Is the path taken?

Guest Posts on County 10 are provided by contributors and the opinions, thoughts, and comments within are their own and may not necessarily reflect those of County 10.

The superintendent seemed just a little too eager as he passed me a contract to sign just 15 minutes into our interview. It was called “Teacher Interview Days” back in the 1980s at the University of Wyoming.

The idea was for superintendents, principals, and personnel directors to meet in Half Acre Gym on the UW campus and hold interviews for prospective teaching candidates.

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I interviewed with Dubois, Rawlins, Lusk, Kelly Walsh, and Arvada Clearmont that morning.

The immediate offer came from Arvada at a salary of $12,600 per year for teaching and coaching. It wasn’t a bad offer for a single 23-year-old at the time, but he was just too emphatic and mentioned the outstanding deer, turkey, and pheasant hunting much more than the job.

I ended up with three offers, the Arvada position, a freshman social studies position at a Casper Junior High with freshman football and an assistant track position at Kelly Walsh, and the one I accepted, the job in Lusk.

As I look back on that morning the poet Robert Frost’s classic final verse in the “Road Not Taken” always comes to mind, “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”

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Some call it a crossroads. It’s something everyone experiences to a greater or lesser extent if they pay attention. How does someone fall into a career they haven’t prepared for? How do they end up in a community for the rest of their life? How do they fall in love?

No one can plan these things, though education, training, and hard work can pave the path for something you’ve hoped to do.

If I hadn’t taken the job in Lusk, would I have ever met my beautiful bride of almost 41 years? Perhaps, but more probably not. Most of my present-day life would be vastly different.

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I look back at other key points along the way and think of my favorite line from one of my favorite films, “Field of Dreams.”

The one time big league baseball rookie, now an aging family physician a long way from his teenage dreams in a small Minnesota community laments a missed opportunity from his youth.

“At the time, you don’t think much of it. You know, we just don’t recognize the most significant moments of our lives while they’re happening. Back then I thought, ‘Well, there’ll be other days.’ I didn’t realize that that was the only day.”

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Wise words from Dr. Archibald “Moonlight” Graham.

As an 8th-grade student at Mitchell Junior High in Rancho Cordova, California, my friends, and classmates, about 900 of us, took a trip to Folsom High School for freshman orientation during our last week in junior high.

My life was vastly different as a 14-year-old in California than it would soon be as a 15-year-old in Pavillion, Wyoming.

As an accelerated student I had already taken Algebra II, biology, and English composition as an 8th grader, and I was a first chair trumpet player in a school of 2,200 students.

That changed at Wind River, there were no classes aside from PE and Ag that I could take with the other freshmen since I’d already had them. Band wasn’t much at Wind River either, and I discovered athletics the next fall. Something I probably never would have done in a large Class 6-A California high school.

That was a crossroad not of my choice, but made by my parents when they moved to the farm.

At the Don Runner Wrestling tournament Saturday, I had the chance to speak with senior Tucker Jensen and his parents about his double nomination to the US Naval Academy.

A scant 48 years ago (hard to believe) I was in the same position after a nomination from US Representative Teno Roncalio led to an appointment. It was another crossroads, one I didn’t take since I turned it down and went to UW instead.

It turned out to be a monumental decision. Without UW, there was no teaching job in Lusk, no Sue, no kids, grandkids, or current friends…the slide of change is inconceivable. Ripples in a pond rolling concentrically to some unknown alternate universe.

A Seals and Crofts tune, We May Never Pass This Way Again, sung at our high school graduation in 1975 came to mind, “Life, so they say, is but a game, and they let it slip away.”

It does slip away if you don’t pay attention, that’s for sure.

Jump ahead a few years, and the kids are getting ready for school one morning.

I also had the news on before I went to work. Sue was in the kitchen making lunches and as I came in from feeding cows at 7 am I watched that ridiculous scene they show of officers from some corporation banging the gavel to open the New York Stock Exchange.

I started laughing out loud as I recognized the woman in the center banging the gavel.

“What’s so funny dad,” Staci said as Sue walked over to look at the screen.

“She was almost your mother,” Sue said to our stunned freshman daughter.

Yes, it was a gal I’d dated for a couple of years at UW, and she was now a multi-millionaire CEO of a natural gas company.

Good for her I thought, that wasn’t my path, and I’m forever thankful for that crossroads.

Why all this introspection? Please tell me you haven’t done the same thing, because I know you have.

This train of thought came to me as I drove to Shoshoni last Friday for a basketball game.

As I turned off the highway towards the school, the song “Indiana Wants Me” by R. Dean Taylor came on my XM Radio.

No, the lyrics have no special meaning aside from being the only top 40 tune I know of with police sirens as background, but the timing of it did.

It was the song I heard on my transistor radio as I mowed my final lawn at Mather Air Force Base a couple of days before we packed up for the Cowboy State.

I had a good business mowing about 25 lawns a week on the base. This one was a small two-dollar job in non-commissioned officer housing. Under a nice, covered deck in the back, I was lashing the mower handle to the back of my bike just after finishing the lawn when the song came on.

Why it stuck with me for 52 years now remains a mystery. It still brings me back to those challenging yet idyllic early teenage years, when the entire path of my life was eight lanes wide.

But the path gradually narrows based on which road we take, which fates we tempt, and the hopes we grasp for and inevitably lose. Isn’t that the ultimate divergence in the road?

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