can't go home again

Vintage-High-School-GraduationDudley Snodgrass, called “Duddy” was a very intelligent boy. He learned to talk and walk at a young age, and in school his grades were perfect. His mother adored him, his teachers were constantly bragging on him. The other kids called him “Einstein” and “Brain” and some secretly resented him. Some not so secretly.

Painful, crippling shyness was the only chink in Duddy’s armor. When called on in class, he would turn beet red and stammer a stuttering answer. He would get physically ill when he had to stand before the class and give a book report. Not only was Duddy a shrinking violet, in his dreams, he yearned for the ability to turn invisible.

When Duddy was chosen to be valedictorian of his high school graduating class, he was horrified. He begged and pleaded with the principal and the advisors to let him off the hook. Duddy got really pitiful, to no avail.

The school officials pooh-poohed his concern and insisted that Duddy take the honor, which they insisted, would be a glowing jewel on the boy’s “permanent record.” His few friends insisted that he take the honor. His parents insisted he take the honor.

So, Duddy screwed up his courage and wrote a speech for the graduation ceremony. Like all Duddy’s efforts, the speech was magnificent. After reading the speech to his principal beforehand, the old man removed his glasses and stared at Duddy. “This is the best valedictory speech I’ve ever read,” the ancient, rumpled Mr. Jones said in awe, dabbing at his teary eyes with his wrinkled handkerchief.

Graduation night finally came. With entertainment of any kind being at a premium, everybody in the small town was at the high school auditorium. It was standing room only. Finally, the principal introduced Dudley Snodgrass to great applause. Duddy, legs trembling, heart pounding, rose red-faced and lurched to the lectern. He couldn’t feel his feet on the floor. He felt as light as a helium-filled balloon. He feared he might float to the rafters, immune to the laws of gravity.

Duddy stood there paralyzed by the crushing wave of all the staring faces looking back at him. Eyes filled his field of vision like stars on a starry night. Sinister, evil stars. They were everywhere. His throat and lips were so dry his tongue was stuck to the roof of his mouth. His hands were shaking so badly he dropped his speech and the pages, caught by a draft, fluttered across the floor. There were muffled snickers and laughter.

Duddy quickly began gathering the pages off the floor. As he bent over, a loud, trombone-like fart blasted from his rectum. And then, to Dudley’s horror, he let another involuntary fart, even louder; and then, horror of horrors, Duddy had a violent, audible bowel movement in his pants. The stench that quickly filled the auditorium left no doubt as to what had just transpired. Mortified, Duddy fled from the stage midst the jeers and hoots and pointing fingers.

Duddy ran across the village still wearing his graduation cap and gown. By the time his parents got home, Dudley had taken a quick shower, changed clothes, packed a bag and hauled ass out of town. He left his mother a hurriedly scribbled note that she would never see him anymore because he planned to drop off the face of the earth. He could never show his face in that town again. It was goodbye forever.

A trucker picked up Duddy hitchhiking on the Interstate, and by morning he was far, far away. He wandered until he found a big city where he felt no one would know him. He got a job at a fast-food restaurant and rented a small room. But, in time, his intellectual curiosity got the better of him and he started college at night. As usual, Duddy aced his courses.

The years passed and Duddy gradually forgot the embarrassment of that stinky, shitty graduation night. He started his own business and became a very wealthy man. Early in his career, Duddy started using his middle name, D. Joseph Snodgrass, lest somebody from his old home town recognize the name. Duddy Snodgrass was no more.

When Duddy was 70, he sold his company and retired. He had everything a man could want, riches, acclaim, and a beautiful trophy wife who worshiped him. But there was a restlessness in his soul. Unfinished business. He wanted to see his old home town again before he died. The more he thought about it, the stronger the urge became. Surely, after all these years, there will be nobody there who remembers me, Duddy thought.

Finally, just as he had over a half-century before, he struck out in the night, only this time he was in his Mercedes headed back toward his old home town. He left his wife a note, telling her there was something he had to do and he would explain later.

Two days later, the sleek Mercedes rolled into the still-sleeping town at dawn. Few lights were on. Duddy drove slowly up and down the dark streets as memories flooded over him. A twinge of the old panic grabbed his gut when he passed the high school. “Calm down, he told himself. Nobody here remembers you now. Duddy Snodgrass means nothing to these people anymore. Nothing.“

As Duddy drove through the town square, he noticed the lights on in a small corner café. He hesitated for a moment, but decided to go in and get some breakfast. Except for the owner and a cook in the back – and the welcoming aroma of fresh morning coffee – the café was empty. Duddy sat at the counter and sipped his coffee while waiting on his ham and eggs. The café’s owner leaned against the counter while reading his morning paper.

Just making conversation, Duddy asked the owner if he were a native of the town. The fellow lowered his newspaper and said, “Sure am. I’ve lived here every day of my 52 years.”

Duddy said, “Fifty-two years? That’s amazing. I took you for a much younger person. You don’t look anywhere near that old.”

The fellow replied, “I may not look it, but I’m fifty-two all right – I was born the same night Duddy Snodgrass shit in his britches!”



Image: the vintage photo (circa 1941) of a high school valedictorian speech is believe to be in the public domain and was found at where it is described as High School Graduation in Mansfield, Ohio, June 1941. Note: should it be determined that the copyright was renewed, we will attribute, attempt to license or take down.
  1. Lee Leslie

    JL, what a life you have lived. Falling down funny. As embarrassing as high school was for most of us, I thank you for the glimpse into a life that makes us all feel just a tad better for not being Duddy.

    1. JL Strickland

      Thanks, Lee. I appreciate it. I’ve heard that a person is not grown until he or she stops dreaming about high school. I guess I still have a ways to go.

  2. The perfect essay with all the details leading up to a great ending. You’ve done it again. Thank you.

    1. JL Strickland

      Thanks, David. I’m glad you liked it.

  3. Eileen Dight

    I feel tenderly for Duddy, at the same time laughing.

  4. Poor Duddy. I couldn’t help but laugh, but I’d have been more sympathetic to him in his youth. I’ve known many folks like him and have always tried to help them because I’ve never minded getting up in front of a group of folks and making an ass of myself.

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