Reflecting on the past. Nothing like the steaming freight train that is my 50th year since graduating from high school to make me reflect and remember some people who helped shape my life.
I am surprised to be age 67. I wonder how I got this old this fast.
I also wonder how my West Middlesex high school and Penn State friends and I safely navigated our teenage and early 20s years. Among other things, those were the days before drunk driving and alcohol laws were strictly enforced. Most partying we did in those days would have us arrested today.
Among other things, we are very fortunate. Yes, I believe in miracles.
But here I am. I made it to 2018 with that freight train scheduled to pull into the station next year. My high school graduating year of 1969 seems like 500 years ago in some regards and like only five minutes ago in others.
Mr. Giles is one person who had a positive influence on my life as a high school teacher and junior high school basketball coach. Other extraordinary West Middlesex teachers were Mr. Clelland, Mrs. Bobish, Mr. Pinch, Mr. Sagenich, Mr. Uber, Mrs. Sheasley, Mr. Partridge, and Mr. Marcolivio.
Merrill “Bucky” Giles to most of the world, to me he remains Mr. Giles or Coach Giles. I was fortunate enough to have Mr. Giles for a senior class of “problems of democracy” (POD) class and Coach Giles for three years as seventh, eighth, and ninth grade coach.
During that POD class, I remember Mr. Giles’ educational and entertaining teaching methods. He introduced the phrase “You scratch my back and I’ll scratch your back,” which I not only learned, but also stashed in my memory for use the following year at Penn State and throughout my life.
I was sitting in class, middle of the room, while Mr. Giles was walking the aisles among our desks, teaching about government and the importance of cooperation among participants. Each side, each political party needed to compromise at least a little to make government work, he told us.
“Mr. Davis,” Mr. Giles suddenly instructed me, “scratch my back.”
My first thought was: Who, me?
But he was gesturing for me to scratch his back, so I got up, quickly scratched his back a little, then sat down.
Mr. Giles turned, scratched my back a little, then told us, “See, that’s what I mean. Each of us gave a little and each of us got a little.”
Bingo. The art of compromise.
Mutton-chop, or thick, bushy sideburns were the rage in the late 1960s. I was proudly sporting sideburns like Brillo pads on my cheeks for a few days in my senior year. Then Mr. Giles spotted them.
Zap them if I wanted to get a summer job and get a good start in college, he advised me. Potential employers judge your appearance, he said.
Funny. My parents told me the same thing. Many times as I recall. But it was different coming from Mr. Giles. I bought a weed whacker, destroyed the ‘burns and got a good job that summer. Really.
I played basketball constantly growing up—it was my first love. Some thought a basketball was part of my right arm. That love carried through my junior high years.
Not once in those basketball years did Coach Giles scream, swear, or make any derogatory comments about our play. In the face of good play, overwhelmingly mediocre play, or sometimes-abysmal play, Coach kept things positive and moved on to the next phase of the game or practice.
It is a life lesson that I try to follow. I usually am successful and keep my sarcasm to myself. Well, most of the time.
I remember a freshman game with one second left on the clock when I cranked up a half-court shot to beat the halftime buzzer. Only when my wild heave clanged out of bounds off the rim did I realize there was actually one minute and one second remaining.
As the point guard, or handler of the ball coming down the court, knowing the time remaining was, or should have been, a basic for me. Coach Giles stressed it. I was greeted with puzzled looks from my teammates and chuckles from the other team.
Coach Giles stood up on the sideline, raised his arms to the sky, palms turned up, and mouthed to me something like, “What were you thinking?”
Coach Giles didn’t yell or dwell on my error. That was the end of it. We moved on.
My sophomore, junior varsity, and varsity year brought a different coach with a completely different coaching style. I wasn’t mentally equipped for that style. It brought an end to my love of basketball and the end of my basketball days after 11th grade. Like the tree that no one hears falling in the forest, my basketball “career” crashed.
But I digress.
Mr. Giles and I got together recently for lunch. What a treat. Quite an enjoyable conversation of the good old days, our lives, our families, our careers, current events, and our health. We both expressed happiness to still be above ground.
Ninety minutes with Mr. Giles seemed like 90 seconds.
No doubt it was Mr. Giles. Except for gray hair, he looks basically the same at age 82 as he did back in the 1960s. I hope I look as good as Mr. Giles not only if and when I reach 82 but if and when I reach 72.
Mr. Giles and wife, Pat, have been married for 60 years. Pat was also a teacher with a career spanning 32 years, the last 25 at West Middlesex. Both retired about 20 years ago. They have three children, four grandchildren, and have made time to travel and visit all 50 states.
Daughter Merrilyn is a teacher in the Mercer school district, son Douglas is a project manager for a Pittsburgh architectural metals firm, and son Dudley is a board certified plastic surgeon in south Florida.
Congratulations Mr. and Mrs. Giles. You didn’t raise any slackers. May you have another 60 years of marriage.
His 38-year career in education started at Laurel High School in Lawrence County after graduation from Wilmington High School and Westminster College. Next came the West Middlesex years followed by a principal position in the Mercer school district. At Mercer, Mr. Giles was involved for 40 years with District 10 of the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA) as he coordinated District and State playoff games in football, basketball, and boys’ volleyball.
Mr. Giles not only taught and coached in the 60s at West Middlesex but also drove school bus morning and afternoon, earned his Master’s degree, principal certification and more from Westminster on evenings and weekends, and served six years in the National Guard.
I assume if Middlesex officials asked, he’d have operated the cafeteria, managed property maintenance, and directed traffic on Main Street.
My late father, Dutch, always spoke highly of Bucky Giles. Dutch and Bucky were friends. They both drove school bus (photo, above, click to enlarge) and Bucky was a member of Dutch’s team in the Middlesex Merchants bowling league at Hickory Bowl. Dutch and Bucky bowled together Thursday nights about six months out of the year for six years.
I wonder if there is more than one Mr. Giles. If only one, when does he sleep?
Driving to lunch that day to meet Mr. Giles, I heard the spirit of Dutch chuckling and telling me, “Dick, leave the poor guy alone. He put up with you many years ago—more than enough for one lifetime.”
The spirit of Dutch was joking. Mr. Giles “put up with me” quite well for lunch. We plan to do it again.