The play’s the thing

Ed Smith
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My dear grandmother used to say to me when I was going some place where I needed to be at my best: “Now remember, Eddie my son, you’re as good as nobody else!”

Many years after I had come to recognize the basic if rather subtle contradiction in those words, I had also come to recognize their truth. From hearing my mother talk, I knew that Nanny was a wise old lady who had known her share of heartache, grief (not the same thing), backbreaking labour, loneliness and despair. She knew what she was talking about.

Happily, she also knew what she wasn’t talking about. I was married with a family of my own before she went to her well-deserved reward. She had watched me grow from infancy through childhood and develop (my word, not hers) into a teenager. In her parting words to me she was not using the word “good” as a barometer of moral behaviour. She suspected the difference.

Her suspicions were probably confirmed many times over before the year I eased my father’s car carefully out of the driveway one beautiful summer Sunday afternoon and drove the 20 or so miles to Northern Bay Sands.

Along the way I picked up several friends, including my sister, and we spent a happy couple of hours on the beach. No one seemed to notice, and several people did know the minister’s family. Of course, I looked older than my 14 years.

Apropos of nothing, the car was about half as old as I was. I have always said that the great destroyer of the human soul — which is everything that is human about us — is guilt. After 70-odd years of living, I see no reason to change that.

However, if there is a candidate for being a close No. 2, there is no question in my mind, but that the top contender for that role is lack of self-worth. That you are always as good as nobody else, to take that statement literally.

I watched that same marvellous grandmother spend much of her life in awe of others for one reason or another. Her lack of formal education was one as she accompanied her father to the Labrador on his fishing schooner from an early age.

As the wife of a fisherman who was chronically in debt to the fish merchants of her day, her family’s lack of material possession gave her an inferiority complex to those who had much.

When I was about three or four, I remember walking with my grandmother along the road when we saw this man heading towards us.

“Now, Eddie my son, make sure you tip your cap to the gentleman when we meet him.”

It seemed a strange request to me. I had never been asked to do that sort of thing before so I asked her why I should.

“Because,” she said as if it explains everything, “he’s the merchant who owns that big store we were just into.”

Her tone when she greeted him was quite deferential. I don’t remember what he said to us, but the incident has always stood out in my mind.

She was so delighted when the husband of her youngest daughter decided to become a United Church minister. And he, for his part, always treated her like the gold she was. Unfortunately, I don’t think she knew in her own mind that she was gold.

As a high school principal for many years, I saw many good and deserving students who never knew that they deserved a great deal better than life had handed to them.

Many were so shy they could hardly talk to you. Some have told me many years since how nervous and upset they’d be to be called to my office, although I don’t think I was regarded as a tyrant.

They had no doubt but that they were about to get into a situation where they’d be roundly chastised or punished for something they didn’t do.

They were never part of the “in” group and felt decidedly inferior to everyone. I know students who went through school acutely miserable because they felt they were looked down on by everyone, including teachers.

I knew of only one almost failsafe antidote to that particular poison. If young people who felt that way could be persuaded to get involved in the school’s drama program, the change in their personalities, their attitudes and their outlook on life more often than not underwent a tremendous metamorphosis.

In my last school, we had a tremendous drama teacher and coach who was adept at drawing students out of themselves and into the characters they were representing.

Throughout their high school years I have watched many retiring and extremely shy boys and girls blossom into outgoing and capable young men and women.

Many of them won awards of one kind or another in the district and provincial drama festivals. As a result they became more aware of their potential to achieve far beyond what they thought possible.

It bothers me to no end when I hear of schools having to drop the drama program or the music courses or their phys-ed activities because of diminishing resources or lower class size.

To a great or lesser degree, they all have their part to play in developing the character and abilities of young people.

The whole point of this column is to say to those parents, teachers and provincial educators not to let go of any of those things without one hell of a fight.

If you do, you are letting down many of those students who rely on you to help them be the best that they can be.

That’s assuming, of course, that any of you responsible for children do read what I write. How else are you supposed to learn?

(An inferiority complex was never one of my problems.)

Ed Smith is an author who lives in Springdale. His email address is

Organizations: United Church

Geographic location: Springdale

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