Ernie Chiles was a student teacher in my freshman biology class. He was a quiet guy who didn’t make much of an impression at the time.
Next year, though, he had been hired to teach Earth Science, which was generally considered a Mickey Mouse class that anybody could pass.
By the luck of the draw, Jim Stone, George Cauble and I ended up in his class and achieved some kind of critical mass. We started an informal competition with Ernie. Our goal was to ace every one of his tests and his was to create tests that nobody could ace.
THAT played havoc with the grading curve
The three of us would meet at my house the night before the tests and we’d practically memorize the text book and class notes. Ernie, for his part, would dig into obscure points to try to trip us up. If we missed a question, we’d do even more research to prove that we were right. At the 20th Reunion, I was still disputing a question that Ernie had marked wrong.
Ernie was a pilot and a ham
Ernie, who wasn’t more than a handful of years older than us, was a ham radio operator and a pilot. Before long we were hanging out at his house, going flying and doing stuff that teachers today would be afraid to do with their students.
He was Mr. Chiles in class and around other students, but he was “Ernie” when we were together. He was the first teacher I knew who had a first name and the first one I connected with as as a person, not just someone who taught a class.
I became a newspaperman because of him
One of our flying expeditions turned out to be a life-changer for me. You can read about how I became a newspaper photographer because of it.
Pam T can comment on one of her flights with Ernie after this is published. He laughs about it today, saying, “I can just see the headline you would have written if the icing on the wings had gotten any worse, “Teacher, Students Die in Crash.”
I corrected him. I’d have written “CHS Teacher Kills Students.”
Ernie Taught me how to drive
Of course, I crashed in the first 150 yards. Here’s the whole, sad, story.
Rock of the Month Club
When Jim Stone and I came back for the 20th Reunion, we stopped by to see Ernie. After all the business of catching up was over, Ernie looked at us and said, “OK, guys the statute of limitations has surely run out by now. Fess up.”
Jim and I looked at each other and asked, “Fess up to what?”
“Come on, you guys. I figured someone would leak it by now, but you’ve done a good job of keeping a secret. Just confess it was you who did it.”
Not a clue
“We don’t have a clue what you’re talking about,” I said.
“One night I woke up to hear a loud noise outside my house. The next morning, there was this huge boulder in my front yard with a sign, ‘Welcome to the Rock of the Month Club.’ I knew Ken’s dad was in the construction business and he’d have access to heavy equipment, so you two HAD to have been involved.”
I looked at Jim. He looked at me. “We’d be proud to admit to it, but this is the first we’ve ever heard of the story. We’re innocent.”
Somewhere there’s a Central High School student who is great at keeping a secret.
Anybody want to step up?
Ernie’s getting up in age and I’m sure he’d love to know the whole story before he “goes West,” as pilots call it.
Tomorrow we’ll show you what Ernie looks like today. He and I took a bike ride around Horseshoe Lake on Tuesday.
He tightened his seat belt.
He remembers that first driving lesson.
UPDATE: Ernie and I still fly together.