What’s Your Story? (Three)

By Donald Ash | Articles

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Going back the U.S. meant going back to where I was born, to where my parents were born, going back to my roots. I remember going to Florida seeing those relatives I hadn’t seen in years. I could remember faces but couldn’t remember everyones’ names. I found their accents to be really weird. My brother’s name is Derrick, but my cousin Vamonde would say “DAY-UH-RICK” all slow and drawn out. I remember giggling the first time I heard it because I thought he was joking. Nope…he wasn’t joking…that’s just how some of my cousins talk; it’s the ole southern drawl that I never quite mastered.

To me, there was something cool about being from “the South.” There was something cool about have the debates with my cousins about which state was better Georgia or Florida (I mean come on, clearly the answer is Georgia, right? LOL 🙂 . There was something cool about having cousins who were so athletic and so respected. There was something cool about having a grandfather who was a renowned preacher and mason (masons are a secret society that have been around for an extremely long time) It was cool that the very same grandfather’s (my Mom’s Dad) name was John Henry who worked on the railroads (Do you know the legend of John Henry? It’s an awesome story…and I wondered if…maybe, just maybe it was based on my grandpa. Probably not, but it’s an intriguing thought). It was cool that my grandfather on my Dad’s side was a sheriff. Seeing those old, dapper photos of him in his Sheriff’s uniform filled me with pride.

Being in Florida (where both of my parents are from) was great, because I got to see just how huge my family really was. My mother has ten other siblings for goodness sake! TEN!! All from the same beautiful woman (rest in peace Grandma Phillips). Even now I am amazed by the variety of different people and professions make up my family. There are doctors, athletes, pharmacists, teachers, entrepreneurs, professional athletes, singers, preachers, carpenters, politicians, etc., you name it.

I feel so fortunate to have been born into a family that while in some instances there may not be much money, there is an endless supply of love and support.



Having lived Germany couldn’t have prepared me for life in American public schools. Things were quite different and kids had a harder edge to them. Because we spent some crucial childhood years far away from the influences of the continental U.S., my siblings and I talked a little differently and acted a little differently than some of our friends. That coupled with my Mom and Dad’s parenting style made all four of us stand out. We were extremely respectful to our teachers (yes sir, no ma’am). Our teachers would laud us for being respectful while some of the other students would give us (me) a hard time about it.

In school I remember some of my classmates telling me I talked like a white boy. Looking back…what the hell does that mean?! Enunciating means speaking like a white boy? You know what…screw those kids! I never changed how I talk and I don’t intend to. My mother raised me to speak like I have some sense, and I’m totally fine with the way I talk.

Our parents were also quite serious about getting good grades in school and all four of us always did, all the way through high school…

Columbia Elementary School was the first public school I attended when my family returned from Germany. I was there for only one year before changing to Snapfinger Elementary School. I lucked out on some lottery to be a part Math and Science Magnet program.

“A Magnet school is part of the public school system. Usually students are zoned into their schools based on location. Students mostly go to the school which they are closest to (this may not always be true since boundaries can seem arbitrary). With Magnet schools, the public school system has created schools that exist outside of zoned school boundaries. The point of them is that they usually have something special to offer over a regular school which makes attending them an attractive choice to many students, thereby increasing the diversity of the student population within them (in theory).” -publicschoolreview.com

The magnet program I was in was designed to be a more intensive curriculum that had a strong emphasis on math and science. I think classes were more challenging, but classes became REALLY exciting, too.

Funny enough, many of the same kids who were in the elementary magnet program with me became classmates of mine in the Columbia High School magnet program from August of 1993 until June of 1998. Ahhh, high school…it was the most awkward of times.

I remember hearing the horror stories about sub-freshmen getting beaten on their first day of school. I attended a high school that included grades 8-12 as the the middle school/junior high system hadn’t quite caught on in Georgia yet. I remembered hearing that there were some dangerous guys in high school and that I needed to constantly watch my back. “Was I gonna be okay?” I worried. What was this? Prison?!? Was I gonna get shanked in high school?

That first day was simply nerve-wracking! That walk into that Columbia High School for the first time was so scary. But I lucked out, because my sister, Erica was already one of the popular kids. Adrienne, my eldest sister, had already graduated from high school by the time I got there. I didn’t have any problems. I remember getting to the cafeteria and seeing some of my friends from elementary school looking just as nervous as I was. I was so relieved and so happy to see some familiar faces.

High school? What else can I say about high school? I definitely wasn’t one of the cool kids, but again my sister was both cool and smart, so I made friends with some upper classmen just because of her. In my grade, though, I was often called a lame, a nerd, and everything in between. Girls didn’t really give me the time of day. I was really lanky, had a flattop and braces.

Was I lame? Yeah, probably. Was I nerd? You bet your ass I was…I wouldn’t have it any other way. I had a deep respect for knowledge/intelligence…I still do. I respected those kids who were smart more than I respected the athletes (although I respected them, too). I respected those kids could perform so incredibly well with so little effort. I was often called a nerd, but truth be told, I don’t really think I acquired any special, genetic mental gift…the “smarts” I obtained came from hard work.

To make a long story short, I didn’t get beaten up and I made it through my first year, and all the subsequent years just fine. The classes got more and more challenging, but high school was a great time for me.

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About the Author

Donald Ash is an Atlanta, Georgia-born, American expat who has been living in a Japanese time warp for the last eleven years. While in that time warp, he discovered that he absolutely loves writing, blogging, and sharing. Donald is the creator of thejapanguy.com blog. Wanna know more about this guy? Check out his "What's Your Story" page.