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.
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
these chapters are missing is that I turned the original story
into a book titled "A
Simple Act of Kindness".
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
encouraged me to look at the world in a new way. To me,
that explanation made more sense than all the scientific
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.
didn't mean my mind was made up. None of this was "PROOF"
that God exists.
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
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.
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
Simple Act of Kindness (2015)
wish to contact me, my email address is
Rick Archer's Note: This is the first chapter of my 2009
Written by Rick Archer
First Published May 2005
Updated March 2009
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
the hallowed halls of my school.
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.
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.
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
the poor job they did raising me. I think my disdain will become
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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!"
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.
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.
said, thanks to Saint John's, I was able to cope.
John's, I never would have made it.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
As I was
about to enter the Ninth grade (1964), it looked for
sure like I was headed to public
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
and the Puppy Dog
The generosity of
Saint John's becomes even more impressive when one learns how
irritating I could be at times.
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".
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
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.
'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.
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.
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. 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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
like this are supposed to be acquired
in the home. However, I had no discipline in my own home.
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
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
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
wish to contact me, my email address is