Tuesday, May 24, 2016

THE FLIGHT OF HISTORY by Peter Nolan Smith

At Xaverian High School outside of Boston Brother Phelan taught history without any deviation from the path of the textbook. I was Brother Phelan's # 1 student, since I had read the textbook from beginning to end during the first week of the semester. During class I stared out the window, thinking about my cheerleader girlfriend, Kyla. A month into the semester the old boxer requested his students to write essays about the Magna Carta, Napoleon, and the Civil War. My classmates turned in papers of various lengths.

"Smith, help me grade the papers." Brother Phelan waved for me to join him after class.

"Yes, brother."

He was no greasy chickenhawk.

The robed teacher and I gathered up the reports and we walked down the corridor to the stairwell. I thought we were going to his office, but the broad-bellied brother stopped at the stairwell and commanded, "Toss the papers one by one up the stairs."

I didn't understand the why, but like I stated earlier Brother Phelan had been a fighter.


They earned respect and I did as I waas told.

After two minutes forty odd hand-written and typed papers were scattered up the steps.

"Here." Brother Phelan handed me a small notebook and said with a Connemarra accent. "Record the name and the grade."

He started at the bottom.


He cleared the stairs and midway up he said, "C-."

This went on until he reached the top, where he gave an A+ to a thick tome of thirty pages.

"Aren't you going to read them?"

"What for? I grade them by weight. The heavier ones go farther. The lighter one less so."

"So everything they write is unimportant."

"You could think of it that way. The Magna Carta was signed by King John and he killed all the nobles.

"With the help of foreigners."

"Correct." He tapped the papers into a neat pile and came back down the steps.

"Napoleon loses at Waterloo."

"Able I was ere I saw Elba," I repeated the fallen emperor's famous palindrome to his English doctor on the remote South Atlantic island.

"You show great promise, but I didn't find your paper in the pile."

"It wasn't there."

"Any reason."

"I didn't feel like rehashing history as we know it." I reached into my bag and pulled out a treatise on the 1848 Revolution titled UP AGAINST THE WALL. I hadn't wanted any of my classmates to see it. America was at war with the Viet Cong. My friends hated commies. I was an atheist. They hated us even worst.

"Four pages?" He flicked the paper like a poker player waiting the last card on stud.


"A C- according to my grading scale."

"Better than failing."

"I supposed you're right, boyo, but I'll give it a read."

He bid me well. I had a track meet that afternoon. I ran the 440 and relay along with doing the long jump.

I finished 4th in the first, the team won the second, and I hit seventeen feet off the wood into a sawdust pit. Brother Phelan helped me to my feet. No one beat that distance.

"Now that's history."

"Yes, it is," I answered, because history was all about how long history flew through time.

And time lasted forever for teenagers of the 1960s.

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