Sunday, 20 July 2008

A Cast of a Dozen or So

I lead off this morning with a blog over where I went to school....the first nine years. Its
an unusual group of characters that I ended up having as my teachers during this period at Anderson Junior High. This often pops up in my mind with my fifth grade teacher...Ms Barnett....who immortal comments in a class one day....was "I wished you'd consider my words as if they were written in stone."

Its rare you remember commenting from a teacher....I sat there for days thinking about this comment...thinking at the time that words written in stone usually were on tombstones. That was the vision of a fifth-grader. Years later after visiting a number of memorials and monuments.....I understood the thought of "written in stone" and appreciated her comments.

Ms Barnett was a disciplinary queen and as tough as any instructor I had in my life. The curious thing is that she was verbally tough....yet always using respect as a tool. In this era of teaching today....few if any teachers have that talent. It disappeared off the face of the earth in the past thirty years.

My first grade teacher was the old Ms. Camp...who probably already pushing 65 at that point...and had been around since the early 1930s. I can be truthful....other than remembering the first day and the last day of the first grade.....I don't remember anything else. Maybe thats a positive thing.

In the second grade.....we had Ms Mubern....wife of the principal. This was the odd couple who packed up the week after school ended each year and went off for a month of travel in a car around America. They did this for almost twenty years. It would have been great to have her in a history class....but this was the second grade and we never fully grasped all the information that she carried around in her head.

The third grade teacher was the daughter of Ms. Camp.....Ms. Christen...who labeled me eternally as a easy kid to manage. Ms. Camp had two daughters who taught....and this daughter was the only one with common sense. I will explain this later.

By the fourth grade....we came to the eternal Ms Ruby. She grew up five hundred feet from the school.....lived in the same house as she grew up in....and lived with her brother and sister. None of the three had ever married or left the house except for the four years Ms Ruby spent at a local university. They were all in their late 50s or early 60s. Years ago....you could find an example or two like this in every community where brothers and sisters just never left the home or married. Today....its practically impossible. This is the teacher with the worthy view of reading and its massive values....which I regarded greatly as important.

As I ventured into junior high.....Coach McGraw was there for two years as an English instructor. My mom came up at the end of the summer period in the seventh grade and suddenly realized I had absolutely no knowledge of verbs or nouns. There wasn't much that the Coach really did in English.....which you kinda have to laugh about today. He was the WW II vet of the school.

Science for this entire four year period was the class under Ms. Hilda....the second daughter of Ms. Camp. There are several odd things to discuss here. This is the woman who advised us all of the dangers of eating apples which hadn't been properly washed....which she felt that you had to use Mr. Clean or a Clorax-type cleaner in the sink....thus properly cleaning the apples. I came home and announced this to my dad...who asked if there was any taste left to apple after doing that.....and I sat there thinking....that pretty much wipes out that apple. Ms. Hilda was a fierce believer in the Baptist track to life.....and every science class ran that way. The science book handed to us every year....became merely a minor tool. She would automatically select chapters at will....skipping various chapters....and out of a 24-chapter book...we never got past 18 chapters. Strangely enough....dinosaurs were never covered in this entire period....never was evolution mentioned....and anything that conflicted with Baptists....was dumped. When Jurassic Park came out...there was this vast open period of my knowledge and I ended spending a good year or two reading articles and catching up on what should have taught. Ms. Hilda was a strong believer in knitting....and even allowed kids to knit in class...while class was going on.....to which we had our first ever and only stabbing....where some girl jabbed her knitting needle into some kids leg.

Mr Goodman was the Vietnam vet who did history for the four-year period. What I grasped later....and found odd....was that he never talked or mentioned Nam ever. He was there the very first year of any buildup and then left to go onto college and get this job. This came up maybe once a year in class....and he simply closed the conversation and we went onto discussing history. His room had the encyclopedia set.....which I read cover to cover in the seventh grade.

For a brief two year period.....we had Coach Ezell who was the English teacher and basketball coach. He probably improved English and grammar usage amongst us by 100 percent after Coach McGraw left. Yes, I did actually learn nouns and verbs in this period.....and came to appreciate the instruction. As a coach....I came to dislike his methods and the direction of things...and gave up on basketball after the eight grade.

Math teaching became an unusual event in this four-year period. We had some old teacher who had pushed retirement as far as she could and was gone thirty percent of the time in the sixth grade. I can't even remember her name today. The sub's came and went....with no real direction in math. The next year wasn't much better. Then they brought in this 35-year old woman....who wore short skirts and looked like Ms. America....and again....class went nowhere. Then the final year, they brought in Mr. Terry White. Math instruction actually improved slightly.....I might have actually learned something that year....by accident. This guy was in his twenties and actually had a sense of humor. He would go in five years to marry Ms. Rose (who was two years ahead of me in school). Ms. Rose was sleeping beauty by all accounts....she could have melted anyone's heart in a moment....but she was a strong-minded individual. I would guess that Mr. White was lucky in various ways.....and enjoyed this period of his life and the school to the maximum. He never left. I heard about a year ago of his passing....from cancer. I considered him to have been very lucky guy in what life he lead.

With this mighty cast of characters....was one additional player....Reeder, the bus driver of mine and the school handyman. When the Simpson's play out the Scottish school handyman.....I'm always reminded of Reeder. He had a sense of humor and probably enjoyed every single moment of life. He never got rich off the bus driver pay or the handyman pay....but he lived a fruitful life.

So these were the four-star players of my youth. None carried five-star status. None were giants of their trade. None were exceptionally gifted. None have their words written in stone....unless its their tombstone. Ms Barnett might have been partially correct. But then I've digitally written their contributions so that they do last forever.....at least in my blog. So a thousand years from now....someone will read this and contemplate what was and was not.


Where I Grew Up

Most of you may know that I grew up in Bama....a long time ago (yet, after the Dinosaur age).

My first nine years of school were settled into the rustic and quiet town of Anderson, Alabama. There isn't much you can say about Anderson between 1965 and 1973. This is a town that had a cotton gin, two gas stations, a general store, a regular store, a barber shop, a beauty shop, and a ice cream/hamburger shop (later to become the world famous Fish Creel). The school only went to the ninth grade....and probably had been around since the mid 1920s.

There isn't much you can say about the town. It sits on a creek....which overflows once a year by ten feet. Never a murder in the town. There are three churches....might even be four today. The baseball/softball field is the key identifier of the town, and still sits there today....although greatly improved since my day. After I left in the early seventies....my brother went though the late-seventies period....where mayhem, chaos and out-of-control teenagers roamed. There was probably a two-year period where an awful lot of stuff occurred that you wouldn't discuss in public today....where booze flowed....teenage girls got pregnant....and folks were doing crazy stuff on Saturday night. Then suddenly....the period ended and they went back to the straight-laced Baptist period. Even my brother will comment on the change of eras occasionally, where things just abruptly stopped.

From the twenty-five kids in the class in the first grade....around twenty-one of them finished the ninth grade with me. One got hit by a school bus....two transferred over to another school after a couple of years....and another left the state. You kinda knew every single kid in that class after nine years.

The teachers? These were all women who got educated in the 1940s and had been teaching for over twenty years. Several were approaching 60.

This is not the school where you'd get worldly knowledge or 5-star teachers. These were teachers that simply laid out the basics and demanded that you know A, B, And C. You could sit and make 50's on math tests...and somehow...they'd figure a way to pass you at the end of the year. I knew several students who should have failed at various things....but that wasn't the accepted method in the school.

Heavily-laced Christian theme? Yes....without any doubt. I can look back and laugh at the things that some of these teachers did along the way. Racial-divide? There was not a single kid in this 230-kid school who was anything but white. You could drive in any direction for five miles and not find a black resident. You can research pre-civil war history and not find any plantation or large farming operation in this area. This was the boonies then....and it was still the boonies in 1970.

The lunchroom was an interesting place. They actually made some of the best beef stew and rolls (all-homemade) that you could find on the face of the earth. I still remember sitting there and enjoying a big bowl of stew. The rest of the menu....decent enough and worth eating. I didn't grasp the 4-star quality until I left this school and went onto Lexington....where the chow there was marginal and there were days that I just brought a apple or two with me for lunch.

The school got state and county money at some point in the late 60s....and built a new library. This became one of my favorite places to hide out at. After about two years though....I'd read almost everything they had of interest. It wasn't a grand library of sorts....and they rarely got new books. Some of those on the shelf....had been there in the school since 1945. The one curious thing that they added into the library was a projection room....and they got two or three twenty-minute National Geographic movies each month. If you were lucky....the teacher would force the class to watch one of these.

By the final four years there....we were in the big-house....the grand brick building that was the mid-20's project. By 1970....it was in pretty poor condition and really needed a renovation. The bathrooms barely worked and were hardly heated in the winter. The classrooms? They were either 95 degrees or 60 degrees....in the middle of January. We used to laugh about the huge heat and having to open windows every 30 minutes to get a reasonable balance of temperatures.

Smalltown America offers luxery that you really appreciate. Each spring was the county fair and school would end around noon one day so everyone could go to the fair. The school offered a basketball team....ever the loser....and any guy who wanted to play....got on the team with no effort at all. They played on a junior-high school-sized court....which I came to realize later in life is really tiny.

For about five years....the "trailer" existed. This is an amusing part of this Bama life. The "trailer" was this project...probably sponsored by the state and the federal government. They tested and found that half of the kids in the school....were reading two years behind the other half. So they brought in this "trailer" with this reading instructor....and each class got a 50-minute session each day. I never got a chance to enter the trailer....and was always interested in the deal. I think most of the kids in my class who got into the trailer....came to appreciate it later in life.

Sports was a major part of life in this school. Every year laid out new memories. Somewhere around the eighth grade....there was an hour-long basketball game set up....where five of us guys were set to play against the better five girl players of the school. I was the center of the boys group....and came to be roughed up more than any game in my life. I was knocked down at least five or six times....left sitting there and wondering why our ref (the coach) didn't call a foul. Toward the second half....I came to grasp a strategy...that girls were overplaying and being twice as aggressive as you'd expect (maybe the coach hinted that they could go that far). So I started to sling (quietly move to places on the court that the center doesn't usually stand). Yet as I came in to take rebounds....I'd be knocked to the ground. These were rough girls....and after the game....I decided that I'd never repeat that experience again.

The only remarkable period of the entire school year....ended up being Halloween week each year. This was the school that pulled in a couple hundred bucks via a Halloween evening...where cake walks....basketball throws...and bingo occurred. This paid for the paper, chalk and toilet paper. My dad would always drive up late to the event and we'd have to park a good ten minutes walking from the school. There would usually be five hundred folks showing up...mostly socialize....and drink coffee or Coke. The tossing of eggs was a ritual....along with various punk ideas that would pop up. The icon of my memories settle around the famous "cake" year. My dad and I picked up four cakes in one evening off the cake walk episode. I must have been around thirteen at the time. We were "caked-out" after three days of munching on them....and it was a long time before I wanted anything sweet.

I quietly fitted into this crowd. I was never a speech person or a talker. You'd hardly know that I was in the room. Most teachers gauged me as the kid who was going to do "the right thing". I couldn't fall into trouble or get myself into a deep pit. Maybe the atmosphere of the school helped to make that possible....I can ponder that thought for a long time.

I likely finished this nine-year period with outstanding grades in history and geography. English and science were medium levels of passing. And math was the woeful tale. I came to hate every single math class there for the final four years. I don't think I ever made higher than 75 on any math test in that period. I suspect that some of the teachers likely gave me an extra five points at the closure of the semester...to get me to the "C" level. It was dismal. The curious thing is that I went to the next school where they merely handed me the book and asked when I wanted to take the test. I had a home-work assignment each day which they checked for thirty seconds and then moved on. I finished the entire math book three weeks after Xmas at the new school. My grades that year in math were all "A's". I went on to taking major math classes over the final two years at the new school. How did things change? I found that I'd fall asleep in the old school....because they would stand and chat for six weeks on one particular math subject....and I'd be so bored that I wouldn't pay attention. The entire class became this way....I later realized. The teachers were never accepting that a slow-pace was a bad idea.

About once a month...something will hit my mind and I will reflect on Anderson and those days. It has been over twenty-five years since I saw a single person from my class. I know that most still reside within five miles of Anderson. Several have done well in life. One or two are major farmers who've made a success in life. One even does car body repair and runs a big operation in the area. A couple might not be happy with things but then its Bama, you know. And two are dead.

There are probably three or four that I'd like to meet again...but the odds are pretty much zero. The school doesn't do reunions of such. And even if they did....I'd suspect that most wouldn't show up after all these years. I'd probably be standing there with four of the class-act ladies of the class...and no one else.

Did I ever feel charmed by any of the ladies? Maybe one or two. But I was in the extreme shyness point of my life and would never have said a comment or made a move.

So this is the once-a-month mental reminder of my trail and how I got to where I am. It was a necessary "leg" of my journey. I doubt that it amounts to a huge deal....but it is bit of my moral compass which is heavily pointed "north". When I write about life in general...this is part of my measure of life....I gauge it against the situation and render a verdict of sorts.