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A typewriter, a teacher and a teenager . . .

During my tenth year of schooling I enrolled in a typing class. I would like to say that my interest in typing was an effort to hone my writing skills and perhaps follow in the footsteps of the great authors, giants such as Hemingway, Steinbeck, Twain, Orwell, Vonnegut and lesser lights. I would like to say that but I will not say it because it would not be true. I had a rather strong ulterior motive to learn how to type.

There were several typing classes taught by different teachers, and I chose the class taught by the one that was said to be the best teacher of the group. No, belay that. I can’t say that because it would also be untrue, and I cannot tell a lie, at least not in this instance. This is a WordPress blog and I do have my standards.

I chose a specific teacher’s class because she was quite young, unmarried and exceptionally attractive, and the rumors that swirled around the campus of the original Stephen D. Lee High School in Columbus, Mississippi in that stellar year of 1948 were that she had been known to dally with some of the students.

Well, actually, the talk in the restrooms reserved for male students was that she—well, it was not only talk but it seemed to be confirmed by some of the writings on the walls of the stalls—the talk intimated that she dallied with students, and in fact some of the images depicted such dallies, crudely of course but rather effective. Walls of the stalls has a solid resonance, don’t you think? Quite expressive, and also quite masculine!

Well, actually, the rumors and the writings and the crude images drawn indicated that she not only dallied—she was said to have actually diddled some of the students. The writings and graphics were routinely obliterated by the janitors but mysteriously re-appeared, often on the same day they were removed.

I attacked that state-of-the-art upright finger-operated non-electric Royal Standard typewriter with all the fervor a fifteen-year-old lad could muster, and after three or four weeks I was typing 65 words a minute, and that was after taking off 10 words for every error made, regardless of its nature, whether a misspelling, a wayward comma, a failure to capitalize or missing a period—hey, that last error has a double meaning!

I felt in my first week that the rumors might have a modicum of truth—judging from my observations there was definitely some meat on those bones—the rumors, that is. I know, I know, that term could apply to the typing teacher and in fact did apply to the typing teacher, and it was distributed in all the right places in the right amounts. Before the second week ended I had convinced myself that the rumors were probably true, and I had also convinced myself that the teacher was perhaps considering me a possible candidate for diddling purposes.

That quite young, unmarried and exceptionally attractive typing teacher was a hands-on instructor—literally. She would often stand behind students, both males and females and reach across a shoulder to point out errors and perhaps to demonstrate how to retrieve the carriage to start another line, with the other hand on the student’s other shoulder to help maintain her balance—the teacher’s balance, that is. I believe I made many, perhaps most, of my errors while she had her hand on my shoulder.

I was a cutie at fifteen and I can prove it. One day when I was around 10 or 11 years old I was with my mother at a grocery store, and I can vividly recall a remark made by the check-out lady. She asked my mother if I was her boy and my mother replied in the affirmative. The lady then said, “He’s a real cutie. He’ll be a heart-breaker and a home-wrecker when he grows up.” Don’t bother to ask whether that prophecy came to pass. I will stand on my rights under the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution and refuse to answer on the grounds that it may tend to get me into all sorts of hot water and incidentally, of course, would tend to incriminate me. Also incidentally, the image on the right is not me—that’s Michelle Pfeiffer, a gorgeous lady that realized her true calling while working as a checker at a California supermarket. I used this photo to simulate a grocery checker—Michelle probably dressed differently at work.

That heart-breaker and a home-wrecker remark had the same effect on me that I felt several years later when a young girl out in west Texas told me I looked just like Van Johnson. I blogged that incident, and that posting has a lot more than that to offer—it’s worth the read, and you can find it by clicking here.

On a fateful Friday I made my move, and in doing so I made a fatal error. I dawdled after class until I was alone with that quite young, unmarried and exceptionally attractive woman and then I made my bid—actually it was a proposition—I proposed, provided that she was amenable to my proposition, to share some time with her over the weekend. Exactly what I said and how I phrased it is enshrouded in the mists of time, but I’m sure that it was concise and to the point and could not possibly be misunderstood. Actually I blurted it out, and I could see that she was transfixed by the proposition. After a long meaningful stare, she answered thusly, each word enunciated slowly and distinctly:

I do not want you in my class. Do not return to my classroom on Monday. Find another typing class or a different subject to fill this period. Is that clear to you, or should I repeat it?

The mists of time have also shrouded my response to that measured order. I have a feeling that my only response was to vacate the premises as quickly as possible. I probably squeaked out something similar to Yes, m’am, it’s clear to me and no, you don’t need to repeat it, and immediately made my exit, out of the class and away from that ugly broad—I mean, I made my exit away from that quite young, unmarried and exceptionally attractive woman.

On Monday morning I fully expected my homeroom teacher to tell me that my presence was urgently required in the principal’s office. However, she called the roll and then released us to head out for our classes. I waited until the others left and told her that I was not doing well in my typing class and needed to replace it with something else.

Without questions or comment she scheduled me to a second hour of biology, sentencing me to two hours, back to back, under the tutelage of a well-past-middle-aged woman that dressed in multiple layers of clothing, wore heavy black stockings rolled down to midway between knee and ankle and had a face remarkably resembling a turtle—in fact that’s what the students called her—old lady turtle. Actually, I thought she was kinda cute, but of course I have a soft spot in my heart for turtles—in fact, I once had one for a pet.

That’s my story about a state-of-the-art upright finger-operated non-electric Royal Standard typewriter and a class taught by a quite young, unmarried and exceptionally attractive woman who turned out to be an ugly old unappreciative toad that I wouldn’t touch with a 10-foot pole—not that I had anything that resembled such an item.

My only regret concerning this situation is that neither she nor I will ever know what we missed—well, I’m pretty sure I know what I missed, but I can’t speak for her. In the words of the poet John Greenleaf Whittier, For all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these, it might have been.

The poet had another saying that had I known it then I would have told that typing teacher this: The joy you give to others is the joy that comes back to you. With that included in my proposition my weekend might well have been remarkably more memorable.

Where ever she is now, whether she is still in this realm or has left it for another realm, I wish her well.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

 
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Posted by on May 21, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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Jackie: It could have—should have—would have been

She was from Huntington, West Virginia and her name was, and I sincerely hope still is, Jackie Nichols. By that I mean that I hope she still lives and loves, whether her last name is Nichols or she married and took another surname. I knew Jackie only briefly—no, no, not in the biblical sense as Adam knew Eve, but only in terms of society’s acceptable normal everyday intercourse between two children of the opposite sex, always verbal and never physical, other than in games—real games—that children play.

Jackie and I and our families lived in Happy Valley, Tennessee. The village was a community of modular homes, created for the families of workers involved in the big secret, the development of the atomic bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, creating the conflagration that conclusively ended World War II. Happy Valley boasted an elementary school and high school, a post office and a small shopping center that
included a theater—some folks back then referred to the theater as a movie house.

When I knew Jackie—oops, there’s that word again—when Jackie and I met and spent time together, we were 13 and 12 years of age respectively—yes, she was an older woman—and we were still in those years when our lives abruptly went in different directions with very little warning, and no reasonable opportunity to consummate our romance—you know, like with a farewell hug and kiss, both of which would have been our first and our last. I consider that to be a sad tale of unrequited love, a real life parallel that rivals Shakespeare’s fictional story of Romeo and Juliet.

My family—mother, stepfather, an 18-month older sister and I—left the trailer village in Happy Valley, Tennessee and returned to Mississippi, and I could only console myself briefly with the view of our trailer village through the back window of our 1939 Plymouth sedan. Don’t laugh too loudly about the age of our transportation.
The year was 1944 and our car was a spry five years old.

I cannot speak for the others in my family but as for me, I left Tennessee for Mississippi under protest, albeit silent protest, but definitely protesting. I remained silent and left because I had no choice, and because I was bright enough, even at age 12, to realize that I couldn’t remain in Tennessee and support my first real love on the earnings from my paper route, papers that I delivered on Shank’s mare—on foot. I didn’t even have a bicycle.

Jackie and I reversed a situation that is replicated frequently in friendships between young boys and young girls. Normally the boy gets the girl into trouble, but in our case the girl got the boy into trouble, and I hasten to explain how that happened. The witching hour for me to be home in the evening was 8:00 PM, whether the next day was a school day or a Saturday or a Sunday, whether the sun was still high in the sky or had dropped below the horizon. That rule was laid down in menacing tones and promised the punishment if the rule was broken—a whipping was guaranteed for the first and for any subsequent violations—there would be no other warnings.

On one memorable day night fell with a thud, and I stayed with Jackie well past my witching hour. The other kids had all gone home—only the two of us remained, perched on the wooden side rails of a bridge spanning a dry stream and talking boy/girl stuff. Jackie was entranced by the golden tints in my brown eyes—honestly, she said that! And I was entranced by everything about her, including her dark eyes and thick black tresses, her long brown legs and her—well, let’s just say that Jackie was not your usual 13-year old. She was light years ahead of the other girls in our neighborhood in her age bracket—far advanced in worldly knowledge, conversational skills and physical development—especially in physical development.

I was about an hour late in getting home. I believe that had I stood my ground for another hour or so, my life would have been very different, because I believe that some—not all, of course, but some—of that worldly knowledge would have been passed on to me, and that belief still infuses me today.

As regards my decision to head for home instead of staying that extra hour, it echoes the truth of the words penned by John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892):

For all sad words of tongue and pen, the saddest are these—it might have been.

So that’s my refrain—it might have been. It could have been and it should have been, and perhaps would have been had I tossed caution to the wind, shrugged my skinny shoulders and completely ignored my stepfather’s rules. Oh, well—we win some and we lose some, and life goes on.

Here’s to you, Jackie. I hope and trust that life has been good for you, and that you married and had children and that everyone in your family are happy and doing well. I have retained memories of you and our times together for almost eight decades—none of the memories have faded and none will ever fade. To paraphrase Jimmy Durante’s closing words on his old-time black-and-white television show: Thanks for the memories and good night, Jackie, where ever you are.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

 
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Posted by on March 22, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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Barbara Frietchie and Robert E. Lee . . .

In January of this year I sent an e-mail containing John Greenleaf Whittier’s poem, Barbara Frietchie, to a friend that lives in Alabama. She acknowledged receipt of the e-mail and replied as follows:

Wow! What a beautiful story of pride, loyalty and courage! Thank you for sharing this poem. I’m sending it on to several of my friends up in Northern Virginia.

She also asked who commanded the troops that entered Frederick, Maryland during the War between the States—I use that title because as yet I have learned nothing about the war that could be considered civil.

I responded to my friend with this e-mail:

Subject: Barbara Frietchie . . . . .

The troops in Whittier’s poem were General Robert E. Lee’s Confederates, led by General Stonewall Jackson. I was introduced to Barbara Frietchie in elementary school—not the real Barbara, just the poem—somewhere around the fourth grade. I’ve forgotten most of the poem, but for some reason these two verses took root: Shoot if you must this old gray head . . .  and, Who touches a hair of yon gray head . . .

And now for the benefit of anyone not familiar with the poem, here it is:

Barbara Frietchie

Up from the meadows rich with corn,
Clear in the cool September morn,
The clustered spires of Frederick stand
Green-walled by the hills of Maryland.

Round about them orchards sweep,
Apple and peach tree fruited deep,
Fair as the garden of the Lord,
To the eyes of the famished rebel horde.

On that pleasant morn of the early fall,
When Lee marched over the mountain wall,
Over the mountains winding down,
Horse and foot, into Frederick town.

Forty flags with their silver stars,
Forty flags with their crimson bars,
Flapped in the morning wind: the sun
Of noon looked down, and saw not one.

Up rose old Barbara Frietchie then,
Bowed with her fourscore years and ten;
Bravest of all in Frederick town,
She took up the flag the men hauled down;
In her attic window the staff she set,
To show that one heart was loyal yet.

Up the street came the rebel tread,
Stonewall Jackson riding ahead,
Under his slouched hat left and right
He glanced; the old flag met his sight.
“Halt!”—the dust-brown ranks stood fast,
“Fire!”—out blazed the rifle-blast.

It shivered the window, pane and sash;
It rent the banner with seam and gash.
Quick, as it fell, from the broken staff
Dame Barbara snatched the silken scarf.

She leaned far out on the window-sill,
And shook it forth with a royal will.
“Shoot, if you must, this old gray head,
But spare your country’s flag,” she said.

A shade of sadness, a blush of shame,
Over the face of the leader came;
The nobler nature within him stirred
To life at that woman’s deed and word;
“Who touches a hair of yon gray head
Dies like a dog! March on!” he said.

All day long through Frederick street
Sounded the tread of marching feet:
All day long that free flag tost
Over the heads of the rebel host.

Ever its torn folds rose and fell
On the loyal winds that loved it well;
And through the hill-gaps sunset light
Shone over it with a warm good-night.

Barbara Frietchie’s work is o’er,
And the Rebel rides on his raids no more.
Honor to her! and let a tear
Fall, for her sake, on Stonewall’s bier.
Over Barbara Frietchie’s grave,
Flag of Freedom and Union, wave!

Peace and order and beauty draw
Round thy symbol of light and law;
And ever the stars above look down
On thy stars below in Frederick town!

John Greenleaf Whittier (1807—1892)

Some final notes:

Given the present demographics of Maryland, Barbara Frietchie could well have been an African-American. Could be—so much of our history is being rewritten that anything is possible (click here for George Orwell’s 1984). Future research online may find that the lady that made the first flag was an African-American—whether true or untrue, that would become part of our revisions of American history.

If the revisions continue, eventually George Santayana’s time-worn statement that Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it will take on new meaning—learning and repeating revisionist history will do little to advance civilization and our standing in the world order.

If I fail to learn history and I am doomed to repeat it, I prefer to repeat the history of the founding of our nation. I do not wish to fail to learn and repeat history that has been revised, and in the revision process has cast aside many of our basic values, and distorted and diluted others.

That’s my opinion—what’s yours?

 
2 Comments

Posted by on April 30, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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