Never Late

"The fear of being late turned into a compulsion to be early to all events in my life."

Punctuality is the politeness of kings.

~Louis XVIII

The family curse began when my twin brother and I were about five years old. Our mother took on us on shopping trips to town. We had to drive several miles to catch a bus that would take us to Gay Street, the main street in downtown Knoxville, Tennessee. From the time we exited the bus until we caught one for a return ride, Mother marched us up and down every street in the city. She stood only five feet two inches, but her short legs covered more territory than people much taller. She never bought much because money was in short supply, but Mother had an itinerary she had to cover before the homeward bus ran. Don't be late for the bus; don't be late getting home. "Don't be late" became our family's mantra, and it's caused plenty of grief over the years.

Mother began her twenty-year career as an elementary school teacher when my twin brother and I started first grade. Every school day morning, she chased us out of our beds, made us dress, and fed us breakfast. Then we'd load ourselves into the car for the mile ride to the local elementary school. School started at 8:00 A.M., but our brood arrived each morning no later than 7:30 A.M.

My brother Jim and I took a break from punctuality during our senior year in high school. The principal contacted our mother with news that we'd been tardy thirteen successive days. The tongue lashing we received changed our ways. A beating would have been more welcome than the long lecture we received. The main point of the speech was that being late is a sinful act that neither of us should practice. We were told to go and sin no more.

All the harping on not being late finally seeped to my core. As a freshman in college, I constantly worried about not being able to find my classes on campus. The thoughts of arriving late and being verbally chastised by a professor kept me in a near panic. I also was concerned about not being prepared for class once I arrived. What if I forgot an assignment? What if I needed to use the restroom? To prevent such disasters, I would find the buildings and rooms for classes at the beginning of each term. Then I would arrive for each session approximately a half-hour early.

The fear of being late turned into a compulsion to be early to all events in my life. This driving force played havoc with married life. My wife Amy is one who believes that arriving for an 8:00 appointment at 8:00 is acceptable. Showing up any earlier is a waste of time to her. On the other hand, I pace the floor, wring my hands, and curse as I wait for her. With every passing moment, my heart rate increases and my blood pressure spikes. Drives to our destinations often include heated arguments as I throw temper tantrums about being "late" to a function. The tension grows even more if we arrive on time or a couple of minutes early. Amy never says a word, but a smirk is pasted on her face, and her look screams, "I told you so!"

I became so anxious waiting for Amy on Sunday mornings that we finally began driving two cars to church services. I'd leave in time to be the first person there, and Amy and the kids would arrive only a couple of minutes after assembly had started.

The fear of being late carried over into my job as a high school English teacher. Teachers were required to be at work at 8:00 A.M. To me, that meant the correct arrival time was no later than 7:15. During the years that I taught an early morning class at 7:00 A.M., my arrival time was usually 6:30. The reasoning for such early arrival was it gave me time to do some work prior to students arriving. However, I usually spent the time in activities that had nothing at all to do with school. Not being late was what mattered most.

My children are adults now. Unfortunately, they've learned too well from their father. During their years in sports, we arrived at practices or at games before anyone else on the team. In their present lives, both Lacey and Dallas are early arrivers. They, too, have come to believe that being early is the same as being on time. Lacey's husband and Dallas' girlfriends struggle with the compulsion. Perhaps the newest member to the family, grandson Madden, can break the cycle and discover that being late isn't a capital offense.

This story is from Chicken Soup for the Soul: All in the Family © 2011 Chicken Soup for the Soul, LLC. All rights reserved.