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When we performed the Highland fling to the music of a whole corps of pipers at the final field day of the playground season, it was the high spot of the pageant, everyone said, and for us, the proudest achievement of our young lives. Especially when Mr. Rockne came up to us right afterward and said, with what looked a lot like tears in his eyes but was probably just the reflection of the bright summer sun, "That was great! Just great!"
Years later, when I was invited to come out and teach a summer session at Oregon State College in Corvallis, I was on the point of writing back to say that I couldn't come, when I glanced through their summer catalog and the name " Knute Rockne" caught my eye. He was scheduled to give a coaching course that summer.
Although it was highly impractical for me to travel across the country and back just to teach a six-week session at Corvallis, nothing could have kept me from going. I certainly didn't expect Knute Rockne to remember me. Even so, I think I would have traveled to Timbuktu to see him once more. But Mr. Rockne didn't come to Corvallis that summer—nor any summer after that.
I'm not much of a mystic, and I don't know anything about the transmigration of souls and all that sort of thing. But some years later I was again out West, teaching dancing to a class of college athletes at Colorado State College. My big burly students had already learned the Highland fling and the Scottish sword dance, which they sometimes practiced down at the football field. Although I knew most of the men by name, there were still a couple I wasn't quite sure of. Especially one, who was awfully slow to catch on and didn't seem at all interested.
One day, after a particularly strenuous go at the Sioux eagle dance, I finished with an explanation that the eagle is a symbol of courage and power. The men were on their way out, talking and laughing, and a few of them were still bouncing around with the double step of the eagle dance, when I heard a familiar nasal voice: "Say! This is great stuff!"
It gave me a fleeting sense of panic. I had no idea why. But the same nasal voice went on to say: "This makes you quick on your feet!" I had a sudden feeling I was losing my mind. I turned quickly, almost terrified of what I would see.
A SMILE FROM THE PAST
And there he was—the student whose name I wasn't sure of, his arms outspread like an eagle, his body curved gracefully forward as he was beating the floor vigorously with his feet. He smiled up at me proudly, and I saw that his smile came from way down deep and that it made little crescents of his eyes.
"What was that you just said?" I asked, staring at him.