It was 1964 and I wasn’t liking much of Grade 10. A notable exception to the muddy flow of life was Miss Bruce (no relation). She was our easy-to-look-at young English teacher. The source of many a fantasy for Bruce Archer Kerr. Plus we got to read a lot of cool stuff in her class.
These days I ask myself what I remember from high school studies. Not very much of a pleasant nature, I’m afraid. But there was a short story by James Thurber that has stayed with me all these years: “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”. Now it’s a movie, and I read recently that it doesn’t keep to the story very well. I don’t know … haven’t seen it.
From the very beginning, I’ve yearned to be a hero, and in Grade 10 Walter was my guy. Henpecked by his semi-lovely wife, he sought solace in his mind. As a navy pilot in the heart of a hurricane. As a renowned surgeon inserting a fountain pen into a damaged anesthetizer. As a World War II flying ace in a pitched battle with the Germans.
And in each desperate situation, there was the noise of a machine in the background, urging Mitty/Kerr on to victory.
“I’m not asking you, Lieutenant Berg,” said the Commander. “Throw on the power lights! Rev her up to 8,500! We’re going through!” The pounding of the cylinders increased: ta-pocketa-pocketa-pocketa.
I stood taller after selected English classes. Never mind the acne. Never mind the monosyllables with girls. Never mind the nude swimming classes for a terrified non-swimmer. Inside, Kerr of the Yukon forged his way through the great northern wilderness.
In 2000 or so, Jody and I bought titanium road bikes. I had the choice of keeping the frame’s metallic sheen or having it painted. I chose a blended red and yellow. The bike shop owner also said that I could have a name printed in black on the top tube. So yes to that too. Not “Bruce”. Not “Road Warrior”. Certainly not “B Kerr”. You know what bubbled to the surface of my latently heroic mind.
As senior citizenship has somehow snuck up on me, Walter is alive and well. A spiritual teacher speaking to hundreds in Boston’s Beacon Theater. A humble Canadian author stepping onto the stage in Stockholm, Sweden to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature. Roger “Bruce” Bannister circling the Iffley Road Track in Oxford, England four times on May 6, 1954, hitting the tape in a time of 3:59.4, the first human being to break the four-minute mile. The crowd went nuts. Bruce acknowledged them with a tiny wave.
I love being in the here and now. There and then isn’t bad either.