Wednesday, Dec. 3, 1986
Mr. Wodrick was born in a canoe as his parents escaped high water in central Vermont during the Flood of 1927, and he got shot twice during the Korean War. Everyone at Comfort Rock Elementary & Middle School knew this. Heck. Everyone in Franklin County knew it.
He made sure of it by bringing it up in every conversation he had.
Waiting in the chair outside his office door, I wondered how long it would take for him to bring those details up during our chat about the Christmas concert. I sat and watched Ms. Grace (she always insisted on being called by her first name) prepare morning announcements and answer the phone. I wondered whose parents were calling their kids in sick today. I hoped it was Valerie’s mother on the phone.
The principal’s door opened, and Mr. Wodrick peered out from the gap at me.
“Miss Comstock. You wanted to see me?”
He smiled, a big fan of that sort of formality, whether sincere or otherwise.
“Please step in.”
He directed me to a chair and took a seat at his desk. His squinty eyes looked at me as he ran a hand across his high-and-tight haircut. I tried to imagine him with longer hair but couldn’t. I imagined him popping out in that canoe with the exact same haircut.
“What brings you here so early, young lady?”
I said the only words I could think of, my mind suddenly swept clear of thoughts by his rumbling voice.
“The Christmas concert, sir.”
His eyebrows perked up.
“Ah. And what about it?”
“It’s … uh … pretty great we’re having one.”
“I agree. It’s always a treat. I hardly think we needed to meet about that, though.”
I’d lost him before I even started.
“Well, what I mean, sir, is that it’s great, but it could be even better if …”
“If you’d let Nashvi … ah, Mr. Nash and his band play with the students. It would be pretty cool, and I think lots of people would like it.”
“I see,” Mr. Wodrick said. “I see that perhaps Ms. Van Fleet spoke out of turn already today.”
“No sir. Not out of turn. Having Mr. Nash and the Comfort Rockers play was my idea. She was just letting me know that you didn’t want that to happen. So I figured I’d talk to you about it.”
“Isn’t it nearly time for the Pledge?”
“In about 10 minutes, sir.”
“Fine. Speak your piece.”
It was always complicated with him. There was no such thing as doing something just because it was fun or just to try it out. Everyone had to have a “piece” to speak. Good ol’ Mr. Wodrick.
“It’s really not that complicated, sir. Just trying to make things a little different, try something new, make things a bit easier for Ms. Van Fleet after her back problem.”
Mr. Wodrick stood up. Not a good sign.
“I’ve experienced a lot of things in my life, Ms. Comstock.”
Here it was.
“My mother brought me forth into this world in the bottom of a canoe, raging floodwaters all around. God’s wet, righteous fury pouring down from above. I’ve placed this body between my beloved country and the demon Communism, bearing the scars to this day from that twice-given sacrifice. And for the past twenty-odd years, I have held the line between education and chaos in Comfort Rock from this very office.”
He paused for a breath and turned to look out the window.
“But what I will not do, Miss Comstock, is offer up the great tradition of our sacred Christmas music in the name of rock and roll. That, my young lady, is an experience I will not have, share, nor take part in creating.”
I was at a loss. I’d always heard the stories from others, but never from the source. The passion. The determination. The conviction. It was more than I was ready for. I sat in silence.
“You may go now,” he said, not turning back from the window.
I started to stand, but something clicked in my head. I made a connection and sat back down.
“If I may, sir?”
I was really putting my neck in the guillotine here.
“Well, all those things you said … being born in a canoe, shot in the war, taking such good care of us kids here at school. Those are things that everybody knows about, right? Things you’re real proud of.”
“So what if you didn’t have those things? What if you were just a guy with a string of bad luck, but something came along that could make you feel really special?”
Mr. Wodrick returned to his seat. I had his attention.
“What are you getting at here, young lady?”
“Mr. Nash, sir. Do you know him?”
“He’s the janitor. Of course I know him.”
“Yes, but I mean ‘know him’ know him? Know what his life was like? Because I do. I was talking with Mama last night about Nashville, about the concert, and she was so excited because she thought it would be really good for him.”
Mr. Wodrick picked up a pencil and fiddled with it for a few moments.
“You know. Mama said you were principal here when she and Nashville were students. That you were the high school principal back then. Remember how he busted up his arm and lost the baseball scholarship and couldn’t go to college? And how he learned to play the guitar after because it didn’t feel right not using that pitching arm for something useful? Started playing little shows all around to make extra money?
“And maybe you don’t know this part, but his daddy died a while after he graduated, and he took care of his mom after that until she died. And then … well, you must know this, being principal and all that, but Heather’s mom just up and left one day, leaving Nashville to take care of her.”
I stopped and stared at Mr. Wodrick. He looked a little shaken up, which was probably the most he was ever shaken up.
“Yes. This is all true and very sad. But what’s your point?
“Mr Wodrick, people in this town love and respect you. They see you as a really big deal.”
He blushed a little and sat up in his chair.
“Nashville doesn’t have that. People mostly feel bad for him. They like him and all, but he’s mostly the school janitor who had a bunch of bad stuff happen. Let him play at the concert with his band. I think that would make it a pretty merry Christmas for Nashville and Heather. Maybe even for all of Comfort Rock.”
Mr. Wodrick sighed.
“Young lady, I cannot believe that you came into my office and talked to me this way. It was very manipulative and weaselly of you.”
I felt a lump growing in my throat. I couldn’t cry when he said no. I couldn’t.
“But you’re also very persuasive. You go tell Ms. Van Fleet and Nash … Mr. Nash that he and his band can play the all-sing with the school and play four songs on their own after. All Christmas songs, though! I don’t need them singing about boozy sex and drugs in my gym.”
I couldn’t believe it. I did it!
“Thank you so much, Mr. Wodrick! You won’t be sorry you did this. Thank you thank you thank you!”
“Well, you’re welcome, Miss Comstock. Now get back to class.”
I ran down the hall and made it back to music two minutes before the Pledge of Allegiance. Ms. Van Fleet didn’t even need to ask how the conversation went. My smile said it all.
To be continued …
THE COMFORT ROCK CHRONICLES IS AN ONGOING SERIES OF SHORT STORIES ABOUT A FICTITIOUS VERMONT TOWN, AN AMALGAM OF ALL NORTHWEST VERMONT HAS TO OFFER. COMFORT ROCK HAS BEEN GROWING IN MY HEAD FOR WELL OVER 20 YEARS. I REALLY LIKE THE FOLKS WHO CALL COMFORT ROCK HOME, AND I HOPE YOU DO TOO.