Essays, Stories, Adventures, Dreams
Chronicles of a Footloose Forester
By Dick Pellek
Why do acts of resentment linger in our memories? We remember our most shameful acts, we remember our failings, and we remember our most embarrassing moments. And it is also indisputable that at some level of consciousness we also remember at least a few of those moments in our lives that we resented someone or something. At the other end of the spectrum, we also remember the times, the people, and the circumstances in which we were the objects of resentment. Perhaps those times were more strongly hard-wired into our brains and why they are easier to recall with some clarity. Most people want to forget the more unpleasant episodes in the past, perhaps as a way to put a shine on our personal histories. But we cannot escape the truth, even if we are the only ones that know the unvarnished truth.
Charlie McCrea was one of his several roommates at college and a lot smarter than the Footloose Forester. Charlie was also a much better golfer. The Footloose Forester didn’t resent him for his golfing talents because Charlie once won the New Jersey Amateur Championship, but for his ability to study less and get better grades.
We were roommates (among several others) at Rutgers for two years and took many of the same classes in The College of Agriculture. During the orientation lecture in Meteorology 101, the professor announced that the final grade would be based on the arithmetic average of two hourly exams and the final exam, all three grades to be counted equally. Footloose Forester earned an A in the first exam, a B in the second hourly exam, and a C in the final exam. His arithmetic average was higher than Charlie’s but Footloose Forester got a C for the course. Charlie McCrea had a C in the first exam, a B in the second exam, and earned an A in the final exam. Charlie was awarded an A for the course. So much for the pronouncement of the professor of his intention to use a strict arithmetic average as the basis for the grade.
The Footloose Forester resented the decision that he could not change, and, at the time, he resented Charlie for getting an A in a course for which he barely studied. He perhaps deserved an A but the Footloose Forester didn’t deserve a C with a higher arithmetic average. That self-confessed resentment persisted in his mind for many years.
In most circumstances, we get the results that we deserve when we strive and put forth our best efforts. That is not to say that if we succeed we will not be resented. Resentment is an emotion that bears little relationship to rational norms of risk-reward, or of giving credit where credit is due. Although the Footloose Forester may have occasionally and unjustly resented somebody or something, he is not beyond rationalizing the circumstances to the point of minimizing the injustice of his feelings. When it comes to others resenting him, however; he has a far stronger recollection of the circumstances.
At a time during the early 1960s when Footloose Forester was a seasonal employee of the US Forest Service and living in a transient firefighters’ barracks, the other young, single guys who shared our government barracks didn’t care too much about keeping it swept clean on the inside or presentable from the outside. Footloose Forester decided that he would keep his own room clean and presentable, but also take on the added responsibility of sweeping the common areas. That included the outside of the building.
Nobody assigned us cleaning duties, certainly not for the appearance of the exterior. But the outside windows were such a grimy disgrace that the Footloose Forester elected to clean all of them by himself—all 75 of them. Nobody helped him and nobody offered to help. When that inevitable day came for an inspection from El Dorado National Forest Headquarters staff, the fire barracks looked pretty good. Nobody praised the Footloose Forester for his single-handed effort. Instead, he was resented by his colleagues because he had taken the initiative that should have been a team effort. The most stinging memory, however; took place during the 2-3 day period during which he was methodically cleaning the windows while his workmates sat in the sun in front of the Pacific Ranger Station, waiting for our supervisor to emerge from his office. When the supervisor asked them where the Footloose Forester was, they told him that he was at the fire barracks washing windows. The supervisor answered, “he knows where he is supposed to be.” How is that for a compliment? Truth is stranger than fiction.
We had permission to play, but we had to mow the field before the games
As a ballplayer, the Footloose Forester delighted in playing third base on our softball team of geezers in Haiti. But to play the position, he determined that he had to earn that privilege. He organized the team, made out the rosters, secured the permissions to play on the beautiful grounds at the Union School in downtown Port-au-Prince, and even mowed the field before games. He was also team Captain who had to decide who played shortstop when two good shortstops showed up to play. His rule was, if you didn’t show up on time, you didn’t start at the position you wanted. For that he was resented.