Months went by. Spring turned to fall. Fall turned to winter and winter to spring. Darnell turned nine years old. He had a new teacher. She was pretty, friendly, and she taught 4th grade. Her name was Mrs. Anne Tompkins. At PTA, Mrs. Tompkins told Eustis and Cora Mae, “Darnell gets along very well with all the boys and girls. He is well-behaved, studies his lessons, loves to play on the playground, and…”
“Oh, he’s extremely fast,” said Mr. Everheart, the principal.
Mr. Everheart stood with Mrs. Tompkins in the cafeteria and poked his drippy nose to the conversation. His eyes lit up like sparklers as he shook Eustis’s hand.
“Yes sir, Mr. Jones, Mrs. Jones,” he said interrupting, spinning to Darnell’s parents. “I’ve never seen a 4th grader run so fast. My, he’s so big. Why, I had to check his birth certificate to see if he shouldn’t be in the 6th or 7th grade.”
Cora Mae and Eustis smiled.
“Does he get his size from you Mr. Jones?” A small, thin man with a long nose, he wore a dark suit, polished black shoes, a white shirt, and a speckled-gold and green tie.
“Hum. Maybe some Mr. Everheart,” replied Eustis. “But Cora’s daddy is six-foot-five, her mother five-eleven.”
“Ah, I see,” Mr. Everheart rambled on. “Well, let me tell you, I’d keep my eye on that boy. He’s bound to be great. Mr. Hanks—he’s our assistant principal—along with Mrs. Tompkins, he and I saw your boy throw three strikes last week.”
“Strikes sir?” Eustis squinted; and he grinned. “He’s playing baseball on the school grounds, is he?”
“Close, Mr. Jones, but no,” Principal Everheart went on. He combed his greasy, thinning hair with one hand; and he sniffed. “Your boy plucked a loose football from grass. From thirty-yards away, he zipped it clean-through our tire-swing hanging near the slide.”
Eustis raised his chin. His eyes slid left and right; and he seemed to think. Eustis started, “I hadn’t…”
“What’s more,” Mrs. Tompkins carried on, “he immediately repeated the feat, twice, the following day, when Jimmy Bagbalm dared Darnell.”
“Dared him?” Cora questioned. “You say…”
“I know Darnell can throw, Mrs. Tompkins, Mr. Everheart,” Eustis said calmly.
“Too, he loves basketball,” Mrs. Tompkins added. She fluffed her puffed-up, golden hair that seemed to be stiff as a board from too much hair spray.
Cora Mae nodded. “Darnell is playing church basketball right now, folks; and thank you for your kind words. I’m glad we’ve met you at PTA. But, my husband and I want Darnell to stay tuned-in to his studies. Brains beat brawn most days during contests. We want Darnell in the game for many, many years.”
“Yes, mam,” Principal Everheart followed.
The talk was a nice reminder of where Darnell should stay focused. But it didn’t imply that he should give up throwing knives, stones, footballs, shooting basketball, or playing with his animal friends in woods. Dreamy Darnell had many friends in tall grass, along the creek, and in and among the oaks, pines, and dogwoods. Friends—he had friends there, except for the wily fox, the brutish boar, and the sneaky, slithering rattler.