Sunday, February 11, 2007

Sunday Seven: Blessed Teachers

I have been blessed by my first seven school teachers.

Mrs. Overstreet, First Grade.
She spanked me on the first day of first grade! I had walked to school, hand in hand with my wonderful mother down Mackville, Kentucky's main street. The Methodist parsonage, the school, and the church were all on that street as I remember the early fifties. The two first grades had met together the very first day, for registration, I guess. But the first real day I had the good fortune of sitting right behind my little friend (a girl) from church. Pestering girls was already a favorite pastime of mine, so several times I playfully pulled her hair that was so temptingly gracing the front of my desk. She complained to Mrs. Overstreet, who after numerous warning, hoisted me by one arm from my desk and applied her open hand to my backside. I guess that did the trick, I don't remember another paddling till fourth grade.

I do remember Alice and Jerry and Jip and the joy of reading that first primer to my family. I also remember coming home and using some of the blue vocabulary I learned at school on my sisters, much to the consternation of my pastor father.

Miss Florence (I don't suppose she had a last name), Second Grade.
I remember her as very kind and supportive, despite the fact that I waited too long to request a restroom break and (Oh! Mortification!!!!) had an "accident". Fourth Ward School was a long walk from 333 South Ninth Street, Griffin, Georgia, and the definitely-not-Main-Street parsonage for the Midway/Sunnyside/Vaughn Methodist Circuit. The principal was known to us boys as "Wild Bill" Cody. But Miss Florence was sweet and ancient. Fourth Ward did not use Alice and Jerry and Jip. They had Dick and Jane and Spot.

Mrs. Giles, Third Grade.
Mrs. Giles was very efficient, very stylish, very popular with her students, and very unready to put up with nonsense. I have a vague glimmer of a memory of a note that got passed that went directly to my parents when Mrs. Giles got hold of it. I think this was the year I got a taste of the stage. I got to sing a duet, "Side by Side", dressed as a hobo, in the big (as I remember it) auditorium. I've been hooked on applause ever since.

Side by Side
Written by Harry MacGregor Woods
(Patsy Cline radio transcription)

Oh! We ain't got a barrel of money
Maybe we're ragged and funny
But we'll travel along
Singing a song
Side by side

I don't know what's a-comin' tomorrow
Maybe it's trouble and sorrow
But we'll travel the road
Sharing our load
Side by side

Thru all kinds of weather
What if the sky should fall
Just as long as we're together
It really doesn't matter at all

When they've all had their quarrels and parted
We'll be the same as we started
Just travelin' along
Singing a song
Side by side


Yeah, Thru all kinds of weather
What if the sky should fall
Just as long as we're together
It really doesn't matter at all

Now, When they've all had their quarrels and parted
We'll be the same as we started
Just traveling along
Singing a song
Side by side...

Miss Matilda Brown, Fourth Grade.
She gave me (I know, I know -- I earned) a D. In math, a D! You better believe Charles and Ruth Shaw's son made an A in math the next grading period -- they were six weeks long back then. That six weeks was definitely long.

Fourth Grade was the year of the fire. Our janitor, whose name I used to know, was seriously injured when the boiler exploded. We all cleared the building as we had practiced so many times, but it was real and scary this time. Firetrucks parked at crazy angles at the back of the school, the firemen scurrying in and out, and ambulance screaming to a halt, more scurrying, and then the ambulance screaming away. Miss Brown managed to get us out and keep us out of the way and under control. She was cool under pressure in that case.

I remember being extremely frustrated when we were given a writing assignment and I just could not come up with a beginning sentence. Nothing. That's what I had on my paper when Miss Brown dropped by my desk. She was not happy. I didn't know about the trial and error and rubbing out and rewriting and revising and crumpling of paper that was supposed to go into the writing process. I wanted a perfect beginning sentence to put down and it wouldn't come. Did I mention that Miss Brown was not happy.

Miss Brown was, if possible, even more ancient than Miss Florence. We were bigger and her classroom management was not subtle. One day while Miss Brown was out of the room briefly there was some commotion among her charges. Since she couldn't ascertain the culprits, she decided the best course to avoid a miscreant going unpunished, was to line all the BOYS up in the hall and paddle them. This was before rotator cuff surgery, I suppose, and her arm was gone. As she walked down the line applying weak taps to our posteriors, we began to giggle. This infuriated her to the extent that she started all over again when she got to end of the line.

At least once during fourth grade I was sent to "Wild Bill's" office for a paddling. I got to see him administer his paddle to the backside of an older boy. The boy gripped Mr. Cody's desk. The paddle flew in a graceful arc. I swear, the desk moved several inches. He did not paddle my buddy or me that day. I suspect he could see in our eyes that we would toe the line, for a while at least.

Every day I walked past the big old house with the wrap around porch where Miss Brown lived. There were hanging baskets all over it. I enjoyed stopping by to see Miss Brown. She gave me cuttings from what she called her "airplane" plant. I was thrilled to take those strange offshoots home and pot them.

Herbert Leach and I decided during my fourth grade year to expand our business enterprises to include yard work. Previously we just collected Coke bottles along the streets and hauled them in my wagon clear across town to redeem them for a penny apiece at the Coke plant. Now we would rake leaves or mow lawns. Miss Brown was one of our first customers. She wanted us to weed her garden. We had a hard time differentiating weeds and non-weeds. We also had a hard time meeting her weeding standards. We did not long continue in her employ.

Miss Brown helped me learn to use and appreciate a dictionary. She called me "impudent" one day. I was taken aback. I was hugely offended, but was unsure why. I rushed home and looked it up in the dictionary and was, thereby, greatly relieved. I've been fond of dictionaries ever since.

Despite all that, you know what? I loved that old lady.

Mrs. ???, Fifth Grade.
I am drawing a blank!! I can see her face before my mind's eye right now. I know her name!! What is it? It just came: Mrs Anderson! How could I forget? Mrs. Anderson, I am so sorry!!

Her class was in a lower room. Sort of a basement. It had high windows as I recall. We were great warriors that year. I spent a major portion of my time perfecting my drawings of battleships complete with fiery blasts from the cannons and Zeros or Luftwaffers plunging in fire and smoke into the sea.

At recess we invented a great game. Boys would pair up. One boy would climb onto the shoulders of another and go to battle against another pair. The team left standing was the winner. This game was short-lived, as you might guess. It came to Mrs. Anderson's attention when some kid took offense at being flung to the dirt and threw a punch. I happened to have managed to roll on top for a moment and was pounding away when Mrs. Anderson stepped in (thank goodness!). It was the most glorious moment of my elementary education and worth ten times the licks I got for it.

Mrs. Anderson was convinced of the need for good nutrition and insisted that each student eat at least three bites of each item on their school lunch plate. I did not eat potato salad. I still do not eat potato salad. If God had intended folks to eat cold potatoes he would not have provided us with fire. I tried to explain to Mrs. Anderson, but she could not understand. She seemed to take my calm explanations as impudence! I promise you: I was paddled for not eating my potato salad. Note: I did not eat it. She could have paddled till Sunday: I would not have eaten it. Ask my mama.

Mrs. Knight, Sixth Grade.
Mrs. Knight at Ellijay Elementary was also my Sunday School teacher. That just doesn't seem quite right. does it? There ought to be a law. Daddy was back in a more exalted position as pastor at First Church. (Actually Watkins' Memorial at that time.) I suppose some testosterone was starting to kick in by this time cause, as the new preacher's son, I was the center of a good bit of attention from sixth grade girls that summer before sixth grade and I was pleased. I immediately fell for (I'll change the names to protect ... whoever.) "Audrey Hepburn". The only problem was I had misunderstood the introductions and thought she was "Grace Kelly". Now as I look at the pictures of "Grace" and "Audrey" from that period I realize they were both pretty girls, but the mixup caused my first few months in my new home to be very uncomfortable. I confided to a friend that I found "Grace" very attractive. The real "Grace" accepted advances that I did not know I had made and the real "Audrey" wrote me off.

Mrs. Knight's class was a combination Fifth/Sixth. Therefore we sixth graders had to listen to fifth grade lessons too. It probably didn't hurt a bit.

Our elementary was in the former high school building. An advantage to that was the huge auditorium. Our music teacher, Miss Mable Hensley of the big earrings and showy scarves led singing there and Roy Smith the County Agent led 4-H meetings there. And when the World's Strongest Man (Paul Anderson) came it was the stage of that Auditorium where he picked up the apparatus that held fifteen or so little boys, including yours truly. And when Officer Don of the Popeye Club came to town we got to play Ooey Gooey on that stage.

One day Mrs Knight sent me to the office to take some sort of something to the principal. Or maybe it was a discipline trip, I'm not sure. Anyway, we had just gotten our brand new "educational television" sets. I was shocked to find our school's leader, in his office, watching Debbie Drake, the exercise guru, in her tights, doing s-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-s. Right there on educational TV. Oh, my!

Mr. Weeks, Seventh & Eighth Grades
Mr. Weeks was young and everyone thought he was a great teacher. We changed classes in seventh and eighth grade and our classes were in an adjoining, newer building. We thought it was almost high school. Those two grades are horribly jumbled in my mind, partly because we had the same teachers.

In 4-H we put together a program for The 4-H Hour on channel five in Atlanta and I traveled squshed into a back seat with several other kids to the big city for the taping. One kid demostrated how we graft apple varieties onto existing trees in Gilmer County. Another kid demostrated how to cook an apple upside-down cake. Charlese Poindexter and I sang a duet of "Around The World" -- the only thing on the program not associated with Gilmer County's famous apples.

A highlight of those two years was the day Mr. Weeks crowded all the classes into one room so we could watch the broadcast of America's first little fifteen minute journey into space. What an inspiration was Alan Shepherd!

Then there was the class trip to Stone Mountain. This time I screwed my courage to the sticking place and asked "Doris Day" to be my companion for the day. She stuck with me on the bus down, but found other friends to her liking on the climb up the mountain and I was destroyed. I promise, I didn't get fresh.

Maybe I should have.

This little exercise is very humbling to this elementary school teacher of twenty-seven years. I have very warm feelings toward the seven teachers I have listed. They must have taught me something. But almost all of my memories of those years are of my classmates, my extracurricular activities, the fire, the spankings. I don't remember much at all about the math, science, history, reading, we did.

Still, all in all, I think these seven folks cared about me and must have worked hard to teach me a little something. Lord knows I tested them at times. Bless their hearts.

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