Maria Ballantyne
Home Up


Rick Archer's Note:  In 2005, I wrote a story about my 1968 chance meeting with Maria Ballantyne in a grocery store parking lot.  Strange as it may seem, that meeting changed the direction of my life.

My story about Mrs. Ballantyne was so well received that in 2009 I expanded the original story from 1 chapter to 12 chapters.  The chapter on this page is simply the first of those twelve chapters.  The other eleven chapters are currently missing (2015). 

The reason these chapters are missing is that I turned the original story into a book titled "A Simple Act of Kindness".

As one might gather, Mrs. Ballantyne's timely intervention into my troubled life was the Simple Act of Kindness that literally saved me from a terrible downward spiral. 

In addition to Mrs. Ballantyne's remarkable intervention, there were a series of profound coincidences that surrounded the event.  These coincidences plus the importance of the event literally opened my eyes to the possibility that Mrs. Ballantyne had been guided to me by an unseen hand.  In other words, in my mind I equated this chance meeting to something akin to a religious experience. 

Agnosticism is the view that the truth values of certain claims – especially metaphysical and religious claims such as whether or not God, the divine or the supernatural exist – are unknown and perhaps unknowable. 

I completely agree with this principle.  The problem with a religious experience is that it defies explanation.  I have no idea what "really" took place in the parking lot that day.  All I can say is that everything was so unusual that I have spent my entire life thinking about it. 

If that was the only strange thing that ever happened to me, I would probably have brushed it off like people do with their own coincidences.  But there were more coincidences.  Many more.  After a while, I just couldn't accept rational explanations anymore.  Nothing seemed to make sense using accepted scientific explanations for coincidences.

Then one day in 1970 I ran across a quote.

"The more frequently one uses the word ‘Coincidence’ to explain bizarre happenings, the more obvious it becomes that one is not seeking, but rather evading the real explanation."    -- Robert Shea & Robert Anton Wilson.

This quote encouraged me to look at the world in a new way.  To me, that explanation made more sense than all the scientific explanations.  

At this point, I became very open-minded about alternative explanations for "coincidences". That led me to begin a search.  Reading every book on the occult, mysticism, Eastern religion, Jungian synchronicity and ESP that I could get my hands on, I reached the conclusion that perhaps there was more to this world than meets the eye. 

But that didn't mean my mind was made up.  None of this was "PROOF" that God exists. 

Not long after this search began came the night in April 1970 when my friend Vicky accompanied me to a séance.  Something really strange happened that night, things that cannot be explained using the models of the Material World.  Now I had two supernatural experiences. 

Given the remarkable events of that evening, at this point my remaining skepticism about the existence of an Unseen World melted away.  I was now a Believer.

The event with Mrs. Ballantyne first opened my mind.  Then came my Searching.  Finally the event with Vicky led me to conclude that the mystical principles such as Reincarnation, Fate, and Karma are probably true.  In other words, things happen for a reason... even if we don't understand a damn thing about anything that happens to us.

 

If you wish to read the full story, I have published it free of charge on my web site.

A Simple Act of Kindness (2015)

If you wish to contact me, my email address is rick@ssqq.com

 

   


Rick Archer's Note:
  This is the first chapter of my 2009 story. 

   

Maria Ballantyne

Written by Rick Archer
First Published May 2005
Updated March 2009

Forward

This is a story about Maria Mitchell Ballantyne.  It is also a story about the men responsible for guiding the fortunes of Saint John's School back in the Sixties.  And it's a story about me.

I have led a truly wonderful life.  Thanks to the wonderful education I received at St. John's, I developed the skills that would help me one day create the largest dance studio of its kind in America.  Over my thirty year career, the studio would see a thousand different people take dance classes every week.  The studio helped create a giant social network that still permeates through Houston today. Countless romances were formed in the process.  These weren't just 'flings' either.  There was at least one new wedding every month. 

I sincerely doubt I could have possibly attained this kind of success in later life had it not been for my school.  As this story will show, my life was intricately connected in deeply profound ways at Saint John's for nine long years. 

As I will make perfectly clear, my school didn't just give me an education, my school practically raised me.  Several gifted individuals at Saint John's saw a troubled child from a broken home who was on the verge of losing his way.  These people stepped forward to help... at times in some highly mysterious ways.  This is story of how the individuals responsible for running St. John's helped a deeply troubled, anti-social kid grow up to become a decent human being.

   

Background About Saint Johns

Saint John's School is a college preparatory school located in the wealthy River Oaks area of Houston.  St. John's is known as the strongest academic school in the city.  My nine years of experience at the school convinced me that SJS definitely deserves its lofty reputation.  This school turns out National Merit Scholars in the same way an assembly line turns out cars.   

If you are a parent with a very smart kid on your hands, St. John's is definitely the place to send your child. 

People compliment me all the time on my writing ability.  I owe a great deal of credit to my English teachers at Saint John's for shaping my talent. They not only gave me a lot of encouragement to write, they also trained me in all the do's and don'ts that make the difference between sloppy writing and polished writing. 


Let me add they made me write all the time.  Paper after paper after paper.  Since I couldn't type, I wrote everything longhand. I remember my twenty page Senior Thesis on The Graduate for English.  I honestly thought my hand would fall off! 

Little did I realize that door swung both ways.  Not only did my instructors take the time to read each paper, they also had to decipher my chicken scratch writing style.  As a left-hander, according to one teacher I had the worst handwriting of any student he had ever taught.  Fortunately, I loved this teacher, so I took his insult in stride.  In fact, I think I agreed with him.  I don't know how, but my teachers overcame my writing handicap to read everything I wrote.  Their scathing comments on the side proved they were definitely watching the ball.  I don't think I ever gave my teachers enough credit.  They were a dedicated bunch, I promise.

Yes, my teachers definitely gave me an education to be proud of.  In fact, many of their words are still in my head.  For example, every time I write a story, I always remember in particular my English teacher Mr. Richardson yelling at me in mock anger, "Archer, you ignorant fool, you can't start a sentence with the word 'but'!"   And I would laugh at his insult and reply back, "But why not, Mr. Richardson?" 

To this day, I still love to start a sentence with 'but' every once in a while. It's the rebel in me.  Mr. Richardson never quite broke me of the habit.  But I swear to this day I pause every time I do it and think of Mr. Richardson.  Then I smile in memory of the man who gave me so many marvelous lessons in writing

If you are a parent who is interested in sending your gifted child to this school, I highly recommend you read my story that explains the reasons behind the remarkable Saint John's Pride. This story illustrates the reverence for achievement that permeates throughout the hallowed halls of my school.


CHAPTER ONE

The People Who Helped make Saint John's a Great School

One of the misconceptions I grew up with is that rich people were a bunch of snobs with complete disdain for poor kids like me.  While that may be true for some rich people, the vast majority of the people at Saint John's treated me with a great deal of concern.  I just didn't always realize it at the time. 

Oddly enough, many of the staff at St. John's were just as wealthy as the parents of the students they taught.  I know for a fact that quite a few of the SJS faculty and administration lived in River Oaks or nearby.  By and large, they lived privileged lives just like the students they taught.  Now that I look back with forty years of hindsight, I now see their wealth didn't stop them from having a big heart as well.

Saint John's School is the major reason I turned out to be a credit to society.  As you will read, there were many places along the way where I stumbled badly.  Each time I fell, there was someone with kindness and decency to catch me and guide me back onto the right path.

Throughout this story, I continually will say that "Saint John's" is the reason I turned out okay.  In truth, I use "Saint John's" as a term to refer to the collection of fine individuals who mentored me throughout my troubled childhood.  Keeping me in line was definitely a "team effort".  It wasn't just one person either.  Many people stepped up along the way to keep me headed in the right direction. 

Let me make this point twice.  While my home disintegrated around me, amazingly some of my teachers quietly stepped up to take on nurturing roles that far transcended their job description.  They weren't expected to do these things.  They did it because they cared.  I don't think they expected any credit for the roles they played, but I intend to point out their contributions whether they like it or not.

Saint John's served as the center of my life for nine years.  During this time, I had almost no parental guidance to speak of.  There were no nearby relatives to help, no neighbors and no siblings.  I was literally raised as much by the people at Saint John's as I was by my own parents.  This is not embellishment; this is the absolute truth.

There is no possible way for a reader to understand the magnitude of the role Saint John's served in my life except to trot out all the gory details of my childhood.  So prepare yourself for a truly shocking ride. 
During this autobiographical account of my years at Saint John's, some of the details will surely raise an eyebrow.  I will make a promise to the reader.  Every single anecdote is the truth.  Nor have I embellished.  Things happened just the way the story says they did. 

Okay, enough with the Introduction.  Put on your seat belts.  Here we go.

 

My Broken Home

As I tell my story, both of my parents are now deceased.  This is important to note because it allows me to tell my tale without fear of hurting their feelings.  Although I cared for my parents and considered them good people, I resented them deeply due to the poor job they did raising me.  I think my disdain will become readily apparent.

I grew up as an only child.  In 1958, my parents began to fight pretty much every night of the week.  I was eight at the time.  Their shouts and raised voices during these nightly arguments could be heard throughout the house.  I spent many a night crying myself to sleep in fear and sorrow. 

My only friend in those days was my dog, a border collie named Terry.  I would bury my face in his fur and sob bitterly.  Terry would respond by licking the tears off my face. Without that amazing dog, I don't know how I ever would have made it.  There were many times when Terry was my only friend in the world.

In an attempt to save their marriage, my parents consulted Dr. Mendel, a noted psychiatrist here in Houston.  One day Dr. Mendel took a look at me too. I was having a lot of trouble in public school.  My teacher was tearing her hair out at my constant disruptions.

I was definitely a handful.  My school grades were average at best.  My parents had always thought I was smart, but after seeing my most recent report card they were beginning to have their doubts.  Besides my lackluster grades, I was making a lot of noise in class.  Not only was I deeply disturbed by the problems at home, I was also bored out of my mind in school. 

To deal with both my anger and my boredom, each morning I would take a seat in the back of the room and begin to draw extensive tableaus of two armies complete with tanks and bazookas.  I would then spend the rest of the morning blowing up every man standing complete with sound effects.  For variety, I would draw spaceships and destroy them too... yes, complete with ray gun sound effects.  I thought I kept my noises muffled, but apparently not.   Not surprisingly, I received the lowest marks possible for discipline. 

I was a serious mess.  I belonged in a straight-jacket with duct tape over my mouth.

After some testing to confirm his hunch, Dr. Mendel told my parents they didn't need to worry any more about whether I was smart or not.  In his opinion, I was a gifted child who was simply acting out.  I desperately needed a challenge, something to focus my unharnessed energy on.  In other words, in his opinion, idle hands are the Devil's workshop.

Dr. Mendel knew exactly where I would find that challenge.  He suggested they put me into St. John's, a private school where his own two boys were students.  He had been very pleased with their progress and assumed they could work a similar magic with me.

Thank goodness my parents took his advice.  Throughout my life I have received several wonderful lucky breaks, but I still say my time spent at St. John's was the biggest break of all.  It is a good thing I had St. John's because it turned out to be the only break I got as a kid.  I credit Saint John's for keeping me glued together.

In 1959 my parents decided to divorce.  Part of the divorce settlement included my father's agreement to send me to Saint John's for three years.  So I gained a school and lost a father.  I barely saw him again for the rest of my life.

My mother was ill-prepared to take care of herself, much less me.  Although she possessed some serious smarts of her own, she had no college degree.  Like many wives of that generation, she had dropped out of college to support my father while he got his degree in electrical engineering. 

Now that she was on her own, Mom was forced to accept secretarial jobs for which she was intellectually overqualified.  My mother was rather headstrong, especially for that era.  Furthermore, Mom didn't play politics very well.  She insisted on doing things her way, an attitude that rubbed some of her less-talented bosses the wrong way.  When the friction mounted, Mom would be shown the door.

For the next nine years of my life till I left for college, my mother drifted from job to job, home to home, man to man.  I called it the Four by Nine Era - nine years, nine jobs, nine homes, nine live-in boyfriends.  The live-in boyfriends were the worst part of growing up with my mother.  There was only one good man in the whole bunch. Manuel lasted about two years when I was in the Seventh and Eighth grade.  The rest of the bunch were complete losers.  Fortunately most of the boyfriends didn't last very long.  A couple months of sheer misery and then they were gone.

We were constantly in debt.  I would come home at least a couple times a year to discover the electricity had been turned off.  Sometimes the water too.  Or the gas.

Let me say that my mother was never mean to me.  Not at all.  She had a kind spirit.  Mom simply wasn't cut out to be a nurturer.  Her major fault was that she tended to worry about her own needs first.  I was an afterthought. 

So I had little choice but to learn to fend for myself.  After the divorce in 1959, I became unusually independent for my age. 

As a 10 year old, I got myself to and from school on bike or bus.  I often fed myself.  I became the master of the peanut butter sandwich and the heated hot dog.  My mother would be home in the evening, but frequently left the house later at night to pursue new boyfriends.  No matter.  I would play with my dog Terry, do my homework, then watch TV or read a book.  I learned to get my studies done without ever being told. 

I remember how lonely Mom was after the divorce.  When I was in the Fourth grade, immediately after the divorce Mom married some ex-con named Tom Cook. This guy drank all the time. One day I came home to discover my beloved silver dollar collection was gone.  Tom had taken it to buy booze.  Soon enough he started beating Mom.  She would either lock herself screaming in the bathroom or crawl into bed with me and pray he wouldn't do anything with me watching.  I often wondered how I was supposed to protect her.  Tom lasted six horrible months.  He passed some hot checks and the police came to our house looking for him.  Those cops did me a real favor.  Tom was scared to live here any more, so he split.  This jerk was simply the first in an endless procession of losers my mother brought home.  Tom was easily the worst of the entire bunch.  Considering the competition, that was no easy feat.

After Tom left, Mom got involved in the theater as a stage hand.  She volunteered to help with the Alley Theater production of Guys and Dolls.  I was 10.  Mom didn't want to leave me at home alone.  So I would do my homework backstage, watch the rehearsals for a while, and go to sleep out in the car every night.  I was really scared.  I suppose the odds were small that some predator would notice me and actually hurt me, but as a little kid I didn't feel safe at all.  I complained to my mother how scared I was.  Her solution was to bring the dog along.  So Terry sat in the car for a couple hours every night till I joined him.  Terry became my bodyguard.

To this day, I still hate that play with a purple passion.  When Mom decided to volunteer for the next play, I put my foot down and told her to just leave me at home.  I would rather spend my evenings home alone with my beloved dog and my books.   Anything had to be better than more nights watching Mom shuffle props around and flirting with the men. At least I could go to sleep in my own bed. 

I seriously objected to the men in Mom's life.  What a collection of losers.  If she had just kept her romantic forays out of sight, I think my childhood would have been a lot easier to cope with.  After all, when it just Mom and me and the dog, life was fairly peaceful.  But Mom was lonely.   She spent all her spare time looking for love in all the wrong places. 

Like stray dogs, Mom would find one and take him in.  Where did she find these guys?  Most of these men came and went within a month, but some of them needed a home so they stuck around a while.  One of them was Murray the dentist.  He was recovering from electroshock therapy received at a mental hospital.  Another was Pasqual, the alcoholic who beat her and squandered away the $30,000 Mom had inherited from her father's estate. 

Then there was Neal. 
I shudder just typing the name.  When I was 13, my mother invited Neal home to live with us.  He was a taxi cab driver.  He smoked.  He drank.  He considered himself an intellectual.  He bragged about what a great chess player he was.  Of all the men... and there was a long list... Neal was the one I detested the most.  Neal wasn't as bad as Tom Cook, but I hated him more.

Did you know I was the unofficial chess champion of Saint John's?  We had long lunch hours at SJS, so my friends and I used to play chess for fun during lunch.  I doubt that I ever lost a game in high school. I do not tell this to boast, but rather to begin the very odd story that accounts for my skill. 

I owe all my success in the realm of chess to Neal. That which doesn't kill you makes you stronger.  Our friend Nietzsche certainly knew something about the origins of motivation.

I don't know how I learned to play chess.  I have no memory.  What I do remember is that when I was 11, Mom met some sailor at the Athens Bar and Grill out in the ship channel and brought him home to spend the night.  The next morning she introduced him to me.  He spoke no English.  But he did notice I had my chess board out so he beckoned to it.  While my mother cooked breakfast, this sailor proceeded to advance his pawns one space at a time until I was completely pinned back.  He didn't even bother taking my pieces.  Each move simply smothered me to death like an anaconda.  I was thoroughly beaten.  I wasn't happy about this particular experience at all.

The sting of that defeat lingered for a long time.  One day I noticed a book on chess at my school book fair.  It was written for kids my age.  I asked Mom to buy it for my birthday.  I began to teach myself the finer points of the game.  And yes, I improved.  Soon I was able to beat the boys at school on a regular basis.  But apparently I did not improve enough.


Neal came along about a year later about the middle of the Eighth grade.  He liked to play chess.  After he moved in, he beat me several times.  He would laugh derisively after each victory.  Neal told me not to take it so hard; after all, he was a great player.  He said he beat everyone.  I couldn't stand losing to him.  Finally I stopped playing him.  Gosh, I hated this guy!  But I didn't let on how angry I was.  After all, I had to live with him.  Privately, however, I fumed over my defeats. 

I noticed that even though I lost, each game was pretty close.  I believed Neal wasn't really that much better me.  I was certain I had enough ability to beat him.  I just lacked polish.  My problem was that I couldn't figure out how to win the end game.  If I could just find a way to study!  By chance, I discovered Neal owned a beat up copy of the 1960 World Chess Championship won by Russia's Mikhail Tal in an upset victory over Mikhail Botvinnik.  I found it deep in a box with Neal's other used books. I secretly snuck the book out of the box and carried it into my bedroom for inspection.  I doubt the book was important to him because he never missed it.

To keep from going mad, the summer before my Freshman year in high school, I decided to replay every single game in the book.  I tried to analyze why Tal made each move.  Fortunately I had some help.  On each page there was a discussion of the reasons behind Tal's most important moves.  I studied those notes to better understand Tal's strategy.  Why did he make this move?  Why did he make that sacrifice?

It was a curse that Neal worked nights because that meant he was home during the day.  I couldn't stand to be around him.  So when I wasn't practicing basketball in a nearby park, I stayed locked in my bedroom because Neal was playing king of the house in the other part of the apartment.  I hated Neal because his nasty presence ruined my summer.  By day he would be puffing and drinking and snoring the day away in front of TV soap operas while Mom was at work.  All that time I stayed hidden in my room plotting my revenge.

Then came the day when Neal challenged me to another game of chess.  This time I was ready.  I cleaned his clock.  Then I did it again.  It wasn't just that I beat him.  I beat him soundly.   Neal was bewildered.  He drove himself silly trying to figure out how I had managed to improve so much.  Neal was a jerk, but he wasn't stupid.  He correctly guessed that there was something I was doing in my bedroom all those hours, but I never said a word to confirm his guess.  Seeing how much it bothered him, I refused to explain the circumstances.  Plus I hid the book just to be sure he didn't discover my secret. 

Neal couldn't let it go.  He left me alone for a while, but brooded over his defeat.  One day he got up his nerve to challenge me again.  Neal tried as hard as he could to beat me.  He took forever between moves looking for any possible opening.  But it was no use.  I beat him again.  The look of befuddlement on his face had to be one of the grandest moments of my life.  He just stared at me like I was Damien from The Omen.   Had I made some secret deal with the Devil? 

I guess he got spooked by my supernatural powers because within a week, Neal moved out.  I had slain the dragon with a chessboard.  My mother even thanked me when he was gone.  She said good riddance. 

My love for chess was sealed for life.  Now you know the secret of my success.

Yes, I have studied Freud and I am quite aware of the Oedipal overtones of this episode.  But Freud or no Freud, I couldn't bear the thought of losing without finding a way to do something about it.   

This chess story is just the tip of the iceberg.  We are just getting started.  Suffice it to say, I had a thoroughly miserable childhood.

Like I say, if it wasn't for my dog and my teachers, I would have never made it.  One day during the summer of the Sixth grade, I rode my bicycle downtown using Smith Street.  I guess I was almost 12.  I was headed to the downtown library.  Of course Terry came along with me.  Terry and I were inseparable.  I checked out about a dozen books to read, then went back outside to free Terry. 

I realized the downtown traffic was a danger to my dog, I kept him on a leash until we got to about Pierce Street.  At that point, the traffic wasn't as bad, so I took Terry off the leash.  From there we headed home.  Terry ran alongside my bike using the sidewalk.  Terry and I had tremendous rapport.  If he did the slightest thing that I thought would get him into danger, I would simply scream his name and he would stop on a dime.  So the dog was in no danger on this trip.

On the other hand, it was me who was in danger.  Some huge truck coming up alongside me clipped the left handle bar of my bike.  That sent me and my twelve books flying into the air.  I landed helpless in the middle of the street.  The truck was towing a U-Haul behind it.  The wheels of the U-Haul went right over my ankle.  Fortunately the U-Haul was empty or things could have been much worse.  As it was, I was badly crippled.  Fortunately the ankle wasn't broken.

Terry was instantly at my side to protect me.  Hell, I was more worried about him!  I couldn't walk, so I crawled to the sidewalk.  Quickly a crowd gathered around my dog and me.  Soon enough the ambulance came.  The medics insisted I would have to leave my dog behind. 

Out of the question.  There was I was sprawled on the grass in a pool of blood, but I refused to leave my dog.  I put hand on Terry and said I would lay here until my mother showed up unless they allowed the dog into the ambulance.  The two men were going to stick to their guns, but suddenly the crowd came to my rescue.  "Let the kid have his dog, for crying out loud!!  Take the damn dog with you!"

Embarrassed, the medics relented.  So Terry and I went together to Jeff Davis hospital.  I was on a stretcher, but I made the men stop near the entrance to the emergency room.  Mind you, I was in great pain, but I got off the stretcher despite their objections.  I carefully tied Terry to the railing in a shady spot where my mother would spot him.  I knew I could recover from this accident, but I could never recover from losing my dog.  Fortunately my plan worked.  A kind nurse went out and gave him water.  After that, she checked on Terry every fifteen minutes till my mother showed up. 

I was bed-ridden for the rest of the summer.  I stayed home alone every day.  So what?   Every Saturday Mom took me to the library to check out more books.  With my books and my dog beside me for company, it was the best summer of my life.  Better yet, the insurance money paid for a lot of bills. 

As one might guess, from the moment my parents divorced, I became very accustomed to being alone.  I was about as close to being an orphan as possible without actually being one.  I had no choice but to face the world practically single-handed this entire time.  That said, thanks to Saint John's, I was able to cope.

Without St. John's, I never would have made it.
 

Saint John's Becomes My Sanctuary

From my earliest days at Saint John's, the dream of college was the only thing that kept me going.  I formulated a plan - work, study, get ahead, and get into a college LOCATED AS FAR AWAY FROM MY MOTHER AS I POSSIBLY COULD. 

I spent the summer of 1959 with Aunt Lynn and Uncle Dick and my four cousins.  My parents were busy getting a divorce, so they shipped me out of town.

My Aunt and Uncle lived in Northern Virginia just outside Washington, D.C.  One day we were driving down George Washington Parkway.  The Parkway runs parallel to the Potomac River. From the first time I saw the majestic towers of Georgetown University high up on a cliff overlooking the Potomac, I decided that was where I wanted to go to college someday.  This would allow me to be near this family that had been so kind to me all summer long. 

However college was nine years away.  First I had to survive my crazy home life. 

That is where St. John's stepped in.  From the Fourth grade through the Sixth grade, my time at Saint John's was the happiest part of every day.  Saint John's was my refuge from my home.  It was the place where I could regroup from the drunken live-in boyfriends, the Alley Theater, and Mom's growing pile of unpaid bills.

However, a crisis developed at the end of the Sixth grade.

As part of the divorce agreement, my father dutifully paid the first three years of tuition at St. John's (4th, 5th, 6th grade).  However, the moment he was free of his obligation, he stopped paying.  It looked like I would be headed to public school starting in the Seventh grade. 

Mr. Chidsey, the Saint John's Headmaster, came to my rescue.  When my mother told him about my father's decision and her financial problems, Mr. Chidsey asked her to give him a couple days to think about it.  To be honest, I don't think Mr. Chidsey knew much about me or my home life.  I am not sure just how much I was on his radar yet.  However, Mr. Chidsey was pleased to note I had made the honor roll every quarter I had been there for the past three years.

Saint John's took its academics very seriously.  Here was a kid who had thrived in their system for three straight years.  Now that I had proven I could do the work, Mr. Chidsey didn't want to lose me. 

He called my mother back and said that St. John's had "an investment in keeping me in their family." 

Now that he realized the crunch my mother was in, Mr. Chidsey offered a half scholarship. Mom didn't even have the money for that much, but Uncle Dick and Aunt Lynn came to the rescue.  They offered to step in to offer to cover the half-tuition.

So for Seventh and Eighth grades, Uncle Dick and Aunt Lynn made sure I continued to have my sanctuary.

However, my uncle had four children of his own plus he was starting his own business.  He could not continue to help me after the end of the Eighth grade. 

As I was about to enter the Ninth grade (1964), it looked for sure like I was headed to public school. 

I did not protest my fate.  St. John's had been good to me, but I figured I was old enough now that I could adapt to a public school if I had to.  So the question became which high school should I go to?

 

Alan Lake Chidsey

Mr. Chidsey was the founder of Saint John's School back in 1946. He became the first Headmaster.  Mr. Chidsey was a fixture at Saint John's for eight of the nine years I attended.  He retired at the start of my Senior year. 

I got to know Mr. Chidsey very well in the Eighth grade.  He taught a very unique history class known as Bible History.  Mr. Chidsey really loved this material.  In fact, Mr. Chidsey had even gone to the trouble of writing the textbook himself.  He did a good job too.  I practically memorized that book. 

Since I had been raised a Quaker, I knew nothing about the Bible.  We spent absolutely no time in Quaker Meeting studying the Bible.  So my attitude was who cares about the Bible?  I went into this mandatory course assuming I was going to hate the class.  

To my surprise and delight, I loved this class.  I couldn't believe Bible History was so interesting!  I was instantly taken with the Land of Israel.  Poor Israel!!  The Jews were always being conquered by someone.  It seemed like every single ancient dynasty took turns subjugating the people of this important land... Persians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Philistines, Egyptians, Greeks, Romans. 

No wonder the Jews felt like the world was against them.  Considering how much I felt like an underdog myself, that probably explains why I felt such a strong emotional connection to the miserable history of Israel.

One day I stayed after class.  After naming all the various enemies, I asked Mr. Chidsey why Israel kept getting conquered all the time.  He grinned and said, "Son, you forgot to add the Greeks, Muslims, Turks and British to your list.  It was just Israel's bad luck to exist at the crossroads of civilization.  For every conquering army to get somewhere, it eventually had to cross through the Land of Israel."

I was hooked.  This was my favorite class.  Whenever Mr. Chidsey asked a question, I was usually the first person to raise his hand.  I think Mr. Chidsey was aware just how much I loved his class.  Any teacher appreciates a kid who takes the material to heart like I did.

I have a hunch Mr. Chidsey developed a fondness for me based on my work that year.  I wouldn't call myself 'teacher's pet', but he was always very warm towards me.

 

A Full Scholarship

When Uncle Dick informed Mom that the Eighth grade would have to be the final year he could help, my mother phoned Mr. Chidsey the next day.  Mom explained that since her brother could not afford to pay any longer, so she had no choice to take me out of Saint Johns.   She called to ask if Mr. Chidsey could recommend the best public high school for me.  Since we were always moving anyway, she would simply find an apartment nearby whatever school he suggested.  Mr. Chidsey said he would research that question and get back to her. 

My mother and I may have been an unknown to Mr. Chidsey back at the end of the Sixth Grade.  However, here at the end of the Eighth grade, Mr. Chidsey knew me well.  After my mother's phone call, I believe the rapport that I had developed with Mr. Chidsey during Bible History worked in my favor strongly.  He decided to come to my rescue for the second time. 

Two nights later Mr. Chidsey called my mother at home.  Mr. Chidsey began the call with a compliment.  He noted I had continued to make the Honor Roll. Then he added it had been a privilege to have me in his class the past year.  Mr. Chidsey said he would hate to lose a student like me who tried so hard to excel. 

If Saint John's offered a full scholarship, would Mom be able to at least pay for my books and my meals?  Mom said she would do her best.  Mr. Chidsey ended the call by saying he was glad I would be staying at his school.   

So that is the story of how I received a full scholarship for my final four years at Saint John's. 

I remember bursting into tears with relief. 

To this day I credit my marvelous Saint John's education as the great miracle of my life.  My superb education has opened many doors throughout my life.

But it wasn't just the education I received that makes me so grateful to my alma mater.  During my nine year stay, many of the faculty at Saint John's quietly served as the parents I did not have.  Without my knowing it, there were several men and women who always looked out for me.  Mr. Chidsey was definitely one of those people. 

 

The Porcupine and the Puppy Dog

The generosity of Saint John's becomes even more impressive when one learns how irritating I could be at times.  I wasn't the easiest kid to have around.  I had a temper.  I had a smart mouth.  I was rebellious.  I was sarcastic and cynical.  I couldn't stand criticism and took offense at many imagined slights that other kids would have ignored.

In other words, I was one heck of an angry kid.  If someone came at me the wrong way, I could be a real jerk when I was in my Porcupine mode.

In retrospect I was two different people, a sort of Jekyll-Hyde.  One side of me was the "Porcupine".  Of course I was grateful for my series of scholarships, but sometimes I had a strange way of showing it.  I never realized it at the time, but I probably posed as much of a discipline challenge as any student in the whole school. 

There were a few people on the faculty who definitely didn't like having me around.  I had a running battle with three men in particular for my entire time at Saint John's.  Fortunately for me, they weren't the ones who made the decision on my scholarship.

There were a few individuals on the faculty who loved enforcing "the rules".  The length of my hair became a daily battleground for several years.  These men always rubbed me the wrong way.  In fact, I believed they took a secret delight in tormenting me. 

I bristled at their insistence that my hair was an issue.  What difference does the length of my hair make?  I was constantly in trouble with my dislike of authority!  I was always defying the rules by being out of uniform or wearing my hair too long or being late to school. 

I hated 'discipline' with a passion.  I suppose my worst quality was my refusal to simply obey an order and do what they asked.  Instead I would always talk back.  Always.  When someone told me to do something, I would invariably begin a debate.  I would question why this rule was important.  Why should I respect this rule?  What were they trying to accomplish?

I bet I wore some people out in the process.  No one enjoys having to defend a rule to a defiant kid.  Just get your hair cut and stop arguing all the time!  It could not have been easy to keep patience with an angry, smart-mouthed jerk like me, but somehow they did.

On the other side of the coin, I was a puppy dog to my instructors. I never gave my instructors a bit of trouble.  Never.  I cherished my relationships with my instructors. They could not have cared less about the length of my hair.  All they knew is that I worked as hard as any student they had.  They respected me for that. 

In fact, several of my instructors took a personal interest in me. They would often sit me down for the kind of 'how are you doing?' talks that I wasn't getting from my absentee parents. 

For example, during high school, Mr. Curran and Mr. Weems were two instructors who went out of their way to invite me to their homes for long talks on a Saturday afternoon. 

These men were reaching out to me.  I suspect they sensed I was starting to go off the deep end again.  The invitations were made in regards to discussions about my class work, but invariably our talks drifted into long heart-to-heart conversations about my home life and problems.   There were several times when I grew cold with bitterness.  Let it be known the warmth they showed me was just enough to get me through my darkest periods.

 

Mr. Ed Curran

Mr. Curran was my favorite teacher of all time.  I had had him for Seventh grade Math, Ninth Grade English, and Twelfth grade English. 

Mr. Curran noticed how much I enjoyed writing. He was always encouraging me. In an attempt to sharpen my skills, he would to write voluminous amounts of suggestions in the margins of each paper on ways I could improve.  I can still remember the constant presence of "too wordy", his favorite phase.  Oh well, at least he tried...

Mr. Curran went a lot further than that. He knew how much trouble I was having in my personal life. He tried hard to make me feel better. One day he went so far as to invite me to breakfast on a Saturday morning. I told him I had Detention Hall that day. Mr. Curran smiled. He knew full well I was notorious for getting into trouble. 

He said, "Why I am not surprised?  You know, it wouldn't kill you to get a haircut." Then he added, "Fine, how about we make it lunch instead?"

I met Mr. Curran at a coffee shop that day.  As we waited for our order, Mr. Curran said he wanted to tell me something. Mr. Curran said he had never had a student before who tried as hard as I did to write well.  He said he had other students with similar talent, but he was impressed at how hard I tried to improve.  Mr. Curran wanted me to know how proud he was of my hard work.

Considering I no longer had a real father, I was overwhelmed by his praise. His words made me cry. A lot. I was pretty embarrassed. Poor Mr. Curran had to sit there watching me turn our booth into a small swimming pool. Imagine how he felt.

It was a true blessing that I had Mr. Curran for English in my Senior year.  Despite a terrible case of senioritis burn-out that had affected my work in Chemistry, German, and Calculus, I found I had a surprising vein of energy left for English. In my final month at the school, I wrote a twenty page Senior Thesis on The Graduate.  

The Graduate, of course, was the hot movie of the year that had all the Seniors buzzing. I discovered the movie had been taken from a lame 50-page paperback book. I didn't care that it was a light-weight book. I wanted to write about The Graduate!  Mr. Curran had been thinking more along the lines of Heart of Darkness or Wuthering Heights, but, thanks to my passion, he decided to humor me.

One side benefit of my work was the opportunity to visit Mr. Curran at his home on a couple of occasions to go over my progress. He was always such a friend to me. Invariably our Saturday morning conversations would turn to my voluminous problems at home.  Just knowing someone cared about me made all the difference in the world during my difficult final year in high school.

As for the thesis, I doubt my work was particularly good, but I will say I really threw myself into it.  Mr. Curran had asked for ten pages; I gave him twenty.  Mr. Curran offered a sly compliment.  He said it was obvious that I had tried harder than any other classmate on my Senior project.  I think that was his gentle way of saying that I could have been more concise.  I am sure readers of my story will smile and agree Mr. Curran probably had a point there.

Mr. Curran was not the only instructor who showed me kindness.  Many of my teachers treated me like a friend well beyond the expected student-teacher role.  As a result, I developed a great affection for them.  To the people at Saint John's who preferred to order me around, I would bristle and talk back, but to the teachers who showed concern for me, I was the best student they ever had. 

Like a puppy dog I would do anything they asked.  I guarantee they never had any discipline problems with me.  Their kindness and respect worked wonders. 

It is too bad I never realized just how skilled my teachers really were.  They showed concern for me and I responded in kind. I cooperated because I respected them so much. I also appreciated the fact that they clearly cared about me. 

My teachers were the people who kept me going despite the darkness.

 

In Loco Parentis

One day when I was in the Seventh grade, Mr. Curran took me aside and asked me about my home life.  After hearing my story, Mr. Curran shook his head in dismay.  "Good lord, Saint John's is practically raising you in loco parentis!" 

I was completely confused by what he meant.  "You're right, Mr. Curran, my parents really are loco!"

As I would one day learn, the worst consequence of growing up without parents is that I never learned how or when to keep my mouth shut.  My sarcastic, frequently defensive personality never manifested itself with my gentle instructors, but I would flare up like a porcupine if someone criticized me harshly or told me to do something in a hostile way.

From the time I was 10 on, my father was missing in action and my mother didn't bother disciplining me.  Consequently I grew up with a terrible problem dealing with authority.  I was never forced to learn how to deal with the kind of hostile authority found in the military where they tell you to do something and you shut up and do it OR ELSE. 

In a way, maybe it is too bad that so many of the instructors at Saint John's were gifted.  They all preferred to develop a rapport to get my cooperation.  I can only remember three Saint John's instructors who were hostile disciplinarians. 

"Do it because I tell you to!  Don't talk back to me and wipe that smirk off your face!" 

Needless to say, I disliked these three men intensely.  However, they were so few and far between that I was never forced to learn how to deal with them appropriately.  Instead I coped by avoiding them as best I could.  As a result, I never learned the important childhood lesson of when to keep my mouth shut.

When I went to college, I had no problems with authority for a simple reason - no one ever gave me an order!  That's right, during my four years of college, not once did anyone tell me to do anything.  I was on my own in college.  I went about my business and graduated. 

My inability to tolerate hostile authority finally caught up to me in Graduate School.  In 1973, I was accepted into the Clinical Psychology program at Colorado State University.  In a course called "Interviewing", I had a rigid professor named Dr. Fujimoto who didn't appreciate my style.  Coming from Saint John's, I was used to debating points in class.  My instructors at Saint John's encouraged all of us to speak up.  I naively assumed that same situation existed in this Interviewing class.  My professor would say something I disagreed with and I would either ask him to clarify his point or offer my own opinion.  Completely oblivious to the frown on his face, I had not the slightest clue that I was cutting my own throat. 

Soon Dr. Fujimoto's responses became laced with criticism. I felt attacked personally and I would argue with him.  He would call me defensive and I would argue with him about that too.  I had never learned how to deal with an instructor like this.  I would pay a huge price for my ignorance.

I had no problem with the other professors.  By and large, they liked me and enjoyed my participation in class.  However, since my nemesis happened to be the chairman of the department, Dr. Fujimoto made sure I got kicked out of school at the end of the first year. 

I had the best grades of all nine incoming first year graduate students.  I came from the best University.  They gave me a full scholarship to this program.  In other words, I was their star recruit.  Lot of good that did me.  Thanks to the professor's hostility, all the warts and personality flaws I had developed in childhood were exposed.  The professor decided I was much too angry to ever cut it as a therapist, so he sent me packing.

Guess what?  He was absolutely within his right to do that.  Had he worked with me just a little bit, he would have found my good side.  With any sort of rapport, I have little doubt I would have solved my anger problem eventually.  However, Dr. Fujimoto didn't have that kind of patience. 

I had never learned how to deal with authority.  Now it caught up to me.  Yes, I take responsibility for my fate in graduate school.  I had absolutely no concept of politics.  Every other grad student but me had learned to keep his mouth shut.  Everyone else knew that you don't question this kind of authority.  Not me.  Sad to say, it never even dawned on me what I was doing wrong until I got the pink slip.

I was crushed.  Getting thrown out of graduate school was very painful.  I had to learn the hard way that sometimes a person needs to know when to keep his mouth shut.

Political tactics like this are supposed to be acquired in the home.  However, I had no discipline in my own home.  In fact, now that I think of it, Mom wasn't very good at keeping her mouth shut either.  She had a bad habit of speaking her mind in any situation. 

She got fired a lot; I got kicked out of grad school. 

Like mother, like son.

There is an important distinction here.  The faculty at my graduate program took no personal interest in me.  They saw me as a distinct problem and didn't care to work with me.  I wasn't worth the trouble.  Despite my excellent grades, it was easier to send me packing. 

Their hard-line approach stood in decided contrast to the St. John's faculty which had always handled me with such great patience.

It wasn't until I became an adult that I gained the maturity to recognize the gifted guidance I received throughout my nine years at St. John's.  Any lion tamer would smile at the work they did handling a lonely, angry kid who resented authority with a passion.  My instructors had the magic touch.  They knew how to reach past my porcupine side and bring out my soft side.

In stark contrast to the professors at Colorado State who had no patience with me, thank goodness the men at Saint John's decided I was worth taking a chance on. Now it becomes clear why Saint John's was more my home than my own house.  Saint John's was my sanctuary. 

The instructors were often better parents to me than my actual parents.  I will always be grateful for their help.  They always made sure I was still headed on the right path.  I could not have made it without them.


This is the end of the first chapter of my original story about Maria Ballantyne.

If you wish to read the full story, I have published it free of charge on my web site.

A Simple Act of Kindness (2015)

There are several chapters that deal specifically with Mrs. Ballantyne, the woman whose timely intervention saved my life.

Chapter 05:  The Ballantyne Family
Chapter 15:  The Abyss
Chapter 16:  The Visitor
Chapter 17:  Supernatural
Chapter 23:  The Man Who Saved Galveston
Chapter 24:  Brother and Sister
Chapter 25:  Matriarch
Chapter 27:  Blind Spot
 

If you wish to contact me, my email address is rick@ssqq.com

 

Four Stories
About St. John's
Maria Ballantyne - A Simple Act of Kindness The Genetic Curse - An embarrassing high school memory
Senior Year - My Favorite High School Memory Saint John's and the Mascot - My high school comes to its senses
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