Sunday, March 13, 2011

George & The Pheasant

Week 2 of "Family Sundays" takes us to my father's side of the family, and a story about his grandfather, the venerable George Sylvester Counts.

In recent years, George S. Counts is a name that has largely been forgotten. The vast majority of people scratch their heads when you mention his name, having no knowledge of this man who wrote dozens of nonfiction works, and played a key role in training many of the "activist" teachers of the 1960's. In his time, he was very influential in various political and educational circles, though today he's become little more than a footnote in history.

George S. Counts
in "The Colorado Daily"
July 25, 1958
I believe this marginalization of George S. Counts is due to the fact that there is little spoken of his "human" side. All you ever read about him are articles concerning his professional work, which isn't something that interests most people. The person behind the professor has been hidden from view. I know some of this may have been his desire, as he preferred to be an agent of social progress, and sometimes his personality and personal behavior worked contrary to the future he sought to shape. Therefore, many of the more interesting parts of his life are currently untold.

As one of his few descendants, I think it's a shame we don't have detailed accounts of his early life, and no one ever did an "after hours" look at his later years. All I know comes from a handful of stories that I've heard from my father, his grandson. During his early years, my father spent a lot of time with "Grand-Pappy" Counts, learning bits of family lore and getting to know the man outside the classroom.

Over the coming months, I'll relate a few interesting tales about George S. Counts, but to start I'd like to tell a tale very few have ever heard.

One summer morning in 1951, my father accompanied George on a short drive to the local store, to buy the newspaper. On the way, they saw a ring-neck pheasant standing by the side of the road; not an uncommon thing to see in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, though what George decided to do about it isn't so ordinary. He decided he wanted to eat that bird, so the car took a quick detour. Swerving onto the shoulder, he whacked the bird with his front bumper, apparently killing it. After retrieving the bird and tossing it onto the back seat, George and my father continued to the gas station, where George got out to buy his paper.

As my father waited in the car for George to return, the pheasant came back to life. It had only been stunned by the impact, and was now screaming and flopping around inside the car. My father was only five years old at the time, but was understandably concerned. It wasn't exactly hunting season, and he didn't want his grand-pappy to get into trouble for attacking this bird. There was only one thing my father could do. He strangled the pheasant with his bare hands, completing the job George had sought to accomplish.

A few minutes later, George returned with his paper and drove home. My father never told him about the pheasant's untimely revival.

This story may seem a bit fantastic, but my father is not one to embellish or invent stuff, so I accept it as truth. If I asked him for greater details, he could probably tell me the make and model of the car George was driving, and even identify the route they took. His memory is fairly impressive, though often guarded. I'm not the sort to grill him about such things, and simply listen when he is of a mind to relate something of interest.

So, what does this story tell us about George S. Counts? I'll leave that for you to decide, though I will say that a little anecdote like this can give some interesting perspective on a man who is generally seen as a stuffy intellectual of a bygone era. Some people might think this sort of thing is best left forgotten, as it doesn't fit the popular image that has been created around George S. Counts, though I beg to differ. I personally feel events like these are the most important aspects of his life, or any person's life. They make him a real person, not just some notation in a text book, and that can be the difference between fame and the forgotten man.

If only more of these tidbits could be told, then perhaps he would be better remembered.

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