One of my favorite parts of writing is the way it immortalizes the trivial things that might otherwise be forgotten. “It’s all about the mundane,” my college writing instructor, Matt Frank, repeated. “The mundane is sacred. It’s holy.”
My little brother Mark wrote down a bunch of stories about Mr. Bray, an iconic and well-loved coach, teacher, and driver’s ed instructor in small-town Upper Michigan who passed away last year.
I love reading about what Mr. Bray meant to my brother and his friends — how he motivated them to dig deep and busted their chops to make them better.
I would like to add a few of my observations about Mr. Bray — they are quite different from my brother’s.
First off, as intense and as NUTS as Mr. Bray was, he was also the opposite. If you were within a hundred feet of the trophy hall between the middle school gym and the weight room, you KNEW you’d either hear Mr. Bray hollering with the most booming voice you will ever remember, or you’d see him strolling, and I mean strolling, across the glossy linoleum like it was a summer day at Lake Superior and he had nothing to do and nowhere to be. He’d be wearing those damn Zubaz pants (to his JOB as a professional educator) with white tennies and a half-zip pullover windbreaker, swinging his whistle around in circles with a cockeyed half-grin on his face. He’d give you a little grunt or witty comment paired with your nickname and keep strolling.
You loved seeing this Mr. Bray.
Next, Mark’s stories emphasize how much absolute screaming Mr. Bray did, but he screamed at the right kids. If you know me at all, you know how sensitive I am and how I get my feelings hurt and how deeply I care about protecting kids’ okayness. Mr. Bray knew who to yell at and who to lay off of. The kids in gym class who “couldn’t catch a cold” were expected to suit up and show up, but then they were basically let off the hook. It wasn’t just the jocks he bantered with — it was anyone who needed banter. Every kid had a nickname. They were all dumb. Names like Poops and Stripes and Mo and Zigzag. But what came out of Mr. Bray’s mouth became law. We all grabbed onto it and kept it going because we wanted it to live forever just like we wanted Mr. Bray to live forever.
Last, Mr. Bray was one of the only people I’ve encountered who could simultaneously be the loosest of all the cannons and the most comforting of presences. We felt safe with him in gym class or in the drivers’ ed car at eight at night because we knew he was for us. We knew he loved kids. We knew we could talk to him about anything. ANYTHING. Nothing surprised him or made him disown us. You didn’t have to be a standout athlete like my brother and his friends for Mr. Bray to take care of you. Mr. Bray looked out for anyone. For everyone.
I hope you’ll read my brother’s stories about Mr. Bray. And if you were part of our era, the generation of kids who were lucky enough to be shaped by Mr. Bray, I hope you’ll keep the stories going here or anywhere.
Visit Mark Henrion’s personal blog, Zeus Barbell: