I never tell my fourth grade students that they are never too old to learn. I tell myself that sometimes, and I try to put it into practice.
All my life, and we're talking quite a span of time, I have envied people who could whistle real loud. They put their fingers in their mouth, take a huge breath of air, and then blow a whistle that snaps your head back, and you can see other people duck their head and wince.
I know that in my pre-retirement years I should be lifting the spirits of the downtrodden, donating my time and services at the Rescue Mission, and making the world a better place for my fellow man, but this summer I could stand it no longer. I yearned to be able to make that whistle with my fingers in my mouth, and my friend and fellow teacher, Greg, was just the fellow to show me. Greg is a teacher, for one thing. Teacher is his name and instruction is his game. And his whistle is so loud it affects your intestines.
Greg and I taught summer school, and several times he put his fingers in his mouth and called over a hundred children to their classroom with one "blow."
I asked Greg if he would be my mentor and teach me how to whistle. I began my apprenticeship with a barely audible air release, like the sound of a grown man at his kid's swimming pool party blowing up the seventeenth air mattress of the day. Pitiful.
A month later, not even a whisper of a whistle had emerged, and my mentor, Greg, disgustingly said, "You'll never be able to do it." I was stunned! Was I a washed up has-been? Was I a dog that was too old to learn a new trick? I started practicing more often. Slowly, whistles emerged. By the beginning of the regular school year, I was able to make a faily loud whistle half of the time. Other teachers with the rare ability to make finger whistles whistled with me.
Kids on the playground were noticing. Some even winced a little and told me I had a loud whistle. Oh, the pride! But I told them that my whistle was not nearly as loud as Greg's, so we went to Greg and had a showdown, a duel, a whistler's contest, and I went first. I let out a good one. Then I carefully watched my mentor. He took a much larger breath, positioned his fingers a little deeper into the mouth, and ripped an ear shattering whistle that beckoned me to greater heights. I continued my studies.
Then today, Thursday, September 19, 2008, at an assembly in front of our school honoring National Pledge of Allegiance Day, the principal was trying in vain to get everyone's attention. I leaped at the chance, and before Greg could even lift his hands to his mouth, I let out a fairly good one, and the kids quieted down. My finger whistle wasn't in the same league as my mentor's, but for a brief moment there was a feeling of accomplishment, of attention getting control of a crowd, and the sense that I was a young dog learning a new trick.
You're never too old to learn, even if it appears to be a worthless talent. The next time Peggy and I are in New York and need a cab, I'll be ready.