A reader writes in the comment section “The cast of characters who attended school with you also went to school with me and everyone else, I imagine. Which one is the class bully, the soon-to-be highschool cheerleader, and the impending school teacher?” The answers to these questions are difficult to discern in a smaller school, or at least it is for me. In five years time, after grade five, my diminished family, my father, mother, and I, moved away to Gainesville where I was enrolled in a city school for the first time. My graduating class a couple years later was around 200, quite a jump from a class of seven. I understand very well what it means to go from being a big frog in a small pond to the smaller frog in the big one.
I was so excited to have my choice of elective subjects…journalism and music history, things like that. I had barely squeaked in the required two years of math at Mason and was thus not required to take more math courses at GHS. I viewed that as a triumph at the time. None of my classmates could figure out where in the world higher math would fit in for our futures. I wanted to be a journalist and buy a convertible and a poodle in more or less that order, and was quite sure, as kids of a certain age often are, that spending time trying to learn calculus when I had such a poor foundation in math in general would be a waste of my time. The problem with thinking like this in a small and poor community is that no one ever challenges your choices, since very few of them knew there were choices.
Here now, are rows 3 and 4 of Mason High School’s fifth and sixth grades of 1952-53.
Row 3, left to right: Helen June was my very first best friend. We met the summer before first grade at Sister Margie’s church , Everybody’s Tabernacle. Every boy our age, give or take a couple years, had a crush on her at some point in our school career. Yes, she was pretty, but she was also non-threatening and also had the good fortune of having the same surname as some of the pillars of the community. With all that, she was still very down to earth and the best playmate I ever had in play acting games. As in let’s play ‘ike I’m a witch and I whip you black an’ blue . . . or let’s play ike we’re hillbillies. I’m the mama and you’re the daddy and we’re out driving in the truck. It would be many years later that I would learn about comedians being famous for just such improvisations. And I thought we made it up ourselves. Her father died when she was still very young so her mother hired a black family to take over the family farm while she worked in town. When I spent time at her house, we’d make mixes of cocoa and sugar to put in our mouth while we swung on the front gate watching and waving at cars driving by. Naturally we let some of the resulting brown juice ooze from the corner of our mouths. She was expert at spitting great distances through her teeth. Somehow I never could get the hang of it. Years later we would re-connect at the University of Florida where she worked as a receptionist in the Athlete department. Sometimes we had lunch together and still practiced pranks together even though we were both 18 or 19 at the time, and she wore White Shoulders perfume. Eventually she was asked out by one of the athletes on the football team, but she turned him down. Big mistake possibly! His name was Steve Spurrier.
Brantley was a freckle faced boy who made little impact on me. On the other hand, his father was my mother’s first boyfriend when she was growing up over in the next county. It just blew my mind at the time to think–the silly ways kids sometimes do–what I would have been like or looked like had Brantley’s father been mine too.
All I can remember about Sue is how sweet and very religious she was and that she was way way more mature than a typical sixth grader! Whether she became a teacher eventually or not, she certainly had the credentials. I don’t believe she ever did anything suspect or gossip about anybody, or mock Dorothy Mae who had a speech impediment because she’d been born with a cleft palate. The rest of us routinely did, I’m so sorry to admit. To my credit, I stopped when my mother heard me one day and told me God might send me a baby like that when I grew up and became a mother. I conclude from that just this: if religion and God scared you bad enough, you’d be afraid to be bad
Paul is the brother of Marjorie from row 2, whose family moved within a year.
Johnnie Mae was a tall, freckled, and gangly girl who always played forward in girl’s basketball because she was so tall for her age. When I wrote an operetta with Mrs. Guthrie a couple of years later, I made her into a catty girl character but she got to wear a fancy dress to be in the dance scene in act III anyway. I suspect I did so because Johnnie Mae was not a girl to be dismissed or crossed. She was a rough and ready girl, not exactly a bully, but always ready to fight, and her verbiage was worse than a slap.
Robert, with the sailor hat, is the younger version of the man I wrote about in Tidbits who stopped by with his wife to visit Hubby and me a few weeks ago. Because his sister married my brother, I kept up with his life over the years so I know that he left Florida to move to Alabama (I think) and met the daughter of a southern Baptist minister, married her and became a southern Baptist minister himself, although not necessarily in that order. His family was very poor, not that most of us in Ellisville weren’t, but his had a strike against them because there were seven or eight kids and only four in mine.
That’s me in my softball cap. Notice all the other girls dressed up and hair curled. They didn’t honor our plan to all wear hats and teeshirts for our school pictures. I did. I’m still not sorry.
Then there’s A.B. as in Ackley Bob that I sometimes switched to apple bob thinking it was so clever. A.B. was not the school bully but I think it safe to say his younger brother Don was. Or at least a big contender. He shot A.B.’s right eye out with a BB gun when they were younger. A.B. was a bit slow, perhaps due to not being able to see to read well, so was not considered a catch, and Don was the cuter even if he was meaner. I saw him several years ago after he was an “older” man. He looked almost a dead ringer for George W. Bush. It was A.B.’s grandmother Alpha who made those milk filter dolls I wrote about once, and since we all wanted one to spread on our beds, we all sort of hoped that A.B. would develop a crush on us at least once and preferably at Christmastime, since crushes never lasted much beyond a week. I got in a fist fight with A.B. when we we were in kindergarten or first grade. It was something about a John Deere tractor and we were both balling up our fists and bluffing. while there may have been a couple of swings, neither one of us ever made a direct hit. Can’t remember who, but somebody broke us up pretty soon. I think I finally got my milk filter doll in 1953.
Mary was another from one of those families that move away and back again and again. Consequently she never became one of the “select” group, that included myself, Sarah Kate, Annette and Helen June. One day Helen June invited me to spend the night at her house at the same time Mary invited me to hers. Because Mary had spent the night at my house last, my mother made me accept her invitation instead of Helen June’s. I went, and hardly remember a more miserable night ‘though I do not know why. Her older brother Jack scared me, but I can’t say he ever did anything to provoke me. I just know that was the last time I went to her house overnight, and I don’t believe she ever came to mine anymore.
Archie was the year-younger brother to Junior in row 2. Not only was he cuter, he was also sharper in every way. As I reflect all these years later, I think there was something there that suggests he may have had the stuff to escape his poor background and make something of himself. I remember hearing the old women in the community say from time to time that it would either be the oldest or the youngest in the poorest families who had the best chance of escape. Interesting. I’m the youngest in mine.
Oh my, Maryann! Maryann and I argued once over religion. She always claimed to be a born again Christian as taught in Everybody’s Tabernacle. In my father’s family of nine brothers, I was used to hearing lots of religious arguments over the years and noticed my father often took alternate sides of an argument, sometimes just for the sake of keeping the argument going. So when Maryann and I were discussing whether being saved once was being saved forever (as I believe the southern Baptists do ?), she took the position that you had to be on your toes even if you were saved because the Devil was always trying to trick believers into back sliding. I countered that maybe they (back sliders) had never really been saved to start with. Maryanne had a peculiar way of pronouncing her “o’s”–as if they were “a’s”, so that we always pleaded with her on Sunday nights, when Sister Margie allowed parishioners to make song requests, to ask for Hold The Fort For I Am Coming. Her voice always sounded the loudest as she sang out “hold the fart for I am coming” while the rest of the kids in our row collapsed in giggles. I don’t think she ever caught on.
Last, certainly not least in absolutely the literal sense, J.L. was the red haired, freckled fat boy who–I suppose because of his weight–walked pigeon toed. Everytime I look at his picture here, I remember the day in Algebra class a few years later as he barfed all over the floor by his desk under the gaze of Mr. Otto, the horrible math teacher from the previous post. It got all of us out of Algebra the rest of the period. I’m sure it was not his fault but he never distinguished himself in any other way in my eyes than through that terrific vomiting spell and smell.
Thank goodness time rescues us all by and by. As I look back in old photographs of family members now long gone, I’m able to see the entirety of their life stories. With these kids, I only wish I did. Wouldn’t it be something if someone out there in the cyberworld happens to see this or the previous post and recognizes him or herself and filled in the rest of the story?! And whether these observations would match up with those of the other class members, that’s the way it was from my vantage point.