Little Danny McGuire was the scrawniest kid in class. He was so frail, so downright skinny that his dungarees clung to his bony hips only thanks to a well-worn brown belt that was pulled tight to the last notch, causing the fabric to gather in folds. What a sight he made, with blue jeans cinched at the waist and little ol’ legs hidden somewhere in the yards of material.
Whenever we chose teams for Red Rover, he always was, without fail, the last one chosen. He took it good-naturedly, shaking that shock of hay-like blonde hair and displaying his buck teeth in a wide grin as he shuffled over to the unfortunate team that was stuck with his services. The team captain would appoint Danny to stand at the end of the line, figuring his weak-wristed grasp could only be broken from one side instead of two. Then, too, without fail, the first one from the opposing team would head straight to Danny’s microscopically small hands and break through without trouble.
More often than not, Danny would fall to the ground, holding his wrist as through it was broken, and writhe in agony for a few moments. Athletic prowess was not his strong suit. But still he laughed. He always laughed. I admired him so much, enamored by someone who could take a licking and keep on laughing.
Danny, though, had his mighty attributes. The good Lord always sees that the score is evened somehow. Some are pretty, some are smart, some are witty, some are talented, some can throw a football. Danny could wrestle a math problem and pin it in a second with both hands tied behind him and his eyes shut tight. He never lost a spelling bee that I know of. He always was the last kid standing. And in victory, just like Red Rover defeat, he was good-natured, shrugging his shoulders as though his brilliance was just a fluke.
Me? I was always in the middle of the pack. Never picked first for Red Rover but somewhere halfway down the line in selection. I guess the best I ever did in spelling bees was maybe fifth, and that only happened one time. I was a champion reader, though. One year — it was the fourth grade — I read more books than the entire class combined. Like I said: The good Lord makes us all good at something.
When graduation from high school and college came, I was somewhere in the middle. Again. I never thought of being the best at anything, just doing decent at everything I tried. In that, I mostly succeeded.
Lately, I’ve been thinking that there’s too much pressure on kids to be the best at everything. The parents of my generation in my little country school didn’t push us to over-excel. They preached values, discipline, kindness and courtesy. They encouraged us to play and enjoy childhood. My parents cared only that my homework was done and they never became overwrought if I didn’t make a perfect score. I rarely did.
Whenever I brought home a C in math, Mama would sigh as she signed my report card or test paper and say, “You’re just like me. I was never any good in math.” She knew economics, though. She knew how to make a dollar and she knew how to save one.
I’ve been thinking about kids in the middle like me. They usually do pretty well in life. For the most part, if you consider it, the middle-of-the-roaders have pretty good existences. No one expects too much from us so there’s not a lot of pressure. Then, if we happen to do well at something, people are pleasantly surprised and slap us on the shoulders, praising an unexpected accomplishment.
Middle-of-the-road people like me live longer, I believe. Danny McGuire? He died years ago. Too much stress and not enough Red Rover.