14 October 2019

Ellis Millsaps: Son of a Preacher Man, Ch 7 - Preacher's Kid at School

-- Read the Previous Installments of Ellis Millsaps' ...

I have spoken to many a redneck who’ve told me ”I knew if I got paddling at school I would get a worse one when I got home.”

To this I say “Do you have shit for brains?  Why would you tell your parents you got a paddling at school given your foresight of the consequences?”

I suppose the school could call and tell your parents, but it never happened in my case  and I received a few paddlings in school. Along with smoking in the woods it was part of my street cred.  If a child were corporally punished at school today it would be on the news, but in the late 50s and the 60s paddling with a bolo paddle, most commonly, was a daily occurrence.

My first paddling came in the fourth grade as a result of a water battle in which I engaged with one Tommy Watson.  I don't recall who fired the first shot but it came about when we were at neighboring sinks washing our hands before lunch. It involved holding one’s finger over the spout and directing the spray sideways.

 The boys in line behind us were greatly amused, but no one else joined in because they knew what was coming.  The two boys whose clothes were soaked were publicly paddled.

 More about Tommy Watson.  I thought he was really cool.  I think he was a year behind in school to be in my class ( there was only one class per grade at Holly Springs Elementary until you reached the 7th grade.) Tommy had hair like Elvis. I'd always had a flat top until then, but I grew my hair out  like his and peroxided it blond.

One day we were walking up Highway 5 from my house to his when his dog who was running along ahead of us was struck in the head by a car, and Tommy said “That's one less to feed.” This was my first live experience of sang froid.  I was impressed.

 When we got to his house (dead dog beside the road) we found an older brother was home from school sick, a teenager as I recall. He was in bed smoking cigarettes. Tommy bummed one for himself and to his brother's surprise one for me, the preacher's kid. The brother was duly impressed.

My next paddling came in the 5th grade. The girls in class were given a note, a small slip of paper, to have their parents sign for permission for their daughter to receive instruction on menstruation and reproduction. It was all a total mystery to me then; (I learned about menstruation from my friend in ninth grade PE class. I was shocked and amazed.) all I knew was that no boy was supposed to see it.

 After class before the second bus ran some of us were hanging around in the classroom. Reba Mason was talking with some girls, gesturing with her hands, in one of which  the notorious paper slip waived.

 I thought it would be funny to snatch it.  So I did. I had no intention of reading it. In fact I was laughing and handing it back to her when she clawed me drawing blood.

Then I got my paddling from Ms Dunn.

 I later got a paddling from mean Mr. Reese, the only male teacher, for running in the hall. No warning, just a beating .Not much street cred for running in the hall.

 I didn't get another one till I was a junior in high school. I was in Bookkeeping class because it was the only class available to me at sixth period. By this time I had started doing my homework and making all 99s and 100s, boosting my academic average for the benefit of college admissions.

 At West Fannin there were always four or five permanent substitutes. They came early in the year when the certified teachers got a job at a better school and stayed the rest of the year. You were lucky if they had themselves graduated high school.

The gentleman teaching bookkeeping was one such. To say he taught the class is something of a misnomer. He made work assignments from the textbook then graded them. They were ridiculously easy. I was in a room of students who were not college bound. 

 One day for amusement I stacked a tower of empty desks which was nearing the ceiling when Mr Permanent Substitute said something to the effect of “That better not fall over.”  Of course it did with a mighty crash.

 By this time, 1968, they had to at least get another teacher out in the hall to observe the paddling...