I didn't care any more that I had lost the scholarship. As my mind adjusted to the new
facts, I realized I had no right to blame Mrs. Ballantyne for
anything. She had simply done what a
good parent is supposed to do - look out for her children. As for
Mr. Salls, I now understood that Katina was equally deserving.
If someone else had to win, I was glad it was Katina.
I had always liked her. Katina was the kind of person you
could build a world around... decent, responsible and talented. Just
like her mother.
Katina was a born
leader who contributed her heart and soul to St. John's.
And what had I contributed? Not much
of anything. I was too busy working after school. Oh
shrugged. The matter was over.
Now that Mrs. Ballantyne
had drained all my negative energy on the Forbidden Subject, this meeting
turned into a Sunday School lesson... 'And the truth shall set you
sensitive explanation had removed my pain. I liked Mrs.
Ballantyne so much it didn't matter any more. I could not
believe how direct she had been with me. I had never had
someone take an approach like this before and I was very
impressed. I could not help but think how my father
had avoided the touchy subject of college. Or how my mother
had chosen not to candidly discuss her financial problems that
had led to the Little Mexico situation. The comparison in
parenting skills was like night and day.
It had been a privilege to
this lady handled such a sensitive subject. Her
performance had a dramatic effect on me.
I had literally been given a chance to see how effective it was
to bring things out in the open. By caring enough about me to
discuss this risky subject,
had immeasurably softened the blow of losing the scholarship.
That meant a lot. I really wanted to hug her, but
decided that would be inappropriate. So I settled for
smiling and nodding to let her know I was okay with everything
she had said.
my surprise, I had completely regained my poise. I stood up
straight and my eyes were dry. To my relief, my ability to speak
had returned. I smiled and said, "You know what,
Mrs. Ballantyne, I am glad Katina won that scholarship. I wish I
had won it, but it's okay. I really appreciate that you took the
time to help me understand."
And I meant it.
I spoke from the heart. I was okay. I wasn't mad any
more. The world wasn't such a bad place after all.
Forget the Abyss, it was time to move on. Even if
Houston Community College was my next stop, I had my whole life
ahead of me. One little detour would not keep me down.
The sincerity of my words about Katina meant something to
Mrs. Ballantyne, I was sure of it. Bless her heart, she gave me the oddest smile.
Perhaps Mrs. Ballantyne had felt a little
guilty. She probably had no idea there was some kid out there
yearning to win the same award that had gone to Katina. I imagine she had to sense how desperate I had been to win that
However the timing
of her revelation still amazed me. Was she indeed psychic?
Perhaps. Who knows? Nothing about this woman would
surprise me. On the day of this remarkable conversation, I was a
naive, unsophisticated kid who had never met a person with Mrs.
Ballantyne's powers of observation. With the advantage of
reflection, my older and wiser self suggests that Mrs. Ballantyne was
extremely perceptive. No doubt Mrs. Ballantyne correctly guessed
my strong feelings on the
Now that the messy
scholarship issue was patched
up, Mrs. Ballantyne had the perfect opening to
exit. To my surprise, Mrs. Ballantyne still wasn't finished.
"Rick, I know you
must be worried about money for college, but I wouldn't worry too much.
With your grades, I imagine whichever school you choose will seriously
consider you for a scholarship. I think you have a great chance."
Now my eyes grew wide again.
WHO IS THIS WOMAN? The words 'psychic' and 'omniscient' crossed
my mind again.
A 'great chance' at what?
Did she know something? Almost afraid to breathe, I asked, "What do you mean, Mrs. Ballantyne?"
Mrs. Ballantyne was more than happy to elaborate.
taking care of my own children,
I know quite a
how scholarship money works. In my experience, the combination of great grades and great need will
guarantee you at least some scholarship money at any
well-endowed college in America. I imagine college loans will
bridge any further gap.
I say relax. I
bet the farm that whatever school you apply to will take
care of you. Stop
worrying about money. It will all take care of itself."
I simply stared at her.
I wasn't convinced. Mrs. Ballantyne probably didn't know that my
father's salary would be a serious handicap to overcome in getting a
scholarship. Yet as I listened to her, I felt encouraged
nonetheless. Maybe she knew something that she wasn't at liberty
to tell me. Had Mr. Salls told her something? One could only hope.
However I dismissed the thought as wishful thinking. Mrs.
Ballantyne didn't know anything or she would have told me
outright. She was just trying to cheer me up.
After Mrs. Ballantyne
finished explaining how college scholarships worked, her
work was done.
Mrs. Ballantyne squeezed me
on my arm, gave me a smile, then got in her car. I closed the door
for her. Before she
drove off, she rolled down the window. "Please don't worry
about the money, Rick.
I promise things
will work out for you."
I stared at her car as it
pulled out of the parking lot with a sense of awe. It was like
watching the Lone Ranger ride off into the sunset.
Mrs. Ballantyne's last words
echoed in my mind... "I promise things will work out for you."
After Mrs. Ballantyne
stood there in the parking lot trying to make
sense of it all. Our conversation had lasted nearly 40 minutes.
Amazingly, no one inside the grocery store had come looking for
me. The grudge over the
Jones Scholarship was
gone. My bitter envy towards my classmates had dissipated.
Even my fears about college tuition were gone. Mrs. Ballantyne's
reassurance had left me feeling optimistic. I was amazed to discover my
nasty cesspool of hate and suspicion had been magically drained.
The weight of the world had been lifted from my shoulders.
I could barely believe how relieved I felt about everything.
My darkness was replaced by
pure admiration for Mrs. Ballantyne. I thanked my lucky stars for
the good fortune to finally meet this dynamic lady. Mrs.
Ballantyne was quite a person. Today she had accomplished a
miracle. Now for the first time I finally understood why I had watched her for
all those years. Mrs. Ballantyne was truly a remarkable woman.
Through her simple
act of kindness, Mrs. Ballantyne had saved my life.
What a lucky coincidence it
was that she had come to my store today. Or was it a coincidence?
A MEDITATION ON
Coincidence is a small miracle in which God chooses to
-- Irene Hannon