I was flipping channels Wednesday evening, trying to avoid the bad vibes that permeate the news these days, when I saw a clip of Ronald Reagan being shot. A glance at the calendar told me why they were running the story, It was March 30 and on March 30, 1981 — 30 years ago that very day — John Hinkley Jr. attempted to assassinate the president.
Thirty years. If I live to be 100 I won’t forget that day.
I was doing a two-year sentence in south Georgia — way below the gnat line — living in a single-wide trailer in beautiful downtown Meigs. I was about to complete a two-year stint as teacher/coach at Ravenwood Academy and, in fact, had already made plans to return to North Georgia to continue my career as an educator. But I needed to take a class — any class — to renew my teaching certificate.
This was before the days of online diploma mills. Heck, this was before the days of online. I had to attend a real institution, with grass, buildings, teachers and stuff. I searched the catalogs of the schools in the area. The most convenient class available was a Health Education and First Aid course at Valdosta State College. It met once a week. It was a first aid class. I was an Eagle Scout. How hard could it be?
Valdosta was only about an hour and 15 minutes away. I signed up and prepared to make the best of my last 10 Mondays in south Georgia. Honesty compels me to admit, however, that I almost ditched class the very night because North Carolina was playing Indiana in basketball for the NCAA championship. Let’s see: Dean Smith versus Bobby Knight or continue to make a living? It was a tougher decision than you might think.
I decided to leave for Valdosta right after school. I wanted to grab a bite to eat and look around the campus a little before class, which didn’t start until 7 p.m. I told you I remember everything about that day. As soon as I got in my car I heard the breaking news over the radio that the president had been shot. I listened to the updates as I drove across the bottom of Georgia, through Boston, Dixie and Quitman. I ate supper at Shoney’s — a half-pound-of-ground-round dinner, thank you — and then headed to campus, relieved to have heard that the president would survive the assassination attempt.
I parked my car, found the right building and located the classroom. I stood in the doorway for a while, scanning the room. I was about to make one of the most important decisions of my life. Everybody knows that in college, where you sit the first day of class is where you will sit every day. I wanted a prime seat.
I was 20-something and single. “Prime seat” meant one next to the prettiest girl in class. Since this particular class was a prerequisite for VSC’s nursing program, there were a lot of potential seats from which to choose. And keep in mind that this was the Monday after spring break and virtually all the students had just returned from fun in the sun.
I gave the room a once-over and then a twice-over, and there she was. She was tall and slender and had long blonde hair, with a fancy barrette that made cute little waves across the top of her head. She was wearing a pink Izod polo shirt and white short shorts that accentuated her killer tan, not to mention her long legs.
I had found my seat and, as luck would have it, my lab partner. Yes, the first aid course had a lab, and the instructor, Nancy Scott, assigned partners by seats. This heavenly vision and I would be tying bandages on one another for the next two months. We didn’t know that at the time, of course. In fact, she wouldn’t even give me the time of day at first. I mean literally. My attempt at breaking the ice was to ask her what time it was. She just rolled her eyes and nodded at the big clock on the classroom wall.
She loosened up, however, as the quarter wore on — especially after she learned that I was from Newton County, right down the road from her Conyers home, and that I had coached for several years against her father. Eventually she would begat that eye-roll to her third child — who is also my third child.
The night went well. Reagan recovered. Indiana won the National Championship and I met my lovely wife-to-be, Lisa. I’m not Paul Harvey, but now you know the rest of the story. I can’t wait to see what the next 30 years brings.
Darrell Huckaby is an author and teacher in Rockdale County. Email him at email@example.com. For archived columns, go to www.gwinnettdailypost.com/darrellhuckaby.