Mrs. Sue Buffkin: The Right Words at the Right Time
It had been another fruitless surf fishing trip to Pawley’s Island, not that I really tried that hard.
After just a couple of days, I decided to pack it in and head home. It’s always great to come back to our house, which I have started calling the Compound. Southern Pines is a beautiful town. Whenever we leave, for any length of time, I wonder why we go away in the first place. Wanderlust, I guess. I’ve always wanted to see what was over the next hill.
It didn’t take long to unpack, and I kicked back in the swing on the back porch and started going through the back issues of The Pilot that we had missed while we were gone. I never read the obits, maybe because it reminds me of my own mortality; but as I flipped through the Sunday issue, I casually glanced at them and Sue Buffkin’s name jumped out at me.
Mrs. Sue Buffkin, what a lady. She will be missed. I remember her well.
I was a senior at Aberdeen High School, a formative time in my development, to say the least. I loved sports, especially football and baseball. I got into football late in my high school career, only playing my last year when the team converted from six-man to 11-man ball. I was an average to good football player, probably would have been better if I had begun playing earlier in high school.
After I started on the 11-man squad and found out how much fun it was, I asked my dad why I had not started playing as a freshman. He responded that I loved hunting and being in the woods too much to devote the time to football. I made up for it, though, in my senior year.
It was a marvelous time. The clear, cold, frosty evenings with the stadium lights burning bright like a white oasis in the middle of the blackness.
Fans huddling on the sidelines with cups of coffee steaming in their hands. The band playing march songs and cheerleaders cheering the home team. Excitement was palpable, almost like the beginning of a horse race.
Then the whistle, the kickoff, the first hit, the first play and then controlled mayhem. It was all over too soon. I loved it. Thus the problem. I loved it too much.
Baseball? I grew up with baseball. It’s said that my dad, a great baseball player in his own right, put a baseball in my crib when Mother and I came home from the hospital. During the season I ate, slept, dreamed and played baseball. In the spring of our senior year, we lost the last championship game to Southern Pines.
Academics? Not enough studying. I breezed through high school skipping through classes like a river rock thrown across a still pond. Great on the first bounce, but toward the end, about to sink like a heavy stone.
Since I had started first grade at the age of 5, my pathetic reasoning was, why not repeat my senior year and play sports again? I could get better grades and then go to college.
Coach Bowman and Principal Lee told me that I was done with sports at AHS. A bad case of reality set in. I had the final exams to bring up my grades enough to pass. Getting in college? Good luck. Then along came Mrs. Buffkin.
I hadn’t been in her class. She taught freshman English, I remember. But I was in her study hall. Mrs. Buffkin was a pretty lady and respected by all her students. Aberdeen High was small; I had about 40 people in my class, so teachers knew the kids well.
I’m sure, now that I think back on it, Mrs. Buffkin had heard of my plight the day she sat with me at the big library table during study hall. I probably looked as if I had the weight of the world on my shoulders, which to my mind, I did.
“Tommy. What’s up?”
I told her. It came out in a rush. The grades. About how much my parents were going to be disappointed. How was I going to get into college? The whole great big mess.
She looked at me with big sympathetic eyes and said, “Tommy, you are above-average smart. Don’t worry. You’ll do well on these exams. You’ll get into a good college and do well there also. And I bet you’ll play baseball for them.”
She was right on all counts, and for that I’ll never forget her.
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