Maria Ballantyne
Home Up Chance Meeting

this material was absorbed into book two: magic carpet ride   09-29-2020  

Written by Rick Archer



Me Against the World

It was now March 1968.  No wonder I was coming unglued.  My mother was useless.  My father was useless.  It was going to take a lot of grocery sacking to pay my way through college.  I was running out of options. 

My father's empty gesture brought to the surface a new fear that had me greatly concerned.  I understood full well that my grades and my economic need made me an excellent candidate for a college scholarship.

Then one day one of my lunch buddies said something that turned over my apple cart.  He told me about all kinds of paperwork his father had to fill out to apply for financial aid at the college he wanted to attend.  I went pale. 

If my father was the key to getting financial aid, then I was in real trouble.

I was convinced my father was a jinx to getting a college scholarship. 

In order for me to get a college scholarship, I had to be poor.  Unfortunately, I was only poor if my father was out of the picture.  What was I supposed to do, shoot the guy?  Hmm.  Not a bad idea.  Short of murdering my father, was it possible to pretend he didn't exist?  Could I get away with putting "deceased" on a college financial aid form?

I figured it was too easy to check.  In that case, just how exactly was I going to explain my situation to anyone who did not know me? 

I knew my father had money.  I did not know how much money he had, but he had MONEY.  My father had as much money as any other upper middle class parent at Saint John's. 

On the off-chance I could even get my father to participate in applying for financial aid, any college in the land would take one look at his income tax statement and ask a very basic question - Why can't this man contribute something to send his son to college? 

How would I ever be able to explain my cheapskate father to a financial aid office?  "Well, my father gave me $400 and said that's it."

Let's say I told Georgetown University that my father had renounced me.  Why should they believe me?  If they made an exception for me, then every father in the country could pull the same stunt.  "Well, now that my son has graduated from high school, I don't like him anymore.  I refuse to help him with his college tuition.  Please give my son a scholarship."

How would I explain to a bunch of strangers at some college that just because my father had the money didn't mean he was prepared to spend it on me?  I fully expected a formal letter from Georgetown saying, "We have examined the finances of your parents.  We have determined your father is fully capable of paying X amount of dollars.  We are prepared to issue student loans, but that is the best we can do at this time."

It was so ironic.  My father had not only refused to help me with college tuition, now his bank account might sabotage any chance of getting a decent scholarship to college.  Just the thought of how complicated this was going to be made me sick in my stomach. 

At the time, I thought Mr. Salls might be able to straighten it out for me.  If anyone could, it would be him.  But I decided it was better to wait for the Jones Scholarship decision first.  I knew I didn't have long to wait; it was due any day now.


The Jesse H. Jones Scholarship

Now that Dad had disappointed me, I turned to the Jesse H Jones Scholarship as my last best chance to make it to the college of my choice.  The thing I liked about this scholarship was that I didn't have to explain my strange father to anyone.  I
was certain that Saint John's determined the winner of this grant.  If Saint John's said I needed the scholarship more than anyone else, then I had little doubt the foundation would simply take the school's word for it and announce me as the winner.

To this day, I will never understand why I was so worried that I wasn't going to get that scholarship.  Like I said, I was a virtual shoo-in.  So why did I feel so pessimistic?

They say bad things come in threes.  I don't know if this is true, but it was for me.  First came the drastic upheaval at Little Mexico that made it clear my mother was counting the days till I left.  Then my father humiliated me with his $400 insult.  I figured all I needed for my life to be completely ruined would be to lose that Jones Scholarship.  On the other hand, I told myself that no matter how bad things were going, if I could just win that $4,000 award, my life would be back on track.  I felt like my entire future hung in the balance.  I was beyond nervous. I began biting my fingernails like crazy.

As March began, I knew from tracking this scholarship the past two years that the announcement would come any day now.  Every morning I would run to the front yard and rip open the Houston Post for news of the results.

This daily ritual continued for five straight days with no luck.  Then one day I saw the Post had listed the winners.  With my heart thumping, my eyes anxiously scanned for the name of Saint John's School down at the bottom of the alphabetical list. 

And the winner is.... Richard Archer!!!  



No, that is not what it said.  The winner was Katina Ballantyne.

I paled as I realized my classmate Katina from the mighty Ballantyne clan had been given that scholarship grant instead of me.  

I felt like I had been kicked in the stomach.

Katina Ballantyne had won the scholarship?  C'mon, I don't believe it.  There must be some mistake.  I looked again.  Sure enough, that was her name next to "St. John's" on the list.  I began to shake my head in disbelief.  A series of angry thoughts raced through my brain.

"This is ridiculous!  Katina Ballantyne lives in River Oaks.  Katina's father is a famous doctor.  I have no father and I live in a barrio.  I have holy rollers across the street and Mexican babies screaming in my ear.  And I have better grades too!

Give me one reason why didn't I win this award!"

Dumbfounded, I stared at the newspaper searching for some kind of explanation.  Was there something about this award that I had misunderstood? 

The article said that candidates are nominated by each participating high school.  Then a committee makes the final selection based on scholastic achievement, economic need, community service and leadership.

Scholastic achievement.  Katina Ballantyne had always been a good student, no question about it.  However I definitely had grades superior to hers.

Economic need.  When
it came to "need", I could not imagine any kid in that entire school who needed the money more than I did.  Heck, I was the Oliver Twist of Saint John's.

Community service and leadership.  Hmm.  That gave me pause.  By this criteria, Katina definitely had me beat. 

The words I fixated on were these: "Candidates are nominated by each participating high school."

My heart turned to ice.

If my own school named the candidates and there could be only winner, there could be little doubt my own school had recommended Katina.  But why?  Why would my own school turn on me?  My school knew full well how desperate I was.

The only way a rich girl from River Oaks could beat a poor kid like me would be if the fix was in.  Ergo, the famous Mrs. Ballantyne had undoubtedly used her considerable influence to swing the money from the poor kid to the rich kid.  I was sure of it.

What other explanation could there be?

I was so wobbly that I had to sit down on the steps to the porch. The Jones Scholarship was the absolute foundation of my plans to go to college.  It was gone now.  There was no "Plan B".  What was I going to do?

As I sat there blankly staring at the Pentecostal church across the street, I looked for some other explanation.  But I couldn't think of one.  I felt so cheated.  This was wrong!  It seemed pretty obvious that the powerful Mrs. Ballantyne had pulled strings to steer the money her daughter's way.  
The decision was such a blatant injustice that politics had to be involved.  And who at Saint John's played politics better than Mrs. Ballantyne?  

Finally I gave up.  Now the bitterness began to take over.  "It isn't fair!  The rich just keep getting richer!"  

I felt intense resentment towards Mrs. Ballantyne.  I felt an equal resentment towards St. John's. Mrs. Ballantyne didn't do this by herself.  Someone in the SJS Administration had sold me out.  But who?  Not Mr. Salls.  It couldn't be Mr. Salls.  Please not Mr. Salls.

But it had to be.  Mr. Salls was the Headmaster.  He controlled everything related to college admissions.  I don't think Mr. Salls even had an assistant.  Mr. Salls must have signed off on this.  I couldn't believe it.  I had always thought Mr. Salls was my friend. 

That realization was more or less the last straw.  I always thought if things were really bad, I could turn to Mr. Salls for help getting money for college.  Obviously I had just lost my final ally.  There was no one else left to turn to. 

The decision to hand this to Katina was a stunning rebuke.  It hurt so bad to think Mr. Salls would give money to a doctor's kid when he knew full well that neither of my parents would help me.

I threw down the newspaper in disgust only to see it blow away into the yard.  Who cares?  I went upstairs and threw myself on the bed. 

I was in a terrible frame of mind.  Three weeks ago Janie and Juanita had flipped my home upside down.  One week ago Dad had dropped his $400 bomb on me.  Now today I got the bad news about the Jones scholarship.  This wicked one-two-three punch left me reeling. 

How was I ever going to pay for college? 

There were no clear-cut options left.  There was no backup plan.  I had pegged everything on the Jones Scholarship.  I was sick with worry.  I couldn't eat.  I was barely hanging on by a thread.  There was no one I could talk to about it.  I had to absorb this enormous loss all by myself.

The hurt and the sense of betrayal was eating me alive.  I had just been cheated out of my best hope for college.

The highway robbery of the Jones Scholarship rubbed me raw. 
I had admired Mrs. Ballantyne for nine years only to get the shaft when it really counted.  Just my luck.  The rich get richer... I could not get that thought out of my mind.   Every day as I obsessed over my problems, I felt a huge grudge growing towards Mrs. Ballantyne. 

It was so ironic.  Out of all the people to wrestle that scholarship away from me, why did it have to be Mrs. Ballantyne?  To a messed up kid like me, that was like finding out my greatest sports hero cheated to win.  I admired her so much.  Why did it have to be her?

And Mr. Salls of all people.  I could understand Mrs. Ballantyne stealing my scholarship... hey, Katina was her kid.  She didn't owe me anything.  She didn't even know I existed.  But Mr. Salls?  Gee whiz, this guy was a straight shooter.  He didn't play games.  And he liked me, I was sure of it.  Well, at least I thought he liked me.  Now I was having some serious doubts.

Mr. Salls knew better than anyone in the world how badly I needed a scholarship, but he gave that money to Katina knowing full well how hard it would hit me.  That didn't make any sense.  Did I do something wrong? 

Then a thought crossed my mind.  Maybe I had brought this on myself.  Maybe after I cheated on that German test, Mr. Salls was so disgusted he decided the money should go to someone else who didn't cheat. 

Maybe I needed the money the most, but that didn't mean I deserved it the most.  That stung.

I hung my head in shame.  That was the only explanation that made any sense to me.  This was payback.  Cheating on that German test had cost me more than I could ever have imagined.   I was crushed.  Absolutely crushed.   

My self-esteem was already in the pits thanks to my father, but Mr. Salls had just put the final spike in the coffin.  Today I officially hit rock bottom.  This was equivalent to the onset of the acne explosion as the worst day of my life.

I felt so abandoned.  My mother didn't want me.  My father didn't want me.  The grocery store manager didn't want me.  The basketball coach didn't want me.  The Headmaster didn't want me.  And now the woman I admired as the best mother in the world had just stolen my scholarship and given it to her kid.  My own mother hadn't done a thing to stop her.

It was me against the world... and the world wasn't just winning, it was running up the score.

CHAPTER NINE - A Chance Meeting

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