School was turning out to be a nice place for Mike. The work wasn’t too hard, he got to spend time with his friends, and some of it was actually interesting. Also, Mike had good teachers. His second grade teacher was stern, but taught her students a lot—including manners and respect for other people. When she whacked her ruler on the table to tell a boy to get his elbows off the lunch table, she’d also say, “Don’t go home tell your parents they can’t put their elbows on the table. They work hard to take care of you kids and you should appreciate it. They can do what they want in their own homes.”
The third grade teacher was a sweetheart, but in the fourth grade Mike was back to having a task master. She really worked the kids hard, but it was the best thing for them. The final two years of elementary school were easy by comparison. Mike was elected class president for the second quarter, but he wasn’t sure why. He had friends, but generally was very reserved in class.
He was a serious kid, but let his personality show through at times. One example came when the task master required the students to stand up in front of the class and talk about any trip they had taken. Mike’s family didn’t travel, but thankfully he had ridden with his father to take one of his sisters to music camp the summer before. It was the first time Mike had been to Virginia. As Mike stood before the class explaining where he went and why, he noticed his hand was shaking as he used a pointer to show the route on a map. Without really thinking he said, “As you can see, the road zig-zagged a lot.” That comment and the chuckle it brought from the class settled Mike’s nerves. He was able to finish his presentation without any problems.
On the home front, things remained the same, except Mike started getting weekly lectures from his father on the way home from church. Mike rode to 8:00am mass with his grandmother so he could walk up the hill to the schoolhouse for Sunday school at 9:00am. After class he went to the old chapel to arrange the hymnals for the 10:30am mass. He often served as an usher, helping with the collection, standing next to the priest during communion, and handing out church bulletins after mass. When he was done, he’d walk back down the hill to the new church to join the high mass in progress. His father sang in the choir and Mike rode home with him after that mass. Somewhere along the line Mike’s dad started lecturing him on a wide range of topics, but all with the same theme—being a good person. He talked about the importance of being honest, doing the right thing, being dependable and keeping your word because “a man’s reputation is his most valuable possession”. He talked about helping people, standing up for what’s right, looking after weaker kids, and the importance of family.
Week after week he went on about one thing or another. At times Mike was confused. He had heard many of the same things from his grandmother. But she lived those things. Mike’s dad seemed to pick and chose which of his own lessons he lived by. He was kind and helpful to his friends and to his brothers and sisters, but he was frequently short-tempered and mean to his kids. It didn’t make sense to Mike. Wasn’t he family too?
Any time he asked his father a question or needed help, his father got angry. So Mike didn’t ask and became more and more independent. He heeded the lessons—he wanted to be a good person. He was always willing to help others, but never asked for help and wouldn’t accept it when offered. He didn’t need help. Or so he thought.