Home > 1, Music > Book 1. The Catch.

Book 1. The Catch.

Book 1. The Catch.

I was talking with Tuts the other night about times and friends and places that are no more, we were talking specifically about our “Doun De Road” Alma Mater, the notorious Nisky elementary school. Nisky was located in an (even then) old one story military barracks, in the world war one submarine base on St. Thomas, and was known far and wide for having what were thought to be some of the hardest headed children in captivity, ah…ah… I mean the public school system, in it’s oh so unruly student body.

  The sub base was located on land originally owned by the Nisky Moravian Church, bordering on Gregorie Channel and including Little Crumb Bay, the site of the earliest (five thousand years ago) Cibonay settlement in the lesser Antilles.

Under Danish Rule, the Moravians had been put in charge of educating the people of the Danish West Indies, and  after the transfer, although there was an effort (mostly unsuccessful)  made to bring some of the more salutary elements of American education into the picture, at Nisky, Dick and Jane and Sally and Spot mostly elicited laughter. In any case, that’s a little of how a double gaggle of dusty knobby noggined, wildly willful, rough and unruly children came to be occupying a “one room school” in a dilapidated military barracks (complete with jail cells) named after a Moravian Church, in a submarine base, down in the bongo isles.

 So, on my way back from doing a radio interview with “Brownie” on WSTA (which is now also located in the old sub base) I stopped at the old school grounds to soak up some of the “vibes” and to relive and remember how it was.

The first thing that one notices is that the school and building are no more, they have been replaced by a frigging concrete parking lot, the lot is full of cars and trucks and there is not a trace of the place, (unless you know how and where to look.) If you do know how and where to look, then you will find everything exactly, (in fact even more exactly) as it was, than it was.

That place is of course the so called “wind..rather sugar cane mills of your mind, mentis and memory”.”The place of course where the reds are so much redder, and the blues are downright azure.

 One of the most striking similarities bridging now and then is the fact that this little unshaded frying pan of a half-acre was and is among the hottest habitable places on the planet earth.

We, the knobby noggined, would stand right where I stood, in our raggedy lines and bake-fry three times a day, waiting for the odd collection of teacher ladies (young and old) to get us lined up properly and to the satisfaction of our strict  disciplinarian principal, Mrs. Ulla Muller.

 Once we were lined up, we prayed the “Our Father” and (in the after noon) sang “Now The Day Is Over) to the tune of “Onward Christian Soldiers” Sula says that when she was a teacher, they did the very same thing up in the country. (Interesting to note that my friend Sula taught our principal Ulla Muller, how to read in the little one room school-house called “Bonne Resolution” up in the cool mountain air just down the road from Nelteburg.

I’ve since learned that the  content and  process was the same at all the public schools, but it must have been very much more pleasant under the tall shade trees and in the cool mountain breeze at Bonne Resolution, No wonder she was grumpy down in the hot frying pan flat land, who wouldn’t be.

Additionally interesting, is the fact that Mrs. Ulla Muller is now a very sweet, pretty and gentle, ninety year old lady and friend of ours,) but that is also another story.

 This one has to do with what I consider to be the best decision that I ever made. It happened at Nisky School early one morning just before the school bell rang.

At that time (September, 1951) Gale and I were the only white children in the public school system, certainly the only white children at Nisky School. The “big boys” fifth and sixth graders (some of whom were teenagers already) were not inclined to the gentle and kind, and especially not to a little white boy. On the morning in question a ball game was in process in the narrow area behind the old Navy heavy equipment shop and the School. The playing field was a long rectangular area between the shop, the school and the chain link fence protecting the Moravian Ministers “yard” (an area planted with Mango and Coconut trees) from the depredations of unruly and hungry children. 

The “big boys” were playing and all the rest of the children (including my sister Gale and I) were standing on the sidelines watching.  One of the sides needed someone to play the deepest part of the outfield and somehow I was push pulled forward to be the one. I was in the very beginning of the first grade and was certainly one of the smallest children there, however, I suspect this was about discovering what kind of man the little white boy was, so it would be clear to all where in the hierarchy he belonged”

The first test was; would I play at all, or would I back out of playing when we had to take the field, did I, would I have the moxie to try. (I of course didn’t know all about all this stuff; I just knew that if I didn’t step up, the teasing would be merciless)

When the sides changed, someone on the incoming team threw me a glove, actually some kind of a  “mitt” (which means to me a glove with fingers splayed in every direction and no rawhide string connecting any of them) The mitt flew through the air and  fell in the dust at my feet, eliciting the first of what many anticipated would be a whole string of laughs (at my expense) that morning. The truth is I didn’t know how to not participate in what was developing and so I automatically but reluctantly, moved into the game.

 I put the enormous mitt-glove on my little hand  and went out, out, out, until they signaled me to stop. When I turned around and looked back at the paint can that was home plate it looked like a  miniature thimble. The first batter swacked something on the ground to third and I felt pretty good about that. I knew that I had scored some points just by accepting the challenge of playing, and I hoped that this would be “one two-three” and game over. The second batter also swacked it on the ground, and my team was getting very excited  now, because we had the lead with one out to go and the school bell about to end the game at any moment.

 The next thing I know, up steps a really big tough guy, and the second base guy and every body else are signaling me to go even further and further out…then blam-o the the really big fellow hits the friggin ball up up up and out out out, a monstrous “bataso largo” a moon shot and my good god awmighty the blasted thing has passed up and over everyone else and is heading straight for me.

That was the moment of the best decision I think I ever made. I was just a little kid, in fact I’d never even been in a real ball game before, and I had certainly never caught a ball that someone had hit, let alone launched into outer space. We were playing with what is (for reasons unknown to me) called a “soft ball” which means that the friggin thing coming down at me was every bit as big and hard as the moon.

 The question in question,  was never consciously put, I just ran forward to meet the falling sky. Not eagerly and confidently, rather scared to death, but determined to try. I stuck my two hands out palms up before me as I ran and the enormous orb hit the mitt-glove with what seemed like the force and weight of a cannon ball. There it was wobbling back and forth in the center of the wobbling mitt thing (which was too cockamamie to close) with my left hand trembling under the weight of it.

I could not believe that, 1, I had caught it, and 2, I was now about to drop the blasted thing. My right hand flew over to help steady the ball and by God,  seconds later, the catch was caught. And caught too, forever in the hearts and minds of every single kid in Nisky School. My credibility and basic worth in terms of character, and cohones was established forever.  The celebration began immediately the shouting and cheering was almost universal, and felt so good..and welcoming to me. It was beautiful, de lil’ Nisky School white boy had proved himself to be someone they could be proud of,  had established his credibility, and though it would be tested many times again, the foundation for friendships based on admiration  and respect, relationships that have lasted a life time, was created that fine morning by the best decision I ever made, which was simply, “Don’t run away Scott, run forward… and try”

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