Stories from the Roller Coaster: South Carolina?
When I received my degree from the University of Southern Mississippi in May of 1989, I was still a couple of classes away from my full-fledged teaching certification that would allow me to teach and coach. I completed those classes during the summer and searched furiously for a school still looking for a baseball coach and English teacher right before school started.
My roommate and future brother-in-law, Charlie, and I were both working full-time low-paying jobs that summer and living in a rental house in Petal, Mississippi. Though we were both driving brand new cars, we were eating peanut butter sandwiches (because the jelly had run out) and pizza that he brought home from his job at Domino’s. When we could scrounge at extra two dollars, we would splurge and use our two-for-one steak sandwich coupon from Sonic for a night on the town. The carhops didn’t bother to collect our coupon until near the end of the summer. That’s a blessing I still savor to this day. We survived the summer but badly needed more lucrative professions…fast.
“South Carolina?” an Excerpt from Stories from the Roller Coaster (of a Faith Life)
My first call about a coaching job was from a high school just 30 minutes or so from Hattiesburg. I strongly desired to stay in the Pine Belt area, and this was certainly a school that met my standard of little baseball tradition. As in…none. I met the principal one morning, and he met me with a “dead fish” handshake. His school seemed to have just slightly more life than his handshake, so I returned to my rental house downtrodden. This was definitely not the job for me, and time was running out before school started. I hit my knees in prayer.
Lord, I will go wherever you send me, I pleaded, but I really don’t want to go to that school. My answer to that prayer came quickly. That same day, I received another call from the athletic director at Charleston High School.
“Charleston, South Carolina?” I asked.
“No, Charleston, Mississippi,” Coach Dean Wright answered.
I am a lifelong Mississippian, but I had never heard of Charleston, Mississippi. I was familiar with most points in the central and southern parts of my home state, but this was new territory. A few days later, I drove up to this small town located at the edge of the Mississippi Delta and about equidistant from Grenada and Batesville.
The fact that the athletic director was late to our scheduled interview because he was tending to his star running back in jail should have been enough to scare me away from this opportunity. However, as I would also realize on a number of succeeding faith moves, when I have prayed and sought God about direction for my life—prayers for His will and not mine—I often sense a counter sense of peace even in the midst of reason. I had a feeling of “right” about taking the job at Charleston.
I laugh now as I think back about the conversation in which I told Coach Wright that I accepted his job offer to be the head baseball coach, assistant football coach, and special education teacher on an emergency teaching certificate (a part of the job description for which I had not bargained). This would be a quick move from my house in Petal to Charleston, and I asked for his assistance in finding a nice apartment there. When I arrived with a U-Haul trailer full of my meager possessions, I found that there were no apartments in Charleston, at least in the traditional sense. My “apartment” was actually three rooms attached to a little old lady’s house.
Entering from the back door from where I would park my new Mazda MX-6, the shotgun-style suite consisted of a kitchen, a bedroom, and a spacious den. At $95 per month—and my landlady even paid half of my essential utility bills—this may not have been what I had in mind, but it fit into my first-year teacher’s budget. I still can’t figure how I left Charleston at the end of the school year more in debt that when I arrived. I replaced a TV and a VCR, but there was not much to do in Charleston except grab a burger and hang out at Bumper’s. This financial lesson was one of many that I learned in my brief time at Charleston.
“South Carolina?”: Postscripts
The financial lesson I learned in Charleston was a big one, but it wasn’t the most important life adjustment the Lord had in store for me in my year there. Read more in Stories from the Roller Coaster, coming November 24.
My family and I tried to slip in a quick trip to Charleston, South Carolina, before meeting my extended family in Myrtle Beach one summer. Three tire incidents later, we never made it to Charleston. But that’s a story for another day.
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About Al Ainsworth
Al Ainsworth is a values storyteller. He works with individuals, businesses, churches, and other organizations to pass along their values through the stories they tell…and re-tell. Al is the author of Lines in the Gravel (and 52 Other Re-Told Childhood Tales), Stories from the Roller Coaster (of a Faith Life), and Coach Dave: Season One. Subscribe to his email list for more values storying.