Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Grandaddy is at it again

You all know about the problem I have telling stories to my grandkids. The stories are all true, but many of them sound so far fetched that the kids just think this old man is making them all up. My two oldest grandboys will be entering high school in the Fall and the other day they asked me about my high school and what kind of teachers I had, etc.

I figured that this was my chance to tell them a story that wouldn’t make their eyes roll back in their heads in disbelief and mumble things to their Mom about.......”Grandaddy......it's time.......senile.....ready... for the home....etc.”

So I decided to tell them a simple story about one of my (our) favorite teachers. No embellishments, just a simple story about one of the great Central High School teachers.

"Well boys," I said. "Some classes could be kinda boring, but not his. We discussed a lot of subjects in his class. Being somewhat of a Civil War buff, I loved to get him talking about that subject. I especially loved to hear the stories that were told to him by an actual Civil War soldier......."

{Whoops, I immediately realized that I might be starting to slide down that slippery slope of unbelieveability.....so I switched gears.)

“Before he became a teacher, he was an accomplished trick horse rider and roper....you know, like you see in the circus. He would stand on the back of a horse galloping at full speed .....and sometimes he would stand on his head on the back of the..............”

Well, there they go. I lost them again......

But, hopefully, you’re still with me......so here’s “The Rest of the Story:”

.....in his own words:


"My father (NOT my grandfather) fought in the Civil War when he was a teenager. I was 6 years old when he died. My then thirteen year old brother, now 98, and I managed, in sequence, four farms until I finished high school.


During that time, I played varsity basketball and became a trick roper and rider, performing various rodeo stunts on a horse running at full speed, racing for the far end of the pasture; standing on his back, holding on to nothing but thin air, or standing on my head, this time holding on the saddle. (I wasn’t completely crazy.)


Then leaping out of the saddle, touching the fleeting ground, and ending up astride his neck, facing his hip. Sometimes I’d make it simple by just slipping out of the saddle, tapping the ground with both feet, and bounding back into the saddle. A scared rabbit could have killed me.
The horse never stumbled and fell but once and it was MY fault. I’d missed my timing.


Later after my third year at Carolina, where I’d experienced its fledgling interest in broadcasting,  (James Taylor’s future father and I were roommates) and where I’d also worked in the University’s News Bureau with Kays Gary, later a long-time columnist for the Charlotte Observer, I joined the Army Air Corps shortly before Pearl Harbor.


I went to Europe with 12 thousand others on the Queen Mary, which had no naval escort but nevertheless evaded 9 German submarines lying in wait to ambush us during our 5 day voyage. (Berlin announced that it had sunk us.) 


I was in Scotland, England, Tunesia, Algeria, Corsica, Italy (where I met and chatted briefly with the Pope at the Vatican), Libya, Egypt, and Palestine.


While in Algeria, one simple decision saved my life; a young captain, who had served in the Pacific, asked me to go with him on a test flight of one of our B-25 medium bombers, something we’d done before, down in the Sahara Desert, south of us.


But because of a prior commitment, I had to reluctantly decline. Unfortunately, he flew north, over the Mediterranean, not South, as he was authorized to. All we ever found were floating cushions and oil slicks. It was my duty to administer his last will and testament concerning his personal belongings.


After the war, I worked briefly as an announcer before returning to Carolina for further study in English, Broadcasting and speech; then at Northwestern in Evanston, Illinois where I was assistant program director at WNUR. Later, at Wake Forest, I was interim general manager of the station while the general manager, a young professor, was on leave to study film in Hollywood.


Although I thoroughly enjoyed all the things I’ve ever done, both civilian and military (other than the tragedies of war, of course) the most rewarding was teaching such remarkable high school students during the day and ambitious young bank executives in seasonal night classes for the American Institute of Banking. All of them, teenagers and bankers, greatly enriched my life.


As I approach my 91st birthday I can honestly say, to borrow a line from Jimmy Stewart ,"it’s been a wonderful life!”


Still is.


-Gil Ballance"