School Days of Old Part IV

Once upon a time I learned a hard and valuable lesson. I was in the sixth grade at Lattimore Elementary School. And like most schools around that time, we had a music class once a week where we went to the auditorium and sang. Our music teacher would play the piano and we would sing old songs that weren’t really cool any more, and maybe never had been except in the mind’s of people like our parents.

Sometimes they would give us sticks to beat against each other, ostensibly in time with the music, but in reality it just sounded kind of chaotic. You see many young elementary school kids and rhythm are not yet friends. Once they gave us these plastic song flutes that cost our parents $1.99. That sound would make all the local dogs howl in protest. And then sometimes for the Christmas program some of us would get to ring bells, especially when we did the song Silver Bells.

This was also the sort of music class where we divided up into groups of three and sang “Are You Sleeping?” in rounds. Then we’d do it in French. Frere Jacques or however it is spelled. I’ll admit that even though it wasn’t too cool to like that kind of stuff that I actually did like it. I just didn’t tell anybody.

One day when music class rolled around, I was in a particularly foul mood. I don’t know why and if I did there probably wasn’t a good reason for it. So I chose not to sing along. You can get by with that in church, but not singing was not an option in music class.

When we were singing “Dixie.” I chose not to sing. I repent now of that sin. I should have sung, loudly, proudly, and with conviction. But I didn’t. I am so ashamed. Yes it is true what the Bible says: “there is none good, no not one.” (It may be surprising to some that a public school sponsored a singing of Dixie, but this was in a time and place where political correctness had not yet stained the fabric of our lives and we were free to have prayers before classes without fear of retribution or lawsuit. We actually did have a Jehovah’s Witness complain about a Christmas party once, but we all knew J’Dubs were going to hell anyway for believing in a false gospel so no one paid attention to him.)

Back to the story. My teacher was a petite lady named Miss Mayse. I was a small child and I was about the same size as her even then. She noticed my non-participation in the singing and inquired why I was not singing. Here is where I am really ashamed. I told her that “Dixie” was a redneck song and I didn’t sing redneck songs. I said it hatefully and with no respect to her as a teacher or an authority figure.

She bristled quickly at my insolence. I was invited to come with her back to our empty classroom. At this point it needs to be said that this was during the height of corporal punishment in the school system. It was a common occurence to be sitting in class reading only to have the silenced perforated by the staccato burst of a paddle striking an offender’s backside in quick intervals. The third one always seemed the loudest.

Miss Mayse was no exception. As soon as we got to her classroom, she got out her paddle, a pine board milled to have a handle on the end. Once, twice, three times she struck me. I snickered. Why was I laughing she asked. Because you aren’t strong enough to give a real paddling I told her, still snickering. Her face turned red with anger. My insult had undermined her authority and her ability to conduct discipline.

“Wait here,” she told me. She left the classroom and it seemed like in seconds she returned with Mr. Martin, a tall broad-shouldered African-American man who taught sixth grade math and science. I knew him well, and normally chose not to run afoul of his good graces.

“Miss Mayse tells me that you have a little bit of a problem with the way she gives paddlings,” he said. I gulped. All the bluster and sass vanished from me like my wife’s paycheck in a department store. (If you read this I love you honey.)

Mr. Martin administered three licks, each with more sting than the previous. How my butt hurt. Oh how it stung!! I cringe even now remembering  the force he delivered the licks with.

As soon as it began, it ended. Mr. Martin indicated that I needed to take a seat. That wasn’t the easiest thing since I was sure I had massive bruising, but I complied nonetheless. He hovered over me and spoke in a gentle, calm voice. “Maurice, he said. “I trust you will give Miss Mayse the respect she is due from now on.” He said it without a hint of anger or malice. He said it in such a way that I wanted to obey, not out of fear, but out of respect for him…and now for her as well. She had handled a situation in which she was openly mocked with wisdom and intelligence.

I was wrong in this situation. I was dead wrong. Never again did I disrespect a teacher in that fashion. Later, in high school, I stood up for what I perceived to be an injustice, but that was a different situation than this one. As time has passed I still feel shame over having behaved that way. I got what I deserved and I should have gotten worse. Miss Mayse was a wonderful young teacher who loved her students and taught with enthusiasm. I am so privileged to have had her as a teacher. And Mr. Martin as well. He calmly did the job that needed to be done and didn’t show a hint of anger. He was also the first teacher I had that would paddle boy and girl alike with no allowance being made. Up until that time, the girls never got paddlings, no matter what they did.

If I am making a point to this story it is only this: Respect those placed in authority over you. No good can ever come from disrespect. I am so sorry I treated that young teacher that way. She deserved better from me. I hope no one else has ever treated her that rudely since.

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2 Responses to “School Days of Old Part IV”

  1. Yes, dear. I read it….and I didn’t spend *any* money on me in the department store this week…remember, ??? I tried to!!! =)

  2. You and I grew up in the same Southern decade, Southern atmosphere. I love reading your stories. They remind me of me, in many ways.

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