Category Archives: School Life

Norfolk State College: The Untold Story

“Big – Bad – Moses – Rose!”
“Big – Bad – Moses – Rose!”
“Big – Bad – Moses – Rose!”

Oh no, here he comes again, Moses Rose, football star extraordinaire, walking through the quad of the Norfolk State campus singing about his favorite subject, himself.
It was just after Christmas break early in 1972 and Moses Rose was the big man on campus. Before that Jo Jo Bethea held that crown. He doesn’t know it, but he and I were in Phys. Ed. together, but that is the extent of our contact or my knowledge of his short stint on campus. One minute we were in Gym class together, the next thing I knew he was thrilling the crowds at Clemson and later at the Norfolk Scope with the Virginia Squires in the American Basketball Association. But Moses Rose was “Da Man” now and he let everyone within earshot know it by singing that one verse song of his (I won’t repeat it again here).

As far as I and my friends were concerned Rose could have his fame on the football field, we had ours in the ping pong room. We spent morning, noon and night playing table tennis. There was me, Trinidad (Trini), Trinidad #2, Jerome and “Plastic” and a few other names I can’t recall. It is my opinion that there has been someone on campus named Trinidad every year since the early 1960s. Our problem is that we had two Trinis, one was a great table tennis player and the other was a wannabe of the other Trini. Yes, you’ve already guessed it, they were both from the island nation of Trinidad and Tobago. Trini #1 was small and frail. He was what we called a professional student, when I matriculated in 1971, he had already been in school for six years and from the amount of time he spent in the Student Union building, he could look forward to staying another six or more. I don’t think the other Trini was actually a student, he could be seen working in an office on the upper floors in the building but always found time to make his way down to the basement where the ping pong room was located.

“Plastic” was the only female in the group, well, there was Gwendolyn, but she wasn’t as dedicated as the rest of us, she actually spent some of her time going to class. “Plastic” was a good player though, she had game. The reason we called her Plastic is because of the shiny make-up she always wore, it made her look like a mannequin in a store window. She wore a big afro, red lipstick, had rosy cheeks and was beautiful to boot. Plastic had a really nice personality, I think she was the one who sold me down the river. When I arrived on campus I told everyone I was from Washington, DC. I didn’t see the point in trying to explain that I was from a small little town way out in the country 50 miles away and besides, no one would ever know. Well, it didn’t take long for someone to ask what part of DC I was from, “Southeast”, of course. “Where in Southeast? What street do you live on? I know all about DC, did you go to Spingarn or Ballou?”. Well, that was all that it took, I was sunk. I said I went to Spingarn. “Spingarn? Spingarn? Spingarn is in northeast, Ballou is in southeast. Yeah, you’re from DC, Ha!” From that moment on we were best buddies, she called me “D.C.” and I called her “Plastic”.

The inspiration for our endeavor came one day while we were taking an outdoor break to watch little Trini show off his skills at soccer. Then, from off in the distance you could hear the faint sound approaching…
“Big – Bad – Moses – Rose!”

Great! Here comes Moses Rose, “That’s right, that’s right, step aside, make way for Moses Rose. Moses Rose is passing through”. For some reason he always referred to himself in the third person. I have to admit, the guy was impressive, built like a brick you-know-what, but in all fairness he was pretty entertaining, you had to like the guy for his self confidence, if nothing else.

It was then that someone spoke up, “Why doesn’t the school have a soccer team? We could all be on the soccer team” (I’d never played soccer in my life). Trini agreed and someone suggested that we just start one up, how hard could it be to start up a soccer team and schedule games, right? That’s how it all got started. The next thing you know we had not only organized a soccer team, we’d put together a chess team (the chess room was directly across the hall from the ping pong room). The student union was built with lots and lots of glass. The walls to each of the rooms in the basement were made of glass, as were the walls to the entrance of the building and the entrance doors. I can’t tell you how many newbies walked right into the walls and doors face first, trying to get into the building. You could just stand at the entrance to the basement and pick out the kids who were going to run into the glass “SMACK!”
So, by the end of that week, we had organized enough people to have a soccer team, a table tennis team, a chess team and a spades (card game) team. The next step was to make some phone calls to other schools to see if they would be interested in organizing representatives from their campuses to compete against us and other schools, yet to be determined.

Before Long we had schedules for traveling from one to school to another. We were the first to travel and first on our list was a visit to Virginia State in Petersburg. I remember that outing like it was yesterday. We all jumped in cars and drove to V.S.U. There must have been at least 10 to 12 of us. It was too cold for soccer so it was just the ping pong, chess and spade teams. We all basically rotated from one team to another so even if it were warm enough for soccer, the head count would have probably been the same. We arrived late Friday night with games scheduled for Saturday morning. The first thing we did was go to the student center and hang out. This was a learning trip if ever there was one. When we arrived at the center, we were met with music and dancing, there was a party going on. In the center of the room was what appeared to be a very intoxicated girl dancing on one of the tables. All she needed was a pole and you would have thought we were in a strip club. I asked someone from the school who the girl was, he said, “Oh, that’s not a girl, she’s a transvestite, a cross dresser”. I’d never seen anyone like that before and it made me realize that I needed to start paying closer attention to who I was talking to. After the party we went to a predetermined dorm and crashed for the night. Oddly enough, directly across the hall was the cross dresser’s dorm room. The noise from across the hall kept us up all night. There were guys in and out of that room all night, all going there for the sole purpose of having their hair braided. In with a fro, 30 minutes later, out wearing braids. We barely got any sleep at all.

The noise must not have affected us because the next day we won three out of four ping pong games, two of four of the chess matches and swept the spades games. It was a very successful outing. Three weeks later V.U. visited our school, but I have only a minute recollection of it. Our next stop was to be Virginia Union. There was a really bad snow storm that weekend so I decided not to go. There were two or three cars battling the elements to get there on that fateful day. I wasn’t able to make that trip, so I only have what I was told to go by. But apparently, the car that Jerome (Alias) and Plastic were in was trying to make it through the blinding snow when it skidded off the road and slid into a guard rail. Neither of them were hurt, so they got out of the car to inspect the damages. They circled the vehicle to see if it was drivable, but as they stood behind it looking it over, another car turned the corner and did exactly what they had done. That car plowed into the rear of their vehicle pinning them between the two bumpers. I was told that Plastic died at the hospital, Jerome had to have one of his legs amputated. I lost a good friend that day, two good friends. I never expected that Jerome would return to school, but he did. I would occasionally see him on crutches making his way to class, but he never came back to the ping pong room.

The school landed in a hot water because of the accident and the fact that it happened while students were participating in unsanctioned athletic events. Ultimately, back then at least, the school was deemed responsible for the students while they were in their care. Needless to say, that no more tournaments took place. I have found no formal record that this incident, or the events leading up to it, ever took place. Of course, I am using aliases to protect the privacy of those who suffered during this tragic time in the school’s history. But the least I can do is memorialize what I know about what took place in writing, here and now.

Norfolk State College: The Ping Pong Man

“We gon’ kick yo ass, Mister Ping Pong Man. You done done it now, yo ass is grass!”.
– “Yeah, let’s get him”. Stagalee was about to leave the Grandy Park Recreation Center not sure exactly what he should do. It was time for him to go home for the day, but the Liberty Park boys were gathered just to his left, they were standing in the street staring him down. To his right were the Grandy Park girls, these 15 to 18 year old girls were just as notorious as their male counterparts. They, too, stood in the middle of the street. The girls were all dressed in what could best be described as the group uniform, Chuck Taylor all star sneakers, white knee-high socks, miniskirts and either a jean jacket or a mink coat. The minks were of various lengths. Each of the girls sported a switch blade knife which they menacingly flicked opened and closed, as they stared at Stagalee, waiting for him to leave the safety of the rec center.

Liberty Park
The Liberty Park neighborhood of Norfolk, VA. (Photo @1964 Courtesy of the Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority).

The year was 1971, VA-44 (I-264) was still under construction. The Norfolk Scope arena had not long been completed. Dr. J. was a Virginia Squire for the American Basketball Association. Norfolk’s urban renewal was in full swing and Stagalee was there fresh out of Remington, Virginia. This was only Stag’s second day on the job. He had been assigned to the Grandy Park area in order to fulfill his work/ study program obligation at Norfolk State. Through the program, Stagalee received a $500 check for school tuition and a $20 a week salary. Begging for food in the Student Union building was never again an issue after this program began in the second semester of his freshman year. Grandy Park, as it was known, wasn’t that bad of an area. There were some nice homes there, it appeared to be a very nice neighborhood. The problem with Grandy Park was its close proximity to Liberty Park. Liberty Park was, well, it was the projects. Liberty Park was one of the first federal housing projects in the country. It was constructed to be “a defense housing project for 800 Negro families… developed by the Federal Public Housing Authority of the National Housing Agency”. By most accounts, the neighborhood began to deteriorate from the moment construction was completed. Students at Norfolk State were warned to stay away from that area, they were told that gangs roamed the streets and that no one was safe. Stagalee was being confronted by two of those gangs right now, one male and one female. He decided to take his chances and turned in the direction of home and started walking down the street, in the direction of the girls. The Liberty Park boys began following, the girls encircled Stag, tossing out profanity laced threats all the while. One of the girls turned to the boys, who were about 20 paces behind and yelled, “We got this, we don’t need ya’ll to handle him!”. The boys stopped and turned back up the street.

Mr. Ping Pong Man
A likeness of Mr. Ping Pong Man demonstrating his abilities on the table. Photo courtesy of

Just yesterday he’d been treated like a celebrity. When he arrived at the rec center for his first day of work one of he kids asked him if he knew how to play table tennis. Of course he did. Stagalee spent almost every waking hour in the ping pong room at the student union building on campus. His prowess on the table was well known among those who frequented the basement of that building, which housed a room for ping pong, the chess room, where the chess club met, the restaurant / greasy spoon and several other rooms that were of no importance to Stag.

Stag had been listed as the best player on campus for a full week, the title was a difficult one to achieve and an even harder one to hang on to.

Stagalee took ‘next’ on the ping pong table at the rec center and never relinquished his spot the entire night. That’s when the kids began calling him “Mr. Ping Pong Man” and bringing in their friends from the street to watch him play. He was a big hit at the center. But that was yesterday.
This day he was assigned by the center’s director to referee a basketball game between the rival teams of Liberty Park and Grandy Park. That news meant that any calls made against Liberty Park could be his undoing. But he had no choice. “Twe-e-e-e-e-e-t!”, Stagalee blew his whistle in the final seconds of the fourth period. “Foul! Number 43 Blue!”. The call was against the team from Liberty Park, the fifth one of the night on that particular player. The rules stated that the player had to be ejected from the game for fouling too many times. The threats had already been coming since the first foul in the game, but kicking out their best player and causing them to lose the game? Well, that brought on even more taunts and warnings of impending violence toward Stag.
Today and every day after, he was escorted out of the neighborhood by the same group of girls. The threats flowed, the switch blades flicked, the girls were always waiting outside to walk him to the end of the block and the fence that separated Grandy Park’s Kimball Terrace from Brambleton Avenue. Stagalee noted to himself that the girls, nor the boys for that matter, seemed to ever venture beyond the fence. Stag would slide through the fence opening and onto Brambleton then walk the remaining two blocks to the house where he and his room mates stayed on Willoughby. But he could not figure out why those girls seemed to respect an invisible force field that held them inside their neighborhood. Being a college freshman meant that Stagalee was no more than a year or two older than these girls. But they may as well have been decades and worlds apart. As they walked, between taunts, Stagalee tried to relate to them by discussing their aspirations. He tried to get the girls to see beyond the now, beyond the fence. After a while the girls talked about life after high school and Norfolk, even considered the possibility that they might one day attend Norfolk State College (now N.S.U.).

Mad dog
As Stagalee walked down the street he noticed a dog chasing a little girl around a street light. Photo courtesy of

After about a month of working at the center, Stag was walking through the neighborhood on his way to work when he heard screams coming from down the block. He looked up and saw a large dog chasing a little girl round and round a street light. Stag immediately began running toward them, yelling at the dog, trying to get its attention. The dog didn’t notice Stagalee approaching the little girl did and ran directly toward him with the dog snapping at her heels. Stagalee picked the little girl up and put her down behind him. The dog approached at full speed and jumped on Stag’s chest. The dog began excitedly licking Stag’s face. He hadn’t been trying to bite the child, he only wanted someone to play with. But this was a huge dog, and the little girl was terrified

At the same time Stag was petting the dog and trying to get it off of him, the little girl had run into a pool hall behind them screaming about the dog. The occupants of the establishment rushed out into the street to see what was causing the commotion, pool sticks in hand. Just as Stag got the dog under control, the men came at Stag, clutching the girl in a protective fashion.
– “Is that your dog?”
– Hey you! IS THAT YOUR DOG!?!” another person asked.
“No, that’s not my dog, I’ve never seen this dog before today”, Stag replied anxiously.
– “If you want to live to see tomorrow , you better take your dog and get the hell outta here!’, they were moving in toward Stag, ready to pounce
Then Stag heard a girl yell out from down the street, “Wait! He didn’t do nothing, he pulled the dog off the girl, we saw the whole thing!”
It was the Grandy Park girls, they’d witnessed the entire episode from several blocks away and were running toward what was now a throng of people ready to attack Stag for what they presumed had happened.
“That’s the Ping Pong Man” (they never bothered to learn my name, Stagalee thought himself, they don’t even know my real name).
“He works at the recreation center, he’s OK.”, they said, “We know him, he saved that little girl from the dog, ya’ll should be thanking him”.
The group of people took a collective step back and just as they had done so many times in the past, the girls surrounded him, but this time to protect him, maybe that’s why they’d been escorting him all along, for his own protection. The girls continued to walk Stag to the rec center each day after that and were waiting for him from then on to escort him out of the neighborhood, even though it was no longer necessary. They spent that time talking about what the future might bring, the switch blade knives never came out again.
And from that time forward, Stagalee was treated with respect and admiration in the neighborhood. Not only did the kids look upon him as somewhat of a hero, but the adults treated him as a respected member of the community as well.
= “There goes the Ping Pong Man!”, they’d say.
– “Hi Ping Pong Man” or “‘Bye, Mr. Ping Pong Man. C’Ya tomorrow!”.

Mr. Ping Pong Man, the boy from the sticks of Faquier County had found a home away from home in the projects.

Norfolk State College: (A Fish Out of Water )

(The following events are true, the names were changed to protect the innocent (and the not so innocent))

“Benny, you get the bologna, I’ll get the cheese. Leroy, you get the mayonnaise and Stagalee wear my maxi-coat, you got’ta get the bread”. Yes, it had finally come to this, Bill Clayton and his three roommates were laying down a strategy whereby they would go to the local Be-Lo Market and shop-lift enough items to make sandwiches, bologna sandwiches. They were literally starving to death and something had to be done.

The Norfolk State College admissions building loomed perilously in front of Stagalee.

This hadn’t been what Stagalee envisioned when he received his letter of acceptance from Norfolk State College during the past summer. Sure, he knew it wouldn’t be easy, heck, he wasn’t even able to raise the fifty dollars needed to secure on-campus housing, but he was determined to go.
When it came time to leave for college, Stagalee found that he didn’t actually have a ride to get there. It just happened that a neighbor and close family friend, Tina, and her husband were driving back to their home in Hampton that weekend and offered to give Stag a ride. He quickly took them up on their offer to ride along. When they arrived in Hampton he spent the night at Tina’s house, the next day they dropped Stag off on Corprew Avenue in front of the school’s admin building. Stag stood and watched as Tina and Paul drove off down the street, he was all alone now. This was becoming far too real for poor Stag, there he was standing on the sidewalk, his seventy-five pound trunk of clothes sitting beside him on the lawn, he had no idea where to go from there. He picked up his belongings and headed down the long walkway to a sign marked “Admissions”. Long story short, six hours later and being directed from one long line to another, Stag learned that he did not have enough funds ($50 to his name) to qualify to live on campus. The good folks in admissions gave Stagalee a piece of paper with an address and directions on it, he walked the six blocks with his trunk to his new home at 1719 Willoughby Avenue. He had to walk past the Twin Towers, the male and female dorms that loomed watchfully over the campus, the dorms where he should have been walking into right now. When he finally arrived at the address written on the paper, there waiting for him in the house were his 3 new roommates, Bill Clayton, Benny Sims and Leroy Whitaker. These guys were all from the Hampton Roads area, they knew their way around, had family and friends nearby and seemed prepared, at least outwardly, for the challenges that lay ahead. Stag, on the other hand, was like a fish out of water, he’d never been more than 50 miles in either direction from Remington, Virginia. This was all new to him and the prospect of living with people he’d never seen before in his life was a bit overwhelming. Bill was the oldest and seemed to be the most laid back of the three. Bill was from Hampton, owned a car but, for some reason, had decided not to bring it with him. Benny was from an upper middle class family, his family owned the first and only black-owned hotel in Myrtle Beach, from the start it was plain to see that he was a spoiled brat who had been given everything he ever wanted. Leroy was an amateur boxer, he was a self proclaimed black belt karate expert and also had a cousin who was a professional boxer, Parnell Whitaker.

Stag should have been staying in the Twin Towers dormitory, but was not financially able.

The rent for the row house was going to cost $7 per month for each of them, but it wasn’t just them living there. Behind the locked door in the kitchen lived another tenant, old man Grimsley. The landlords, Mr. and Mrs. Everett, live upstairs, they are an elderly couple with no children of their own and who decided to open their home to college students for both the extra income and to help young people as they try to prepare themselves for the future.

The first day of classes was particularly uneventful and Stagalee was glad to get back to his new digs and away from the hustle and bustle of campus life. He opened the front door, which held the foyer, directly ahead was the door to Mr. Grimsley’s room, slightly right were the stairs leading up to the landlord’s apartment. He unlocked the door to his left and went into the living room where he and his schoolmates lived. The living room was pretty large as row houses go, it was big enough to hold the bunk bed where Benny and Leroy slept at night and the normal furniture that goes with living rooms. The next room was smaller and this is where he and Bill slept in single beds on opposite walls from one another, there was also a desk for studying and dresser and mirror. The next room was actually a hallway that lead straight ahead to a bathroom and then off to the right there was the kitchen, which Mr. Grimsley also shared. The kitchen was obviously a later addition because there was a window in the wall between the hall and the kitchen, this came in handy because you could see who was in the kitchen through the window without having to go all the way to the door. Mr. Grimsley had his own refrigerator and he only came into the kitchen long enough to prepare his meals, then he would disappear back into his room. Mr. Grimsley appeared to be between 75 and 80 years old and did not seem to be very friendly, they rarely saw him at all.

Stagalee went home for Spring Break, Freshman beanie and all.

The next day when Stag arrived home from classes he walked through the living room, through his bedroom and into the hallway on his way to the kitchen. But he noticed that the bathroom door was slightly ajar and someone was inside. He went to the door, pushed it open slightly and there slumped on the toilet seat, leaning up against the sink was Benny Sims completely unconscious… with a syringe sticking in his arm. Benny Sims was hooked on scag, heroin, H. Stag saw that he had needle marks on both arms and there he lay high as a kite and knocked out. Stagalee grabbed him, picked him up and began smacking him, trying to bring him around, but it was no use, he was out. Stag laid him on the floor and closed the door. When his other two roommates arrived from school Stagalee told them what he’d found and they all went into the bathroom, pulled Benny out and began beating him relentlessly, he woke up only to be beaten some more. Benny’s three roommates told him in no uncertain terms that if this happened again he was out, he’d have to leave the house, needles would not be tolerated in the house. Of course Benny never touched a needle again after that.

During the summer prior to coming to school Stagalee had applied for a student loan. He acquire the loan from the State Bank of Remington with the provision that once he graduated and worked as a school teacher in the state of Virginia for a period of two years, the loan would be forgiven. The loan was part of a work-study program and that meant he needed to find a job. Stagalee found work in one of the neighborhood youth centers, the Grandy Park Youth Center just a few blocks from campus. The center was in the middle of rival gangs, there was Liberty Park, a housing development just north-east of the center and Grandy Park, the development the center was located in. There was always a war brewing because gangs from both neighborhoods played basketball inside the center and Stagalee’s work -study job was the referee the basketball games, this place in a constant no-win situation. This made for an interesting and scary walk home each night, Stag was taunted and threatened to the outskirts of the neighborhood every night, but mostly by the girls. The girls, decked out in mink coats, mini skirts and Converse All Stars slashed their switch blades and hawk billed knives at him with promises that hiss face would be messed up if he keep flubbing calls during the games. Stag finally realized that he would not be attacked when kids from Liberty Park tried to attack him for what they considered making a bad call against them during the game, the Grandy Park girls chased the would-be attackers out of the neighborhood and from then on he was under their protection, after that they escorted him out of the neighborhood each night.

The decision to steal groceries hadn’t been made lightly, for months they had been living off the kindness of others. Many days went by with them only eating peanut butter crackers or Ramon noodles, if they were lucky. On numerous occasions they stood at the back door of the Student Union snack bar waiting for “Big Mama” to hand them a few frozen hamburger patties or a bag of frozen French fries. This scene was played out almost once a week now, Robert would stand at the counter, begging her to give them something, anything, just to keep them from starving, thankfully, she was always able to find something for them. When times got really hard, Robert would tie the front of his Tee shirt in a knot and switch around in front of the gay guys who hung out in the snack bar and who always seemed to have money, he didn’t like doing it, but it kept the boys fed. This particular time we’d gone for over a week without eating anything at all. Even Jimmy, Clayton’s friend who lived on campus, had stopped leaving food in their fridge because he’d grown tired of them scrounging it all.

The Giant Open Air Market.

This would be their second attempt at stealing a meal, their first try failed miserably. The plan was to walk the one mile down Brambleton Avenue, across the vast Campostella Bridge into the area called Berkeley and on to the Giant Open-Air Market. There they sold fresh rotisserie chickens. It would be Stagalee’s job to reach into the hot case, pull out a chicken, put it under his coat and calmly walk out of the store undetected. The other three team members (yes, this was a team effort) would go about the store gathering the necessary accoutrements needed to make an entire meal, bread, well basically just bread. One other person would also grab a chicken and make his way to the exit after insuring that Stagalee had made it safely outside. There were two problems with the plan, Giant Open Air Markets, if you are familiar with them, have a unique design, they are completely open, there’s no doors, just wide open space between the inside and out. The only thing that separates the indoors from the outdoors is a high volume curtain of air blowing downwards in the front of the store. There is a grate (somewhat like a cattle guard) that customers have to walk over, that captures the air and recirculates it back to the top. These stores also maintain a security guard at the entrance, just ‘inside’ the store.

In 1971 you had to be dressed in the latest threads on a weekend night in Norfolk, VA.

Stagalee was wearing Bill’s maxi coat, which reached all the way down pass his platform heels. In 1971, begging for food or not, you had to either be dressed like Super-Fly or Shaft if you were going to be seen in public on a weekend night in Norfolk, VA. He stood at the counter dressed to the max, he grabbed the chicken just as planned and placed it inside his coat, under his arm. Stag began slowly walking toward the front of the store, but the container holding the chicken was slathered in grease and the chicken began to slide down the side of Stag’s body inside the coat. Stag held on for dear life but by the time he arrived at the entrance and the security guard, he was walking completely hunched over, the chicken was resting against his ankle, the only thing between the chicken and his hand was Bill’s extra long maxi coat. Stagalee looked like a crippled up old man in need of a cane. He safely arrived at the stream of air, seemingly unnoticed, but the force of wind was too strong, it blew the chicken out from under his coat and it went skidding across the floor and back into the store. Stagalee stood there paralyzed expecting the guard to start toward him. The other boys saw what had just happened and all three went running from the store and back toward the bridge without looking back to see if anyone was after them, never realizing that Stag had been left behind. Stag wasn’t too far behind, he was right on their heels in his Flagg Bros. platform heels, which were not made with running in mind. When they all finally arrived at the bridge they stopped long enough to realize how lucky they were and right there decided never to return to the Giant Open Air Market or try anything like that again.

But that was then and this was now and they were hungry again, really hungry. This was their last ditch effort to get food. They went over the plan at least ten times, you would have thought they were planning the rob the Louvre or the Chrysler Museum, they left no stone un-turned. “Look Stag”, Bill began, “This time you have to make sure you don’t lose the goods, we can’t all get back here and find out we’ve got everything ‘cept the bread, we can’t make sandwiches without bread”. Stag was adamant, “No man, it won’t be like that this time, we will be eating tonight. I hate that this is the only option left, I’ve never stolen anything before”.
Leroy raised his hand, whispering, “Quiet! You know Mrs. Everett listens to every word we say, last month she told our parents we were smoking funny cigarettes, so shut up!”
Well, she was right in a way, they had been smoking funny cigarettes, “Tijuana Smalls”, those little cigars with the plastic tip, everyone smoked them, she just thought they were something else.
Benny Sims turned to Stag and said “Hey man, let me hold your short”, Stag handed him what was left of the cigarette he was smoking and he continued, “We need to get going, I can’t take it no more, I can smell old lady Everett up stairs cooking Sunday dinner for her and her husband and my stomach is kicking my butt”.
Bill said, “Ok, Let’s go!”, and was out the door first, they walked the half mile to the store and everything went just as they’d planned. Stag got the bread, Benny got the pack of bologna, Leroy got the mayo and Bill got the cheese, they all made it in and out of the store without a hitch. When the boys got to the corner of Willoughby they double checked the take, it was all there, they breathed a sigh of relief and turned the corner to go “home”.
When they arrived back at the house Stag took out his key and opened the door to the foyer, they all gasped at the same time. There, in front of their door sat a large tray and on the tray were a platter of hot, crispy fried chicken, a large bowl of potato salad, a basket of piping hot biscuits and some salad greens in a plastic container. They couldn’t believe their eyes, but at the same time knew exactly what had happened… Mrs. Everett must have been listening at the vent (like she always did) and overheard every word they said. she had prepared that meal and placed it in front of their door while they were out stealing a meal. There had to be a lesson in there somewhere, but it completely escaped them because when Stag suggested the right thing to do would be to return the stolen items back to the store, Robert quickly retorted, “This chicken will only last one meal and then we’ll be hungry again. The bologna will last us all week.” And with that they went into the kitchen and enjoyed a Sunday chicken dinner fit for a king.

The following week Stagalee received his first paycheck from the Work-Study program via a loan agreement from the State Bank of Remington. This new job marked the beginning of a new set of perils and adventures in the life of Stagalee, but it also meant that the boys never had to beg, borrow or steal for their meals again.

~ To be continued… ~

The Long Way Home

Savannagh Branch
Savannagh Branch

When I was in the second grade at Remington Grade School, my teacher (our teacher, he taught us all, first through seventh grade), assigned us to write an essay about what we did over Thanksgiving break. The following is a small snippet of what I wrote back then in 1960.

It was the day after Thanksgiving and the Ridge kids were bored and looking for something to do, so they, the guys, all walked the 3/4 of a mile over to our house. We couldn’t go squirrel hunting yet because at the time most of us still had a month to go before we found BB guns underneath the Christmas tree. As for me, I would still have to wait a full year before I found my gun under the tree. Bored because there was no snow to sleigh ride down “The Hill” on. It was too wet and soggy to play football, so we all decided to take off on a hike through the fields and cow pastures, just to go exploring. Now we did this from time to time just to walk and talk and get the lay of the land. The older boys would talk and tell lies, mostly about girls… I’d just listen and walk and keep my mouth shut. It was a lot of fun listening to those guys, as usual, I took up the role of the observer.

We put on our boots and were ready to go.
Savannagh Branch

Like I said, on that day the Ridge kids started out from the “Hill” and walked to our house to pick up Raymond and me. “The Hill” was just another name for the ridge, the area where most blacks in our town lived. We hurried and put on our thick socks, our insulated neoprene boots and our winter coats before running outside to join our friends. From the house we went up the dirt road and onto Mr. Bowen’s property, passing old man Bowen’s house and down pass his son Robert’s farm house and barn and then on into the thick woods. The Bownses were the only white family that lived in the piney ridge area. The town history reports that the Bowenses gave some of their property to the town and for short time, Remington was named Bowensville.

We had no idea where we’d end up that day or for how long we would be gone. But it didn’t matter, we were all together and anxious for whatever was going to happen to go ahead and get started. We took an old path down behind Mr. Sammy Gibson’s junk yard and came out on the road between the school house and the government place, the antennae farm. We never usually went behind the government place on the far side fence, but this time we did. We walked about 4 miles, to just pass old man Ott’s farm, until we got to Savannah Branch and followed the branch to the Savannah Branch Road bridge. We had never walked this far from home before. The older boys had easily ridden their bikes that far and much more, but we’d never walked that far. We hung around down on the water, skipping stones and playing on logs until somebody decided it was getting late and that we’d better head back, so we did.

We spent a lot of time playing ‘rock walk’ on Mr. Bowens’ property.
Mr. Bowens Land

We arrived back on Mr. Bowens’ property and this is where we went our separate ways. The Ridge Kids turned right and went up the hill toward their homes on piney ridge and we turned left to go down the dirt road to our house. my brother and I watched as the boys walked pass the gigantic rocks that lay randomly all over the Bowens property. Those were the boulders my brothers and sisters and I grew up playing ‘rock walk’ on. If you don’t know what rock walk is then I doubt you are from the country, you walk on rocks. The goal is to get from point A to point B (or as far as you can) by jumping from one rock to another, if your feet touch the ground then you are out. The rocks have to be large enough for you to stand or balance on without falling off and far enough apart to make the game challenging. These rocks qualified perfectly. We spent many hours playing on them and often wondered how those rocks got here in the first place. They were so conspicuously out of place, strewn about in no particular order and seemingly too large to be indigenous to the area. I’ve since read that the movement of glaciers are responsible for leaving such rock formations behind.

The boys continued home through the fence and we watched them as they went pass Miss Clara’s house and on up the hill toward home. We turned to take a short cut through the corn field. As we made it toward the center of the muddy field, the ground became softer and softer, making it more difficult to walk. The soil literally turned to quicksand and we started sinking rapidly, our boots getting stuck in the mud. I was about 20 feet behind Raymond, so he came to a standstill first, he couldn’t move any further and just sank. Soon he was up to his knees in mud. I tried to back track out, but it was too late. I was stuck in place and not able to move. We both started yelling, hoping that the boys were still in earshot, but no one answered and no one came. After about ten minutes, I realized that we were doomed and probably would never make it out alive (even though we were directly in front of and clearly in sight of the Bowen’s house). Non-the-less, I was scared and began to cry. Raymond started to panic a bit himself and began yelling louder and louder. But it was no use, no one could hear our screams. He just sat down right in the mud, this spreading out of his weight actually slowed the sinking process, so I sat down too, my legs resting in the mud as well. We stopped sinking but still couldn’t budge. Every now and then Ray would stand and struggle against the mud a bit more, but I was resigned to never getting out and just sat there with tears running down my face.

After a while we heard someone coming down the path from the direction of Miss Clara’s, it was Buster, a feeling of relief swept over me, I knew we would be OK. He walked slowly and deliberately toward us with this huge grin on his face, he was enjoying this. “You fellas look like you could use some help”, was all he said. Raymond said, “Yeah, we can’t get out, are you the only one who heard us yelling?”.
“Naw man, I didn’t even hear you, I was headed to the store… Let me get you guys outta there”, he started walking into the corn field. Buster headed toward Raymond first who was still a few yards ahead of me. He was watching his step, trying not to make the same mistakes we had as he came toward the middle of the field. He looked like he was doing pretty good at first, then all of a sudden he hit a really soft spot and that was it, he was stuck too. The entire field was like walking through quicksand and no place in it was safe. Buster sank like a ton of bricks, even faster than we did, he was up to his knees in no time. As he struggled to free himself, he was getting madder and madder by the minute. He was also starting to look just as scared as we were. He tried so hard he exhausted all of his strength fighting the mud, but he could not get out. Like I said, Raymond and I had on neoprene boots, but Buster was wearing galoshes or overshoes, he was in a different kind of trouble than we were because, finally, Raymond figured out that all he needed to do was get his feet out of his boots and he’d be free. That’s what he did, he pulled his feet free, and left his boots stuck in the mud. He rolled over and got on his hands and knees to spread his weight out and crawled slowly off out of the corn field. He tried to get me to follow suit, but I couldn’t, I was too tired, so he had to crawl back over to me to pull me out of my boots and once free, I crawled to the edge of the field still crying. I lay spread eagle on my back letting out a sign of relief. Buster was still struggling because his boots were too heavy to pull out and he had his shoes on in the boots, he was trying to dig himself out with his hands. So Raymond crawled over to him and they both dug the mud out from around his boots until he was able to pull free and crawl to safety. Buster got to the edge of the corn field, jumped up and struck out running back toward home, he never looked back. Raymond and I ran home in our socks, with our boots still back in the field stuck in the mud below ground level. We went back a few days later after the ground had firmed up and got our boots. We never told our parents what happened or where wed gone that day. If we ever had to travel that way again, we knew one thing for sure, next time we’d take the long way home.
~ END ~

Unfortunately, there was a bit of controversy when I first read this story in school. Since it was an assignment to read the story in class, that’s what I did. But in the original story, I’d written that after Buster realized, like I did, that we were doomed and no one was coming to save us, he began to cry. Well, if you ever knew Buster, you also know that he had a problem with this statement, to put it mildly. When I read it, he immediately jumped up from his desk and yelled “That’s a lie! I wasn’t crying! I was mad, I was just mad!”. Since I was in the second grade and he was in the fifth, his desk was 3 aisles over from mine (each grade took up one aisle, all except for 7th grade which usually made up two aisles), we were yelling across the room at each other. But I didn’t have to worry about him wanting to come over to beat me up, because to him, I was just a mixed up little kid who didn’t have the story straight and he just wanted to get the story straight. We went back and forth over who’s version was right, but neither of us gave in. Unfortunately, Buster is no longer with us, so I have to bow to his version of events and his more mature memory at the time, so no, he didn’t cry. But to put things more in perspective, there is another story I told from my memory when I was six years old… one which we later discovered from interviewing several adults that the story was actually 3 separate events that my young brain had combined and formed into memory as a single event, so my perfect memory isn’t always perfect. I also have to admit that I had never seen Buster cry before or after that, so it is not very likely he was crying then. That is why I left that part out of the actual story above, but added it as a follow up. The reading of the story in school created a story within the story, it created a little excitement while the story was being read in class which made that part worth telling as well. Buster was the type of person that if you hung around him long enough you were guaranteed to get a good story out of it, he has been greatly missed.

The Community Action Program: Warrenton, Virginia

Photo/Courtesy of The Daily Yonder
The War on Poverty began with President Lyndon Johnson’s visit to Tom Fletcher’s front porch in Martin County, Kentucky, in April 1964.

I didn’t realize I grew up poor until I landed a summer job working for the Community Action Program. In order to work for the program your parents had to be below a certain income level and we qualified. CAP was a program instituted out of Lyndon B. Johnson’s “War on Poverty”. The Community Action Program and the Neighborhood Youth Corp both “authorized by the Economic Opportunity Act (EOA) of 1964 and designed to keep needy students in school by offering them such incentives as a stipend, work experience, and ‘attitudinal’ training”. Both organizations were headed by Mr. Felton Worrell, who had also once held the position of choir director at William C. Taylor High school before it was converted to a middle school. You rarely hear or see the word ‘stipend’ when it is not preceded by the adjective ‘small’ as in, “he received a small stipend for his work at the research lab”, and I can guarantee you, the salary they paid us fit the definition to a tee.

I was 17 years old and this was my first real work experience. My first assignment was to (and this is how I interpreted it at the time) go to some white man’s house and do his yard work for him. I didn’t like the concept and did not apply myself at all. I had never trimmed hedges or pruned flowers or anything of that sort. The man had to practically babysit me the entire day. Yes, one day, I was not asked to return after the first day.

Soon after, I was assigned to the St. James Baptist Church as a youth coordinator (a fancy title for baby sitter), the most I remember of that job was that the “Center” (which is what we called the Community Action Program headquarters on Lee Street) sent a bus throughout southern Fauquier to pick up kids and take them to Vint Hill Farms Station to swim in their pool, everyone really looked forward to that weekly trip. The bus even picked up kids and delivered them to Vint Hill to watch fireworks on Independence Day. Vint Hill had the only public pool that black kids were allowed go to back then. The nearby Remington Swim Club was private, therefore the “White Only” facility didn’t have to worry about being forced to allow blacks to join. I remember our neighbor, Mrs. Georgia Hayes, tried unsuccessfully to sue the swim club in order to gain membership.

Vint Hill Farms Station Pool.

Vint Hill Farms Station was another of the, apparently many, electronic surveillance stations that dotted the Fauquier County landscape. VHFS was run by the US Army and the infamous NSA, they too spied on embassy row monitoring communication of friend and foe alike, they took some heat for that back around 1989.
After holding the job at St. James for a while I was transferred to the base commissary at Vint Hill as a shelf stocker. I enjoyed this job because it gave me and all my friend’s access to the facility’s gymnasium. Yes, those were really the good old days; you could come and go, on and off a military run facility with absolutely no identification whatsoever, just wave to the guard and they’d wave you in. Don’t try it today.

At one of our weekly meetings at the Center, one of the administrators, Mrs. Fleegle, told us that we had been given a grant that would allow us all to take a four day, 3 night trip to Miami Beach, Florida. The government would pay a portion of the tab, but each of us would have to sell $400 worth of chocolate candy bars (you know the kind). If we reached the goal as a group that uncle Sam wanted us to match, we could make the trip. All of the students (or employees) were given several boxes of candy each to take home to sell in our neighborhoods, two weeks later we would meet to turn in the money and further our plans for the trip. Two weeks went by, we met and were asked “How many of you have collected your 400 dollars?” no hands went up. Of the more than 20 children, no one had been able to sell four hundred dollars worth of candy, so the bar was lowered; Did anyone raise $300? $200? $100? It was finally decided that we should sell $100 worth of candy and come back in two weeks. Two weeks later, we returned and were asked “How many of you were able to sell one hundred dollars’ worth of candy bars?” no hands went up. The prospect of going to Florida was beginning to look bleak. No problem though, a NEW plan was devised, they told us “OK, if you each can sell $40.00 worth of candy, you can go”. Two weeks later we were queried and only one hand went up, it was Gloria Woods, out of all those kids she was the only one who raised enough money to go on the trip. Finally they said, “OK, don’t try to sell anymore candy, if you can come up with the $40 on your own, get it from your parents, borrow it, whatever, you can go”. I went home saved the next 2 weeks’ pay , asked my parents’ permission and surprisingly to me was allowed to make the trip.

Still there were people, who did not raise the necessary funds, but they were allowed to go anyway, everyone who wanted to go could go whether they came up with any money or not.
For some unknown reason, the Center decided to deliver the 20 or 30 kids to Union Station and subject us to a 17 hour train ride to Florida, big mistake. Those kids tore that train to shreds. We started out relatively quiet but then we all got use to our surroundings and at some point all hell broke out. Kids were running up and down the aisles from one car to another, screaming laughing, fighting, yelling. The more the passengers complained the louder the kids got. I even got tired of the hustle and bustle of the long train ride and just wanted to sit back and enjoy the ride, but they wouldn’t have it. The conductor spent the majority of his time chasing down my friends and bringing them back to their seats, mind you, no one was under 16 or over 18, a trainload of wild animals, they were. The final straw for the conductor came when someone broke one of the reclining seats; it sat flopped back against the seat behind it. They’d been using the seats as trampolines, jumping from one to the other until, finally one caved under the pressure. The conductor gathered up all the kids, cleared out an entire car of passengers at the rear of the train, moved us into that empty car by ourselves then left and locked the door behind him. For the rest of the train ride, we were as noisy and destructive as we wanted to be and no one got any sleep at all.

Photo/Courtesy of State Archives of Florida; Florida Memory
Aztec Resort Motel – Miami Beach.

When we arrived in Miami we checked into the now defunct Aztec Resort Motel, right on the Miami Beach ocean front at 159th street and Collins Avenue. As the adults were checking us in, a man, who had been watching us all from a distance, approached and introduced himself as “Mr. Griffin, the house detective”. Up to that point, I had only seen house detectives on old Humphrey Bogart type movies and have not seen one in person since. He told us that he would be keeping his eye on us and he was true to his word. The man never took his eyes off us for our entire stay.
One thing that I learned immediately upon checking in was that barely anyone in Miami Beach spoke English, especially the service workers; they were all Cuban, mostly all black Cuban. By then I had studied Spanish in school for a couple of years, but I was nowhere close to being able to hold a conversation with a native speaker. “No me gusta las albondigas” was about the best I could offer, I’d just have to bide my time until I was in a situation where I was eating spaghetti in order to tell someone, in Spanish, that I did not like the meatballs. That opportunity never came, so I spent much of my time in the motel trying, in vain, to interact with the maids when I needed something.

I left home with 20 dollars in my pocket and unfortunately for me, just across and down the street from our motel was a little pinball arcade and it only took an hour after our arrival for me to walk out of that establishment penniless and distraught over what I would do with no money for the next 3 days. I was at the arcade with Jimmy James and on the way back to the motel, as we were crossing the street, a red convertible pulled up to the corner where we were and stopped. Two beautiful white girls were in the car and one asked what we were doing for the next couple of hours. We told them we had nothing planned and out of the blue one asked, “How would you two like to come with us and make an x-rated movie?”. I was in complete shock, taken aback, embarrassed and a few other adjectives. I was just barely able to stammer out some excuse as to why we couldn’t go with them. Here we were barely 17 years old walking along the Miami Beach strip and getting hit on by two beautiful girls but who were obviously old enough to drive. Looking back, I’m pretty sure we two country bumpkins would have been driven to some far away alley where their boyfriends were waiting and been beaten and robbed. I’m both disappointed and relieved that I never found out what was actually in store for us had we accepted their offer.

Photo/Courtesy of The Brown Collection
That’s me enjoying the pool at the Aztec Resort Motel on Miami Beach.

When we returned to the motel, Mrs. Fleegle (not her real name) was gathering everyone together to take us to a local movie house. We’d returned just in time. The theater was within walking distance so we headed out of the building and down the street. Can you imagine the sight we made, 20 plus young boisterous black kids, laughing and joking our way down Miami Beach? People were stopping on the street and in their cars to watch the parade we made. Someone from across the street yelled out, “What’d you do – win a contest?” We sort of ignored them, a few kids gave responses that can’t be written here, but we made it to the movie theater as a single unit without causing too much of a scene. The theater was like none I’d ever seen before or since, there was a red carpet and velvet ropes stretching from the street to the huge double doors and to top that off, there was a doorman (white, not Cuban) dressed English garb holding the door for us. He sort of turned his nose up at us as we entered, but he held the door for us to come in anyway. The interior of the building had a huge chandelier and valuable looking paintings hanging on the walls and for the life of me I can’t remember what movie we saw that day.

By the time we returned to the motel it was getting dark, we had eaten already so all that was left to do was hit the beach and the pool. After we came in and went to bed, the house detective visited us several times throughout the night yelling at us and warning Mrs. Fleegle about the disturbances we were causing, threatening to kick us off the premises if they continued. The next day we took a bus tour of the Orange Bowl and President Nixon’s “southern white house” on Key Biscayne, we also toured a factory of some sort but it eludes me what type it was.
That night a storm came up out at sea, so we decided that it would be an excellent time to go out on the beach and wade in the dangerously high winds and waves. After almost drowning a few times as the storm grew in intensity and Gloria Woods accidentally losing her top for the third or fourth time, we came up with the brilliant idea of building a bonfire on the beach, that’s right, a bonfire on Miami Beach, directly in front of our hotel. We had it going pretty good and we’d been gathered around the fire for about 5 minutes when the house detective came running out of the hotel and onto the beach in his white suit and clutching his gray fedora against the wind.

Photo/Courtesy of Affordable Florida Vacations
“Put that fire out you backwoods country bumpkins!”.

“What are you idiots doing? You can’t build a fire out here! You’re not in the sticks now, you’re in Miami!”, he went on yelling, “Some poor lady left her kid in the hotel room for a moment and all this smoke came pouring in through the windows. She thought the hotel was on fire and now she’s called the fire department. GET THAT FIRE OUT, you backwoods country bumpkins!!!”. We quickly complied, the fire trucks came and went, the gathered crowd was dispersed, things quieted down and we went in and went to bed. The next day things ran a lot smoother, no one got in to trouble.

On our return trip back, we flew Delta Airlines from Miami to D.C. The strange thing is that it only took an hour and a half to make that flight to Washington National. I recently flew round trip from Reagan to Miami and neither leg took less than two hours and 20 minutes to make. I’ve never understood why it takes so much longer to fly the same distance now than it did over 40 years ago. It is a mystery for the ages I think. That was our trip and our contribution to the war on poverty. We had a great time and received some life molding experiences to look back on. A special thanks to LBJ’s commitment to helping the underprivileged, Uncle Sam’s undying need to spend taxpayer dollars and Mr. Worrell and his staff for caring enough to keep us safe and out of real trouble.

Southeastern Elementary School

Photo/Coutesy Fauquier County Historical Society
Southeastern Elementary School.

She stood over me, watching me as I read my history book in silence. The sleeves of her sweater were rolled up to her forearms as they always were and a Certs mint was placed strategically in the center of her tongue. I never saw Mrs. Davis without a Certs in her mouth and she was vigorously sucking on it as she tried to size me up, looking at me intently as though she were trying to see what I was thinking. Then she pointed her skinny finger at me and said, “You despise me, don’t you?” She looked at me over her reading glasses, her graying hair stiff with pomade, her finger trembling with anger. “You resent me-e-e-e-e!” she said it matter-of-factly. I stared at her, never taking my eyes off her; I didn’t once open my mouth.
We went through this ritual almost every day. I’d be sitting fifth seat down, third row over from the door and look up from my work and see her glaring at me and from out of nowhere, “Why are you staring at me?”, she’d ask. She would then slowly raise her massive body up from her desk and make her way to me and stand directly in the front of my desk , leaning forward. When she opened her mouth I could see the Certs mint sitting in the center of her tongue and again she’d utter those five words, “You hate me, don’t you?” Finally, I got up the nerve to reply, “No Mrs. Davis”. I didn’t know what else I could say.
“Don’t be impudent with me young man! You despise me and you know it. Why do you resent me so?”, again I sat there staring back at her. It may have been some type of miscommunication or maybe it was the fact that up until that year, I’d only known one teacher, Mr. Berry, from Remington Grade School. All I know is when I entered 5th grade we were all transferred to the brand new Southeastern Elementary School in Calverton, VA. Even though this new school was all Black like Remington Grade School was, I was still not adjusting well and Mrs. Davis wasn’t helping with the transition. I liked Southeastern, it was huge by Remington Grade School standards, and they had the First through the Seventh grades, with several grades being so large that there were two classrooms per grade.

Unfortunately, fifth grade was overcrowded too and some kids were being moved to Mrs. Scott’s fourth grade classroom until more space could be made available for all the students. I will give you one guess as to who was the first student chosen to move to Mrs. Scott’s classroom, that’s right, ME! It didn’t take Mrs. Davis long to decide who should be moved and my name was the first one called. We only stayed there for about 2 weeks, then the fifth grade was given a larger room to accommodate all the students and we moved back in with our classmates, but during those two weeks, we all did fourth grade level work. Right now though, I was back in the cross hairs of my nemesis, Mrs. Davis. “I’m going to call your parents and find out why you despise me so”. I just sat there staring at her as she went on another tangent. Finally, when she did call my mother, Mom came down to the school to talk with her. My mother made up some excuse related to my not being able to adjust to people I didn’t know, or that it took more time for me to become comfortable around strangers. But once she’d spoken to my mother and accepted whatever it was she was told, we started getting along a little better. We had no more confrontations about how I felt about her and that was fine with me.

We had only been in school for a couple of months when on November 22, 1963, Mr. Reevis, the school principal, came on the PA system and made an announcement: “I would like to inform you that at approximately 1:20 pm our time, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated by an unknown gunman in Dallas, Texas”. We always kept our classroom doors open and immediately we heard screams and cries of disbelief from the other classrooms. Mrs. Davis began sobbing uncontrollably and ran from the room. We sat quietly, upset, but not fully understanding what was going on or what the implications were. By 2 p.m. the school buses had pulled up outside and we were sent home early for the day. The president was killed on a Friday, on Saturday I stayed in and watched TV all day long. And back then there was no such thing as a 10 second delay on TV programs when networks broadcast live TV, so as I watched continuous news about the President’s assassination and the assailant, Lee Harvey Oswald, it was all live and in living black and white. I was there in front of the television set when they covered Oswald being transferred from the jail after being interrogated for hours and it was live as I watched Jack Ruby walk up to him in the underground passageway and shot him point blank. I saw it as it happened and ran to the kitchen and told my mother what had just occurred. That’s the first and only time I’ve seen someone killed right before my eyes. The whole country came to a halt when Kennedy died and although I was only eleven years old, I knew that things would never be the same again.

In the six grade I could officially have been labeled a “Teacher’s Pet”. Mr. Clarke was my sixth grade teacher and as far as he was concerned, I could do no wrong. His trust in me was even baffling to me. He thought that I and Henry “Sonny” Jefferson walked on water. Mr. Clarke had a strict disciplinary code and when you stepped out of line, punishment usually came swiftly. Either a pluck on the back of the head or a crack on the knuckles with his foot long rule. For some reason, Mr. Clarke and the second grade teacher, Mrs. H. did not much like each other and whenever the opportunity arose, one would be trying to get the other fired. Such was the case when Mrs. H. asked Mr. Clarke for a ride home one evening after school and “accidentally” opened his glove compartment to discover a pint of liquor stowed there. The next day, she went to Mr. Reevis and reported that he was going back and forth to his car to get a nip during school hours. Mr. Clarke was able to clear himself of the charges when he showed Mr. Reevis that the label on the liquor bottle had never been broken. Mr. Clarke devoted much of our class time explaining the entire scenario to us and how Mrs. H. was always out to get him. Finding out that Mrs. H. had it in for him was rough enough on the old man, but learning that I wasn’t perfect nearly killed him. One day some boys were in the restroom whistling, we often sang Temptations songs and did the Doo-Wop imitations, but whistling was strictly against Mr. Clarke’s code of conduct. Normally, in situations such as this, I would be nearby watching but did not take part in the shenanigans that the other boys were up to, but this time I joined in and whistled along with them. But just as Mr. C. walked in, I turned and went into a stall and when he came in and surprised the boys, I was nowhere to be seen. He grabbed the two boys by their ears and escorted them back to class. Once recess was over, he called them up to his desk to mete out their punishment. The teacher told them that they would have to receive the standard corporal punishment, getting their knuckles cracked, when, in unison, they exclaimed “but, Mr. Clarke, Stanley was in the restroom whistling too.” Poor old Mr. Clarke gapped open his mouth, put his hand to his chest and turned to me in astonishment; “Stanley is that true?” the man had tears in his eyes “Were you in Boy’s Room whistling with them?” I sat there looking innocent and honest and said, “Yes Sir. I did it too”. Actually hearing me say it was almost more than he could stand, a tear welled up in his eye and he said, “I hate to do this, but I’ve got to punish you too, you know that don’t you. I wish I didn’t have to do it”. I said that I understood his predicament and walked up front to his desk and took my medicine like a real trooper, you would have been proud of me. I lost some footing with the teacher, but gained some respect from my fellow classmates, because up until then, they weren’t so sure which side I was on, but now they knew.

My grandmother always allowed us to do whatever we wanted when we went up the hill to see her. We would go up to visit them several times a week and we often took advantage of the fact that she’d let us have whatever we asked for, no matter what it was. We’d go in her china cabinet and pull out fine china, lamps, pottery, it didn’t matter, if we said “Grandma, can I have this?” she’d say, “Sure honey, you go ahead and take it”. Ten minutes after getting home we’d be back with our bounty because our mother would make us take it right back. One day, I was up rummaging around in a dresser drawer at gramma’s house and came across an old wallet. It had obviously seen its best days. But I noticed that there was a circular impression protruding from the outside layer that had been made due to time honored wear and tear, I opened the wallet and inside I found a plastic packet. This time, though, neither did I ask my grandmother if I could have it, nor did I show it to my mother once I got back home, I just took it with me. I had no idea what it was, but I immediately decided to keep it and that I’d take it to school and ask Eugene Ballenger what he thought it was. The next day when I went to school it was raining, and on rainy days there seemed to be less excitement and kids were more subdued. We couldn’t go out for recess, so when recess time came, the only thing we could do was mill around in the hallways and mingle with the other classes. Since the older kids had their recess separately from the younger students, only the fifth, sixth and seventh grades were out and about in the hallways. I was just coming out of the restroom when I saw Eugene standing across the hall talking to several girls. Since he was a year ahead of me in school, I would only see him during recess. I decided that this would be a good time to ask him about the packet I had in my pocket.

Since it was raining out, the corridor was packed with kids. Girls lined the walls across from the restrooms and some guys were standing in groups, shadow boxing, some standing around singing the latest Temptations or Righteous Brothers song and others, like Eugene, could always be found entertaining a group of girls. I came out of the boy’s restroom, saw Eugene across the hall and then stuck my hand in my pocket and pulled out the little square packet that I had found. I raised it up above my head and yelled out to Eugene, “Hey Eugene, do you know what this is?!” I stood there grinning, proud that I had gotten everyone’s attention. When they all turned their heads to see what I had the whole place went in to hysterics. Girls started screaming, some held their hands over their eyes and others even slumped to the floor in a feigned fainting spell, while other girls collapsed right into the arms of whoever was standing next to them, the whole school was in an uproar and to make matters worse, we were standing right outside the main office. Boys gawked, pointed and laughed, Eugene stood there momentarily stunned, then dashed toward me and just pushed me backwards into the Boy’s restroom and continued pushing me until I was backed up against the wall. He grabbed me by my collar and yelled at the top of his lungs, “What the hell are you doing? Don’t you know what that is???” I said, “No that’s what I was asking you”, he was up in my face, “It’s a rubber you idiot! Give me that!” He took it away from me and explained what it was that I had brought to school with me that day, then said, “I’ll go out and calm everybody down”. I followed Eugene to the door and he went out and announced that the object was actually his and he had no idea how I had gotten hold of it, but that it was, in fact, his. No one questioned that, he already had a reputation as being experienced for his age, so this was no surprise to anyone and calm returned to the hallways. I came out looking embarrassed, mostly because I, obviously, was the only person in the entire school who did not know what I was holding. As I look back on this incident, I have often wondered how every girl in the hall that day seemed to know what it was. They not only recognized it, but knew how they were supposed to react to seeing it in a public setting. I can’t really pin down who the actual owner was, I had several bachelor uncles could have left that old worn out wallet lying around. But, I’ll never forget the looks on those girls’ faces when I took that thing out of my pocket. Deep down, I must have had some idea what it really was and what type of reaction it would evoke, otherwise, why I would have made such a production of displaying the thing in a manner that was sure to evoke such a reaction. Oh well, I guess we’ll never know’

The next year brought new adventures. We were in the seventh grade, top dogs, “we ran the school”, but only for a moment. There was no middle school back then. You graduated from being coddled babies to becoming young adults in just one summer. Going from the top of the heap to the pit of despair, stepping into high school.

S. P. Brown

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Revised: 8/2013