Hazelton: Monday morning . . .
Seventeen-year-old Lara Townsend woke to the annoying buzz of the digital clock on her bedside table. Rolling over, she hit the off button and moaned, “Yikes. Six o’clock. Impossible.” She remembered setting the alarm for five . . . or thought she did. “Darn, darn, darn” she grumbled in frustration as she climbed out of bed.
For a brief moment, she felt a wave of dizziness. Her head began to pound and her stomach ached. Her initial reaction was that she was either experiencing an anxiety attack, or coming down with a virus. If she had to battle through a nauseous headache while trying to come up with answers on today’s history test she was in big trouble.
Her overzealous conscious warned her that the day of reckoning had arrived. All week she’d found excuses to put off studying. She dragged to the bathroom and threw cold water in her face. Marginally better, she retrieved her study notes from her backpack, and crept down the hall to the kitchen. A note, from her mom, waited on the kitchen table.
Good luck on your test, sweetie. I’m off to the gym. Tell Dad I left a note for him on the hall table.
After pouring a glass of orange juice and jamming a pop tart into the toaster, she opened the folder containing her study notes. Time to bite the bullet.
History was her nemesis, and yet as much as she disliked history, there were elements of ancient cultures, particularly Roman culture, that she found fascinating. When she could be objective— that was less often than it should be—it was impossible to sit through one of Mrs. Jennings classes and remain neutral.
In Lara’s opinion, the basic nature of human beings, and their quest for power, had changed very little over the centuries. Children in every culture—present and past—needed security, love, and nourishment to become productive adults. Her main argument with history was that the policies, regulations and laws of yesteryear were outdated. The past couldn’t be undone. It couldn’t even be improved. Didn’t it make more sense to plan for the future?
Mrs. Jennings firmly believed, and forcefully argued, that effective leaders needed to be well versed in history. One of her oft repeated maxims was an excerpt from one of Winston Churchill’s speeches. “One who fails to learn from history is doomed to repeat it.”
Oh, well. Like it or not, is was back to the books. Lara had no trouble remembering that Augustus, Julius Caesar’s great-nephew, was the founder of the Roman Empire. It was the long list of other rulers, and the dates of their reigns, that she sometimes confused. After forty-five minutes of intense review, she was feeling more optimistic about being able to obtain a passing grade in today’s history test.
Her dad, Charles, bounced into the kitchen. As usual, he was disgustingly cheerful. His smile always lit up a room. There were times, like this morning, when his cheerfulness got on her last nerve.
“Mornin’ sweetie. Do I smell coffee?”
“I didn’t make it. Mom did.”
If he noticed the black cloud hanging over her, he didn’t mention it. Leisurely, he poured a cup of coffee, added a dash of cream and joined her at the table.
“Any idea where your mom is?”
Annoyed by the interruption, Lara kept her eyes glued to the study sheets and muttered, “Mornin’ Dad. Mom’s at the gym trying to fortify body and soul for the rigorous challenges of the week. If exercise and yoga live up to the current hype, she will undoubtedly glide through the week stress free.” She suppressed a grin when she saw his expression. “Forgive my cynicism. She complains about having too much to do, and then adds an exercise regime to her schedule.”
Her dad laughed. “Foolish me. How could I have forgotten her new passion?”
“She left a note for you on the hall table.”
“I’ll grab it on my way out. What’s with the glum look, Lara?”
“I don’t suppose that stress is fatal, but it might be contagious. You’d be wise to keep your distance.”
Her dad remained silent.
She sighed in frustration. “I have a killer test today. I need to ace it.”
“Since when does my brilliant daughter need to cram for a test?”
His words were an uncomfortable reminder that she wouldn’t be dealing with anxiety if she hadn’t waited until the last possible minute to study. Her dad had little tolerance for procrastination. He faced challenges every day, and he faced them head-on. There were times when she wondered if his enthusiasm was manufactured. It wasn't. He lived by the maxim that a positive outlook was a cure for just about everything.
“I’m definitely not a genius, Dad. I’m a competent English, math and science student, but I have zero interest in expanding and collapsing empires. Give me one good reason why I should waste my time studying about events that can’t be changed and civilizations that failed. It’s difficult enough making sense of the current and future issues facing our country without delving into the history of other nations and empires.” She regretted her tirade when she saw her dad winch. Why, had she pushed one of his hot buttons? He loved history. He didn’t deserve to start the day on a sour note.
Before she could backtrack, he cautioned, “Sweetie, don’t be too quick to minimize the importance of history. When you’re young and idealistic, it’s all about bravado. To hell with the past. Celebrate today. I’m speaking from experience. When I was a teen, I lived in my own small, impractical world. I was cocksure that my generation was far superior to past and future generations.
“Foolishly, my cohorts and I expected our elders to be awed by our brilliance. We were brash and full of ourselves. As a result, too many of us made immature decisions. We knew but ignored the fact that bad decisions exact a high price. I’ve wished a thousand times that I’d listened more and talked less. Students of history understand that yesterday, today and tomorrow are inextricably linked.”
Secretly, she agreed. There had been times when she accused her dad of being a robot. He could read, comprehend and spit out six pages of data while she was still struggling to make sense of the data on the first page. Even so, she couldn’t resist one more snippy remark. “Me thinks the man is pontificating. Nothing is too difficult for a man who belongs to Mensa International. I can’t compete with an intellectual. You never made a grade lower than a B.”
“Wrong. I didn’t study for my freshman history end-of-the-year test. I made a C, but only because my teacher was generous. I was totally indifferent until I saw Aunt Maddie’s face. She, who rarely criticized, raked me over the coals. She added to my pain by reminding me how disappointed Mom and Dad would be. She accused me of frittering away my time in class mooning over Janice Newberry. Her accusation was painful because it was true.”
Lara could have sworn that she knew his entire repertoire of high school tales. “Well, at least” she snapped, “I’m not mooning over anything or anyone. My issue with antiquity is boredom. It’s next to impossible to generate enthusiasm for events that are as stale as old crackers and as unappetizing as tepid tea.” She quickly changed the subject. “I don’t want to talk about history anymore. Where are you off to this morning?”
“A cautionary bit of advice, sweetie, “Think before you speak.”
Lara grinned. “Fair warning. Daddy Dearest. There’ll come a day when you won’t have the last word.”
“Sooner than later, is my guess. There’s one thing we can agree on. When a person has been gifted with talents and abilities, he or she should use those talents. You have a good mind, Lara. Use it. Now . . . for your question about my destination. Atlanta. I have a meeting with a client late this afternoon and a planning session with a group of business leaders tomorrow at four. My flight home isn’t until three on Thursday.”
Lara hesitated to bring up family business, but he and her mom were dragging their feet. “I hate to bother you with this when you’re facing a business trip, but I have an issue that needs immediate attention. The summer activities that I’d like to participate in have cut-off dates for signing up. I don’t want to sign up if we are going to be out of town. You and Mom need to set a date for our trip to California.” She couldn’t resist adding, “Seems to me that I’m not the only one guilty of procrastination.”
He sighed. “Touché. May’s been super busy. Your mom and I have let work related issues take precedence over our family’s summer plans. I promise that there will be dates circled on the calendar before the weekend is over. Make a list of the places you would like to visit, and your mom and I will draw up an itinerary this weekend.” He glanced at his watch. “Sorry, sweetie, I’ve gotta run. I have a plane to catch and you need to get ready for school.”
Lara threw him a kiss. “Love you. Sorry for being such a Grinch this morning.”
“Wouldn’t change you for all of the tea in China. Good luck on the test!”