Growing up during and in the years after World War II work always was the thing us kids living out in the country had in common.
We worked from the time we got up and until the sun went down, with a little bit of fun found here and there in between. About the only regular break we got to take was when we went to school.
School was mostly a couple minutes of learning and hours of chaos in between. Most of us didn’t want to be there, we’d rather be hoeing cotton than listening to Mrs. Boring drone on and on about some poem she would want us to read, and that was saying something because hoeing cotton was not a fun chore at all.
Still, there were times when things could get exciting at school. One day during class an old friend of mine, we’ll call him Jerry, was staring out the window because he wanted to grow up and be an airplane. Well, Mrs. Boring told him to sit down. When he didn’t comply, she whacked him across the face with a text book and broke his nose.
Back in those days a broken nose wasn’t enough of an injury to get you sent home, and it sure wasn’t enough to get a teacher fired, especially in a school that only had four teachers to begin with. There were no emergency school board meetings called, just an impromptu meeting with Jerry’s daddy and Mrs. Boring’s husband.
Well, the two met up in the school yard, and for lack of a better word, a fight ensued. The aggrieved father pulled out his knife and began circling Mrs. Boring’s husband with it. He had no intention of stabbing Mr. Boring, he just pulled it out so he could cut a hunk off his plug of tobacco. With every threat he uttered, he cut off another hunk of tobacco, until he had so much in his mouth that his insults no longer resembled English, but some unintelligible garble mumbled through a mouth full of chew — he couldn’t spit because there were ladies present.
I don’t know if a punch was ever thrown or even landed, just a bunch of circles made and a lot of tobacco chewed, but both men came away believing they had defended the honor of their loved ones.
For such a small school, things like this were a regular occurrence, and it was much more entertaining than having to read about “Gulliver’s Travels” or doing our ciphers. Teachers, students and parents gave as good as they got, but we all survived and lived to tell about it — just a crooked nose or two and some tobacco stains were the only casualties, but that’s just life growing up on a red dirt road.
–Bern Clute is a lifelong East Texas resident, rancher, farmer, sawmiller and storyteller. He and his wife Annie still live on the family farm, raising cows and getting in each other’s way.