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Monday, June 1, 2020

A Ticket to heaven

When I was in boarding school, during the eighth grade we had a monk who was our headmaster. Brother George Baldwin was a seasoned teacher, approaching ninety. He had knuckles the size of walnuts and would whack you on top of the head if you were goofing off in class. He was at times, the perfect target a fourteen-year-old boy would want to play pranks on ... however infrequent. One time during a study period (usually after lunch), we would be reading chapters from an assigned selection of books. This was also considered quiet time, except for light classical music playing in the background, which we, as mature upperclassmen learned to appreciate. Lower classmen would not yet get to enjoy this cultural privilege. One pleasant afternoon in Spring, Brother George had put out an array of Venus flytraps on the window sill which some of the students took joy in placing pencil leads into the place a fly was meant to land. The trap, due to its sticky lamina would close up instantly on any fly venturing inside. It became a sport to see if a fly's fate would be sealed inside one of these plants. Anytime a fly was buzzing around, everyone had their eyes on it, hoping that it would land in one of the traps. This time was different.

Brother George had been dozing off and we kept an eye on him as well, in the event of any classroom disruption. The damn fly landed right on the tip of his nose! Suddenly, his eyes opened and through his round spectacles, he looked cross-eyed at the insect and began batting the air. Needless to say, we all had to spend twenty minutes after classes because of students who were out of their chairs pointing and convulsing with laughter .

Things were out of control. This was a precocious class of teenagers, chomping at the bit for summer vacation. Brother George would have no tolerance for the percolating hormones at this age. In fact, he would take to writing a lengthy homework assignment, which seemed like revenge at the time. This would be written at the far end of the blackboard, closest to the door. Mark Erigero, a notable hooligan, was also a crack shot with a straw and spitball. As Brother George began to write the word "Assignment", Mark deftly dotted the "i" before George's chalk even hit the board. Brother George was furious. Again, the class disrupted in chaos.

Summertime came and went and a whole new group of delinquents got to take over the classroom when we departed for high school the next Fall. Usually, before graduation, the less unruly students who managed to maintain a scholarly decorum were awarded one of the flytraps and their choice of candy bars. A whole selection of Charleston Chews and Big Hunks were inevitably taken before the unlucky students got either a bag of stale peanuts or two pieces of saltwater taffy.

Brother George passed away that year. He was missed by all, but primarily those students who he instilled with a sense of purpose and pride. Not every boy passed. Those who didn't return would usually leave with a desire to do better and eventually go on to become freshmen after a stint in summer school.

Former students, faculty, and parents attended his funeral. He was not the only "Brother of the Christian schools" present. Many brothers from the San Francisco district were there. As the attendees were exiting the church, one brother was at the back handing out what seemed to be memorial cards. People were curious as they filed out with almost everyone smiling. These were tickets that the brother was handing out. They were "Tickets to heaven".It was obvious to everyone that Baldwin George had planned this as his gift to those who knew of his benevolence.

No painted rock this week. I just want to relay a story that meant something to me.

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