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If you open the individual stories from the links on the right side of the page you will find a comment box beneath each story. You can also open the comments box by clicking on the "Comments" link at the end of each story. I would love to hear your thoughts about the story, my writing style and/or any constructive criticism you may have.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Everything was Always Great...Until it Wasn"t!!!

A little boy of 5 years old stands in the corner with his hands held to his face! His father has been gone for several days but today his friends laid him on the front porch, passed out drunk, again. He had ran out of money and friends. The little boy watched as his mother took his father by the arms and dragged him across the floor into the house; then across the floor of the living room to the bed room.
The little boy helped his mom lift his father up into the bed. Then he stood in the door way as he watched his mother take strips of rags and tie his father’s hands and feet to the head and foot board of the bed; one to each side, so he was tied tightly, spread across the bed.
The little boy went into the kitchen with his mom and helped her prepare dinner then they sat in silence and ate. Finally the little boy went to bed and off to sleep with hope that this time it would be alright.
Much later in the night the little boy was woken from a deep sleep by loud voices. He knew what was happening so he got up and went to his parents’ bedroom door in case his mom needed his help.
Knowing there was little such a small child could do to help he still felt that he had to try. He watched as his father thrashed in the bed fighting the rag ropes that kept him tied to the bed until his wrists and ankles were bloody. He ranted and raved at the little boy’s mom about letting him loose and about giving him something to drink.
After what seemed like forever, he knew it was a long time because it had become daylight, his father passed out again. The little boy held and hugged his mom as she stood looking down at his father with tears streaming down her face. For the longest time they stood like that holding each other. Finally his father started moving again and the little boy backed into the corner of the bed room and watched as his mom went to his father and with a sharp kitchen knife cut the rag ropes!
He knew what was about to happen because he had seen it before too many times! He watched as his father began to shake and tremble all over, tossing and tumbling in the bed and mumbling unrecognizable words. The little boy watched as his mom dragged his father from the bed and laid him out in the floor then lifted his head and laid it in her lap.
His father began to tear at his air force flight suit with his hands and the little boy knew the bugs were back and his father was trying to get them off. He watched as his mom moved his father’s hands from his clothing and held his head as he thrashed back and forth. The little boy watched as his father literally tore the flight suit from his body and cut bloody streaks across his chest and arms with his fingernails trying to get the bugs that the little boy could not see off of himself. He watched in fear as he saw his mom getting blood all over her as she tried to restrain his father. He was really frightened that some of the blood on his mom was her own and not all from his father. The little boy didn’t know how much time had passed but it was dark outside again.
After the longest forever his father passed out again and as the little boy stood in the corner with his hands over his face and tears streaming through his fingers, his mom looked up at him, tears streaming down her face then nodded her head at the little boy. He knew then that the worst was over and the hospital men would come and take his father away.
The little boy stood in the corner of the room with his hands over his face and wondered when it would all happen again. This time it had taken two days for it all to end!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Strawberry Picking

When I was in the third grade we moved to Arkansas where I grew up into adulthood.  We lived on a farm and though we didn’t move around we did the same type of work usually associated with the term “migrant workers”.  In fact we often worked in the fields right beside migrant workers who came to our area during the early spring growing and autumn harvest seasons.  My family had no way to make a living other than farm labor. 

After a long winter with no work because of the season and no money except what little was still left from the autumn season which was usually nearly nothing, the first work any of us could find in the spring was strawberry picking.  There were several farms within a couple of miles of where we lived at that time which had 20 to 30 acre patches of strawberries.  So we picked strawberries each spring to get some money for food and necessities. We were paid $.05 per quart to pick them.  A quart box for picking strawberries was a small, paper thin wooden box with a wire rim on top.  They were equivalent in size to the green plastic ones you can buy in the grocery store today. The farmer provided quart containers and carriers with handles that would hold 10 to 12 quart boxes. Most pickers would take 4 to 6 carriers and drop them on the row they were going to pick berries from as they walked to the other end of the field.

I hated this work with a passion! I was tall even at that early age so I had to bend over from the waist and stay bent over or kneel down in a squat to pick the berries which grow close to the ground.  The berry plants grew out into the middle between the rows so you couldn’t pick from your knees without crushing the plants and unripe growing berries. You also had to walk very carefully to keep from stepping on the plants as you walked up and down the rows.  It was often necessary to slide your foot under the plants that had grown out into the center just to have a place to stand or step. You would get in trouble and often yelled at by the farmer if you damaged the plants or ripening berries while walking through the berry patch. You also got in trouble if you were caught eating berries. The farmers we worked for would fire you if they caught you eating the berries! Perhaps that is why I don’t really care for strawberries even today.  

If we worked very hard, and the berries were good, we could pick 100 quarts or a little more a day. That was five dollars for a ten hour work day.  To be able to do that we had to stay bent over picking without any rest breaks except for lunch time.  After just a little while your back would feel like it was breaking and your head would start to swim, but all you could do was stretch a little and go back to picking. I guess we would have starved if we hadn’t picked strawberries but I think I would have been willing to become a little thinner and pick fewer strawberries.

How do you think the strawberries you buy at the market today get picked? There are no automated strawberry pickers.  There are people today who are still living and working very much like I did when I was eight years old and the work is no less back breaking. I have seen TV stories of the berry patches in California today and they have wider rows with growth control fabric so the berries don’t grow into the middle of the rows now. At least you can kneel and pick today.  

The house I lived in at that time was not much but most of us today wouldn’t even store our riding lawnmowers in the shacks some of these people live in today, if they have even a shack. Many of them sleep in abandoned buildings, old cars or if they have a car of their own they sleep in it, often the entire fmily.  You can take it from me; today my family and I would have to be a situation that was near starvation before I would willing go back to those days. I don’t want to pick strawberries. Good old days, I don’t think so!

Every human deserves a descent place to lie down to sleep at night. They deserve to have safe clean work environments. They deserve enough pay to live on and take care of their children.  Little children eight years old should not have to work as hard as the adults in the family just for the family to survive. 

Ok I will get off of my soap box and end this by saying “I hope you have a very enjoyable dinner; with strawberry shortcake for desert.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Why I Hate Cold Weather

From the time I started the third grade until I went away to college at nineteen I lived in northeastern Arkansas. We had moved around a lot during my younger years but had finally settled near a small town when I was in the third grade and stayed there until I finished the sixth grade.  We were, I guess, following my father around as he moved from place to place but he disappeared when I was nine never to be heard from again so we finally settled down and lived in one place. When I was twelve we moved to a new community onto a farm that my mom’s brother, my uncle rented and farmed.  We worked for him as farm laborers and lived in a house on one of several forty acre plots of land he rented.  The house we lived in had four rooms, a living room, kitchen, my bedroom and my mom and sister’s bedroom.  This house like so many in that country and at that time was built very cheaply and was called a “clap board house”.  A clap board house is not constructed in the same manner as we think of wood frame houses being built today.  It didn’t have wall studs with some type of siding on the outside and wall board on the inside; it had only a single wall.  The builders, usually the farmers who owned or rented the land, would take wide cypress boards and nail a two by four across the top, middle and bottom of the boards then raise the wall and prop it up until another wall could be built to join the first one at the corner so that each wall supported the others. All of the walls were built and raised from the floor of the house that was already in place. Once all the walls were up the ceiling and rafters were built and roofed with corrugated tin. Where the wall boards joined the builder would nail a strip of cypress about two inches wide on the outside of the wall to cover the joint between each wall board.  These houses had only a single wall not an inside and outside wall, the inside of the outside wall was what you saw when you were inside the house.  Most people who moved into these houses would nail cardboard from boxes on the walls to cover the inside then paste wall paper over the cardboard. It didn’t look that bad when it was finished but being a single wall there was no insulation factor.  It was hot in the summer and cold in the winter. The houses were built from cypress freshly cut at a sawmill and as the lumber dried it shrank. There were cracks in the floor that you could see through to the ground under the house. Linoleum floor covering was generally used to cover most of the floors in a house.  The strips on the outside of the walls would come loose as the lumber shrank and you had to keep nailing it back down to keep rain from getting through the wall cracks and soaking the cardboard you had nailed inside.

We had a hand operated pitcher pump in the back yard where we pumped our water into a bucket and carried it into the house.   The bucket would sit on a wash stand, just a simple table to keep the water bucket, wash pail, soap, towels and whatever else to wash and dry your hands and sometimes your entire body. During the cold winter months we took wash pan baths, standing usually naked with a wash cloth and washing all over.  Only once a week did we carry a number three round galvanized wash tub, about three feet in diameter, into the house and fill it with warm water as it sat by the heating stove so we could take a “Bath”.  Because the house was only heated by a stove in one room the males and females in a family were very careful to stay away from the doorway so the other person could bathe in private without having to shut the door and freeze.   We had an outhouse some little distance away from the house for the other necessary functions.

Our living room had a stove in which we burned wood or coal to heat the house in the winter.  When it was very cold each night was a ritual.  I would pump fresh water for the evening and morning necessities.  You didn’t use water unnecessarily because every drop had to be pumped and carried. I would fill all of the necessary containers then pump a final bucket full.   By lifting all the way up on the handle of the pitcher pump I would cause the pump to loose its prime and allow the water to go back down to underground water level.  If I forgot to un-prime the pump after using it at night it would freeze and the next morning I would have to heat water and pour it into the pump until it had thawed so it could be primed again.  Needless to say you didn’t forget to un-prime the pump often because it was so hard to get it thawed out the next morning.  The pump and pipe it was attached to were metal standing three feet tall out in the cold.  We would use the water, carried into the house in a bucket, to bathe from a wash pan with wash cloth and soap. Before going to bed each night we would fill a tea kittle about half full of water so it could be heated to prime the pump and fetch fresh water for morning baths and cooking.

All of this becomes memorable but when you consider that this clapboard house with no insulation in the walls or ceiling got very cold during the night when the fire in the stove died down. You couldn’t stay up all night to keep the fire going.  My mom and little sisters slept together and I had my own bedroom.  We all slept in our bedrooms under so many quilts that it was almost impossible to turn over during the night.  Your nose would freeze if you slept with you head out from under the covers.  The weight of my quilts was so great that in my early teens I began to have regular nightmares about being squeezed to death.  I would wake my mom moaning and screaming in my sleep even though her bedroom was on the back of the house and mine was in the front.  I can not to this day sleep with my head under the cover or sleep under more than one cover.

Every new cold morning was an ordeal.  My mom, bless her long suffering heart, would get up and build a fire in the pot bellied cast iron stove then wait until the kitchen and living  room had warmed up to wake us.  We would then grab our cloths and run in our underwear to the stove to get dressed. I was twelve and my sisters were six and five, immodesty was not an issue we were family.  After I was dressed and on my way outside to take care of the necessities I would light a burner under the tea kettle.  The kettle was always left on the stove the night before with a couple of inches of water in it. While I was outside the burner would thaw the ice which had frozen in it during the cold night. Yes it was so cold at night in the house that the water froze! When I had hot water I would take the kettle of hot water and the water bucket out to the pump. All the water left in the bucket at the end of the night would be frozen solid so there would be several inches of ice in the bottom of the bucket.  I used the hot water to prime the pump and a little to loosen the ice from the bucket.  I would then dump the ice on the ground and pump a fresh bucket of water and also fill the kettle.  After throwing the prime on the pump I carried the water into the house for our morning pan baths and cooking. The school bus would stop and we would be off to school.  This ritual occurred every day during the really cold spells.  When it wasn’t so cold the ritual continued, just without the ice.

One winter the cold went on and on for almost a month with out ever getting above freezing temperatures even during the day. I remember the pile of ice circles from the frozen water bucket was about three feet tall and four feet in diameter, it even became a game for me to stack the new ice circle each morning in some unique way.

Ok you are thinking OMG what a poor family. Yes we were poor. We lived three miles from town and didn’t have a car, TV, telephone, indoor plumbing.  However many of our neighbors lived in the same type houses and even if they had phones and cars they still lived much the same as we did.  We knew we were poor because there were people living in our community who lived in brick homes with all the accompanying conveniences; everyone was not at the same level as us and some of them made it know to people like us how they felt about the poor. We grew up living very differently than most of the world lives today.  However there are still far too many people living today in conditions as bad and often much worse than what I experienced in my youth. Good Old Days?  You can have them! I have no desire to go back to that place or time.  Do you understand the poverty, health problems, starvation that too many of the people in our world today suffer?  How could you? You can sympathize, donate money and time or anything else, but understand, how can any of us understand the day to day existence these people suffer when we have never experienced the conditions?  Can I understand?  Maybe a little but that time for me is far removed in time and distance.  Even though I have not forgotten the poverty and other things the life of poverty denied me, my life was far easier than that of many of the people today. In closing, my life was not all bad; there were a lot of good things in my young life, my mom being the first and best. 

My Aunt Blanch

We all have things we remember about our relatives and neighbors as we were growing up.  Those memories vary all the way from fun, kindness and love, to intimidation, fear and anger.  My Aunt Blanch falls in the first category.  She and Uncle Byrd lived in town. Can you imagine having an aunt and uncle named Blanch and Byrd, two strange names for two lovely people? My mom, sisters and I lived just a half-mile east outside of town.  Since my family had no transportation other than walking it was often up to me, from the age of eight to the age of twelve to walk into town to pick up groceries or what ever was needed. We moved away when I was twelve to another community five miles east.  The grocery store I went to was on Main Street.  It just so happened that Aunt Blanch and Uncle Byrd lived on the street before you got to the grocery store and only a couple of blocks off of main street. You could often see Uncle Byrd sitting on Main Street next to the old railroad tracks, near the grocery with the other “old” men but you had to go to their house to see Aunt Blanch.  Some times, if I wasn’t on a time schedule, I would walk over to their house and say hello to her.

Aunt Blanch was my fathers’ older sister. She had never had any children of her own but she seemed to love all children and I remember that she was one of the most genuinely nice ladies I had ever known.  She would come out onto the porch when she heard me knock and sort of reach for my face with just a light touch, as she would rest her hand on my shoulder.  She would always sort of cock or lean her head to her left side and smile.  This was always her greeting to me and it was always done with a smile.  She would ask me how I was, how my mom was and if my sisters were all right.  She would offer me something to drink and some times a little snack of something home made.  We would sit on the porch and chitchat about family, farming, weather really just about anything that interested us. Can you imagine an eight year old and what was then to me an old lady, chatting.  It worked and we both enjoyed it.  Sometimes we would go inside and she would play the piano for me.  She played by ear, I never saw her with a sheet of music, and I could have sat all day long and listened to her.  She knew a wealth of songs by heart and she played everything with an old time ragtime or boogie rhythm.  It was absolutely mesmerizing to watch and listen to her play that piano.  I believe she could have played professionally during the roaring thirties when ragtime music was so popular.  She was always so kind, so sweet and so much fun.

I now live over two hundred miles from my old home town where Aunt Blanch lived, Uncle Byrd passed away many years ago, and I seldom get there to see anyone.  Just a couple of months ago my wife and I had to go to the area for a funeral for an uncle from the other side of the family so while I was there I dropped in to visit with Aunt Blanch and her sister Mildred who then lived together.  They live together in the old home that my grandmother and grandfather lived in when I was a young boy living next door to them with my mother and sisters.  We had a good visit and Aunt Blanch played the piano for us, just as well as she ever had.  My wife was amazed at the way she played with the ragtime beat and how well she played the piano especially since she was then ninety two years old.

A while back I received an e-mail from my cousin who lives next door to my two aunts informing me that Aunt Blanch had passed away.  As I sat and thought about how glad I was that I had been able to visit her just a short time ago I was saddened to think of such a kind, gentle person being gone out of my life.  Then I realized that she would never be gone.  I will always be able to picture the gentle touch to my cheek, the hand on my shoulder, the tilted head, the smile and all of the kindness she showed to me when I was a small boy.  I will especially be able to hear her play that piano.  As I get older I realize how many of the really important memories in a person’s life are composed of things that at the time seemed so insignificant, a gentle touch, a smile, and a kindness.  I hope someone somewhere someday will be able to remember me with just part of the good thoughts that I have for my Aunt Blanch.  I really wish I had a tape of her playing the piano.

I Remember Living In Panama

I was around two when we moved there and about five when we came back to the states.  We went at the end of World War II because my father was stationed at an air force base in the Canal Zone.  We lived in a two-storied apartment, we had the bottom floor and other families lived upstairs.  There were lots of American families with children living there. It was one of the really good times in my life because later I lived in rural areas where there were few playmates.
Near my house were numerous coconut palm trees.  There was a local native who came by regularly to harvest the coconuts.  This guy was simply amazing to a young boy.  He had a little two-wheel cart in which he carried the coconuts he harvested. It was odd to watch him push his cart along the streets because his shoes had the ends cut off of them. Now I don't mean he just had holes in his shoes, he had the entire end of his shoes cut off, sole and all, and he didn’t wear socks so as he walked along his toes were sticking out of the end of his shoes all the way up to the ball of his feet.  He carried a large machete like knife on a string hooked to his belt.  The coconut trees were probably fifteen inches in diameter and had trunks which were curved like the letter C. It was like the wind had blown against them from one direction all of their years as they grew.  The native would pull his cart up to one of these trees and then just walk up it.  He would grip with his hands around the tree and with his butt stuck way out he gripped with his bare toes, his shoes still on his feet, and just climbed the trees like a monkey.  When he got to the top he would hold on with one hand and cut the ripe coconuts off with his knife letting them fall to the ground, then down he would come just like he went up.  He would pick up the coconuts and put them in his cart and go to the next tree.  I would follow him watching, thinking that every tree would be the last because it seemed that he was doing something that was humanly impossible. He had to fall and I intended to be there to see it when he did.  No human should have been able to climb a tree like that but he never fell and he always smiled at me when I followed him around.  He didn’t cut all of the coconuts from the trees, only the ripe ones and they had to be just the right color.
We had a Mango tree in our side yard and the black ladies who worked on the base as maids and housekeepers would stop and pick up the ripe mangoes and eat them right there under the tree.  There were large colorful Macaws or parrots living in the trees on base and one in particular lived in a tree near a men’s barracks building. The men who lived there had made a pet of it even though it was not caged and taught it to say a number of words which really fascinated this young boy.  I got in trouble a number of times when my mother came looking for me and caught me under his tree trying to get him to talk.  You see the words the men taught him to say were not, in my mother's opinion, appropriate for a very young man to listen to and repeated visits to the tree caused me to learn another use for the limbs of trees other than parrot’s roosts, switches.  Panama and the military base was a very unique and interesting place for a young man to grow up.

I remember the bay also.  The house we lived in was only about two blocks from the bay.  The street that circled the bay was cobblestone and made the base housing form a circle that followed the bay.  There was a stone wall that went straight down into the water and you could walk along the street and look down into the bay and see all kinds of neat ocean creatures.  There was a huge Manta Ray which made the bay his home and watching him move through the water was like watching a blanket on a cloths line wave in the wind, except he had a long tail.  Near one end of the street the wall ended and the water, at low tide was very shallow so you could wade and find all kinds of things to catch to look at or just to marvel at.  Often the bay was full of jellyfish.  I don’t know what kind they were except that they were white and had long hair like tentacles hanging down.  Because, I guess, they had stung me on more than one occasion I would catch them in a bucket and take them up on the hot cobblestones and watch them melt away.  When I think back on this it makes me feel like a little cruel boy who would pull the wings off of house flies, which I never did, but at the time I don't remember thinking there was anything wrong with it.  There was a large pile of rocks in the middle of the bay that were out of water at low tide.  One day, probably at the time of a very low tide I was able to wade out to the rocks to investigate.  Being four or five years old I guess I didn't reason that the water would come back up so fast.  Several hours after I had gotten to the rocks the tide had risen to the point that I was sitting on the last rock on the top of the pile wondering what to do.  I could swim, dog paddle that is, but didn't think I could swim all the way back to the street.  Boy was I happy to see two men and my mom coming in a boat to get me.  Boy was I sorry when I got home.  It seems that Mom had been looking for me for hours and I had "forgotten" to tell her I was going to the bay.  Regardless of the fact that in a short time I would have probably drowned, the Mango Tree provided the means for mother to remove her frustrations over me being "lost and or drowned" and remind me that it was my responsibility to tell her where I was going.  I stood up for dinner and did not forget my responsibilities for some time to come

I Remember Stupid!

I don’t remember his name, I could look it up in my past student records, but his name doesn’t really matter, he called himself stupid sometimes and the other students called him that all the time.  He was a LD (learning disabled) student. I didn’t know what his learning disability was because I didn’t look up his student records, I never looked up my students records because I didn’t want them to prejudice me against or for the student.  When class started he began to follow his usual path with any teacher new to him, he told me later that was his normal behavior, by being loud, obnoxious and saying stupid things he could avoid having to answer questions. I don’t think he really tried to say stupid things, I think his brain just sparked and his mouth opened and it rolled out without any conscious thought. He was the kind of person who would have told his father that his mother was having an affair with the milkman without ever thinking about the consequences. I never was a teacher who relied on referrals to the office or physical punishment for offenses in my classroom. I simply let any problem student know that I was as quick with my criticism as my praise.  Stupid soon learned that it was not in his best interest to speak out in an inappropriate manner in my class and we were able to proceed with class in a normal fashion.

My teaching style had always been more of a discussion type than lecture or textbook oriented. I was actually a vocational technical teacher. I had always accepted students in my classes who were academically underachievers, many of them having poor reading skills.  I was teaching life skills so it was more important that the students be able to perform in the real world than in a traditional academic environment, after all how do you teach a non reader?  Not by sticking their head in a book.  This style suited the Learning Disability type student because they could achieve and learn without a lot of reading. 

Stupid didn’t have many student friends.  His mouth generally caused him to be the brunt of much ridicule, jokes and even hostility by other students. He was the type of person that other people love to torment, verbally at least.  Due to the way he had started out in class he had already established that reputation with the other students and I had as much trouble keeping them from verbally responding to him as I did initially keeping him from making his inappropriate statements.  When someone would make fun of him, his standard answer was that his mom and dad couldn’t read and they had done OK, so he didn’t really need to go to school anyway.  Not long into the class however a change began to come over him. One day we were discussing learning disabilities, which was a subject area I always covered early in class; so that I could be sure that students who had disabilities  understood that it was a physical disability and not a mental one. I also wanted the other students to understand and maybe have a little more tolerance and acceptability.  We were discussing dyslexia and suddenly Stupid spoke out, as always, and said “that is what I have”. I asked him how he knew, had a teacher told him?  He said no, he had just figured it out because every time he saw a word with the letter O and the letter F together in it they would be reversed.  He explained how “of” looked like “fo”, how “for” looked like “ofr” and how several other words appeared to him.  He asked why no one had ever told him that dyslexia  was what was wrong with him and he got quite upset.  I explained to the class by writing a long sentence on the board with several examples as he would have seen them rather than how they were actually correctly written, asking him or guidance in my writing.  I explained how difficult it was to learn to read when a teacher was telling you that “fof” was “off” but to you it was “fof”.  When I finished my example he spoke out quite adamantly stating that he had always thought he was stupid and that everyone else saw things just like he did.  I explained to the class that the LD was a problem with the brain processing what the eye saw rather than what was actually there and was not at all an indicator of intelligence.  I explained that LD took many forms; in some the brain only remembers well what it hears, making it difficult to learn in a noisy environment and then explained other variations of learning disabilities.

Suddenly Stupid wasn’t stupid any longer.  He started listening and paying attention.  He asked me for help and I gave him some simple reading exercises to help him learn to read by compensating for his disability.  It was a little late in his academic career, he was a senior at that point, but he went after it like a Chicken after a June Bug.  The real noticeable change came in my class.  Since it was a discussion class I normally asked questions and called on or allowed students to volunteer answers. I always phrased the questions so the students had to think to come up with the right answers even when the concept was a simple one. We were not dealing with what two plus two equals but with such things as - What do you say to an employer when they tell you are being laid off.  Suddenly Stupid began to amaze the other students.  I would ask a complicated question and he would raise his hand, and he would have the right answer when most of the rest of the class was at least not sure.  He always had the right answer. He had gone from being stupid to being smarter than most of the other students in the class, at least in their eyes.  It surprised the other students and I think it even surprised him.  He began to think instead of just opening his mouth.  Eventually I had to ask him to limit himself to three answers a day because it had gotten to the point that when I asked a question the other students would literally look to him for the answer.  He was destroying my technique with the other students.  I asked him to write his answers to the questions and I would give him daily extra credit even if the spelling was not correct.

His sudden outstanding performance had another fortunate consequence for me as a teacher of that class.  After things settled down and all of us had adapted to the new personality in our class the other students actually began to try harder.  I guess I will never know if they did this because they didn’t want to be shown up by someone they had thought stupid and discovered wasn’t of if it was because they saw him achieve success and wanted a little of their own.  I do know that that class developed into a very enjoyable teaching and learning experience.

I haven’t kept up with him; last I heard he was a journeyman in one of the skilled trades, carpenter, plumber or one such trade. I do know that several people changed their opinions about stupid that semester. I also know that Stupid was far from stupid.

Starting the Third Grade for the Third Time

Many of us know the traumas of changing schools; lost friends, fear of new children, teachers and the different ways in which all schools operate.  I went to 12 different schools before I finished the third grade so when I say “starting the third grade” here I am talking about the third time I started at a new school in the third grade.  I went to schools in Panama, California, Arkansas during my first three years of education.  There was not a logical sequence to this schooling at all, I actually left school in Panama, went to Arkansas, then California, then Arkansas, then California, then Arkansas for the final stay.
When we made the final move to Arkansas we moved into a two room clapboard house that was a quarter of a mile off of the paved road where I caught the school bus.  A clapboard house is one with only an outside wall. The inside of the outside wall is the inside wall.  They nail a two by four across the top, middle and bottom of the wall then put it in place with the other walls.  We had a water pump and an outhouse in the back yard and no electricity.  I did my lessons by the light of a Hurricane lantern filled with kerosene. The house was in a corner of a forty acre cotton patch that belonged to my mom’s brother.  The school was a two room school house with two outhouses (girls and boys) behind the school. There were two teachers, the first had first, second and third graders; the second teacher had the fourth, fifth and sixth graders.  I don’t remember much about the lessons except they seemed to me to be chaotic.  What I do remember was that one of the favorite games for the larger children at recess was “Put him on the outhouse”.  There was a boy who was as large as an adult so you could not tell his age and he was very mentally deficient.  The other older children would give him a switch and point one of the younger students and say, “Put him on the outhouse!”  Now I watched this several times and marveled that such small children could jump so high but I finally understood when it came my turn.  Took me three jumps but I grabbed the edge of the roof and pulled myself up after receiving about ten welts on my back and legs.  The teachers didn’t do playground duty so no adult ever saw these games.  We all knew to keep out mouths shut at school and at home or we would get it again.  Needless to say I didn’t much care for this entire experience so I was glad when I learned that I would be starting my third school in the third grade when we moved one weekend.
The new house was great, it was also a two room clapboard house that belonged to my father’s brother but it was twice as large as the old one and it had brick siding (a tarpaper covering the outside with brick imprint in the gravel on the surface)  and it was right on the paved road.  It was also just a quarter of a mile from town.  We now had electricity but still had the water pump and the outhouse but it was a definite step up. I must tell you that there were a lot of people living in the same conditions in that part of the country so it didn’t seem so strange to a third grader.
Well I started school; I had to walk the quarter mile to town then five blocks to the elementary school. The school was on the back of the second block off of Main Street so you could get to the back of the school and the playground by cutting through an alley between two houses. I had no problem walking to school. It was after all the late 1940s and people never heard of child abductions or molestation back then.  However, when I got to the end of the alley and looked at that huge two storied brick school house I froze.  I just couldn’t go in and face all the new children I saw on the playground.  I simply turned around and walked back home.  That is I did until I thought about it and decided I would be in big trouble if I went home.  So I walked to the ditch that our house sat beside and the spent the day throwing rocks at bottles, birds, whatever a third grader does to pass time.  This routine went on for about a week; I would get ready, walk to school, look at the children on the playground, turn around and walk back to the ditch.  I think I really tried each day to get past the end of the alley but I just couldn’t do it.  On my last day of playing hooky I was walking back through town when an arm shot out of this car parked at the curb.  The arm grabbed me by my hand and this voice said “Where are you going boy?”  Oh my god it was my father and I was caught.  I stammered something about hating the school and not going to go.  He asked me how long I had been playing hooky and where was I going.  So I told him since the first day and where I went and what I did. Well when you are in the third grade you don’t make those kinds of statements, at least I couldn’t to my father.  He took me by my arm and literally kicked my butt every step of the way back to the end of the alley by the school then shoved me toward the playground.  That is probably an exaggeration but it is the way I remember it, booted four blocks. He told me that what I had gotten was nothing to what I would get if he ever caught me playing hooky again.  As I walked crying (who wouldn’t cry after being booted in the butt for four blocks) across the play ground a little girl about my size was sitting on the merry go round and she asked me “Why are you crying little boy?”  I nearly screamed “Because I hate this place and I hate you!”
Well it turned out that I stayed in that school until I completed the sixth grade and wound up being one of two boys who led the playground games.  I ended up loving the place and just a couple of years ago I went back to take a look at the old two storied school house.  It was gone and there was a park where it had been. The little girl became one of my best friends and it hurt me tremendously when I learned years later that she had committed suicide.  I was in my thirty’s by then but actually thought at the time “Did I start her mind down that track with my first unkind statement to her.”  Ridiculous I know but that is what I thought at the time. The other boy who was a leader on the playground became my best friend.  We remained best friends up until he died in an auto accident.
So I guess the moral to this story is everything you fear is not bad.  Also do your best to think and say kind words because harsh words and thoughts may come back to haunt you.