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Hunker Down with Kes

Shine Up Your Side Mirrors…

By Kesley Colbert
Posted 12/28/21

Dorothy Jean Swearingen passed away. The name won’t ring a bell with most of you. But this story might. If you let your mind cruise back down your own memory trail...

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Hunker Down with Kes

Shine Up Your Side Mirrors…


Dorothy Jean Swearingen passed away. The name won’t ring a bell with most of you. But this story might. If you let your mind cruise back down your own memory trail...

She and I were never close friends by any stretch of the imagination. And we did not “stay in touch” over the years. It was more like we were always in each other’s peripheral vision.

Jean skipped into my life on an elementary school playground during Eisenhower’s first term. She was not in my class because we were separated alphabetically.

I hung out with kids with last names like Alexander, Butler, Cook, Cozart, Dinwiddie... I was “tied” in a room with them for seven hours a day. If your last name started with A through G, I knew how well you could spell, read, cipher, cutout presidents’ heads and build stick men out of clay.

I knew what they were bringing in their lunch sack each day. I knew who was “happy” and who could be a bit “touchy” at times. Listen, everyone in our second-grade class stayed away from Pam Collins if she was having a bad hair day!

It is interesting when you think back on it. The school system dictated (simply I’m sure for organizational purposes) in those early days who your best friends were by how they divided the classes.

Of course, that was the last thing on a nine-year old’s mind. We were just trying to survive. Without embarrassing ourselves!

I didn’t have a class with Jean until junior high. By then I was into sports and not much else. I never “walked her to class” or “flirted” with her over by the water fountain. We’d nod and speak and that was about it.

She didn’t ever miss a day of school. I remember that. They would call us up for our “perfect attendance” picture towards the end of each year and she and I would “bemoan” the fact that we never could get sick!

If the occasion arose, she would wish me well on Friday night’s game. I still appreciate that.

But that was about it. Not really much contact for two kids in a small high school. We just both had other directions to go.

It’s the “peripheral” thing again.

But let’s not discount that! Life is made up of “way more” than just two best friends standing in front of you each day. We might ought to pay a little more attention to our side mirrors.

A junior high teacher spent a few seconds with me after class one day and told me in no uncertain terms that I was a special student with special abilities and I should not waste them. It was one of the very few conversations we ever had. But as the years unfolded, I never forgot the heartfelt advice.

I don’t consider that “peripheral” at all.

Early in my sophomore year I was struggling—well, actually sinking—in the classroom, on the football field and with Mary Hadley Hayden. A very thoughtful and popular senior girl (who I barely knew) “found” me near ’bout crying at a table by myself in the lunchroom. She slid into the seat beside me and quietly told me my good sense would “take care of me” in school, my athletic ability would “do the same” in football and Mary Hadley would “be a fool” not to see what was right in front of her.

Help doesn’t always come from the expected sources.

Tim Peters would give me a ride back to the gym after baseball practice my freshman year in college. Sometimes we’d detour by the City Café for a hamburger and a Coke. Always on him! He was a seasoned upperclassman who “had time” for a rookie. I had no classes with him and no contact other than the baseball team.

Guess whose name comes to mind every time someone mentions college baseball to me....

Sure, I love my brothers. My family. My first wife. My Sunday School class. They all have a direct, lasting and profound effect on my life. But let’s not discount, forget, overlook or marginalize the many, many other folks that dance in and out of our lives on occasion, be it large or small.

If we are really paying attention as we motor through the years, we might just be a better neighbor...and almost certainly have better neighbors!

Which brings us back around to Dorothy Jean Swearingen...and why I read the obituary Phil Cook sent with profound sadness. I’m thankful for her touch on my life.

She was in our class. She was “one of us.” We shared a space together in this world once upon a time. And brother, let me tell you, there is nothing peripheral about that!



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