*Thank you, Teresa Burns Murphy, for stepping in as today’s guest contributor. Check out Teresa’s website for information on her novel.*
My dad has a reputation for being good with numbers. This is one of the reasons he has been the official attendance taker at church and Sunday school for many years. He also has a reputation for being good with children, and that’s how he got the word Counting affixed to his first name, Bob. He frequently allows one of the children to help him sound the bell to signal that Sunday school is over and church is about to begin. This is a coveted honor among the children of the church, and several years ago one of the children remarked to her mother that she wanted to help “Counting Bob” ring the bell. Before he was “Counting Bob,” he was “Mr. Burns” to hundreds of students at Batesville High School. In addition to helping students find their way through the often-murky waters of adolescence, he taught mathematics. Mathematics has been defined as “the study of quantity, structure, space, and change,” a discipline that “seeks out patterns to form new conjectures.” Always the mathematician, my dad was and continues to be a problem solver.
I strongly suspect my sister, Liz, and I presented my dad with many of his greatest problems. One problem in particular occurred when were we small and shared a bedroom as well as a bed. As all parents know, sending their children to bed doesn’t equal their children’s going to sleep. Liz and I could be counted among those youngsters who are sleep resistant. In fact, we developed a nightly bedtime “pattern” of behavior that began with whispering and crescendoed into a full-blown giggle-fest. For us, this was so much fun we wanted to stay awake and keep the party going. Night after night, we fervently fought sleep, but exhaustion ultimately overpowered us. Still not wanting to give in to sleep, we resorted to arguing and tussling, leaving our bedding in a tangle and our parents in a less-than-pleased frame of mind.
One evening when we had wreaked particularly violent havoc with our bedding, my dad decided to put the quietus on our late-night antics by giving us a spanking. While my dad has never been a fan of corporal punishment, I suspect this was an action of last resort brought on by the exhaustion of an early bird who had to contend constantly with two rambunctious night owls. I’m not sure about Liz, but I believe this is the only spanking I ever got from my dad. I’m pretty sure it didn’t halt our nightly roughhousing, but it set my dad to speculating about a more viable solution.
First, he looked at the “quantity” of the entities involved and came up with the conclusion that one bed and two girls were never going to add up to a restful night’s sleep. Soon thereafter, we received a set of twin beds. While that change in “structure” didn’t totally solve the problem – we still argued – it kept us in line until we were in junior high school and my parents built a new house that included enough “space” for us to have our own bedrooms. We still managed to have a tiff now and then; but, when we did, my parents could send us to our respective rooms. This “change” in our sleeping quarters kept our house much more peaceful.
I’m grateful that my dad is good with both children and math and that he has for years put his expertise to practical use, solving problems in and out of the classroom. Early on, he adopted the philosophy of another mathematician – Benjamin Peirce – who defined mathematics as “the science that draws necessary conclusions.”