As school starts at Dora I reminisced about when I was in school. The question of corporal punishment was being discussed recently at work and my mind wandered back in time and as wild as I was as a kid, I didn’t get many paddlings… one big reason was that my mother had given all my teachers explicit instructions to contact her if they ever had to paddle me. I had the feeling that I would get whipped with a rosebush if I did wrong. My mother was serious about behaving properly.
I did get a paddling in the 6th grade. Ms. Odom was a great teacher and she loved all us kids and told us as much. It was early May and the days were warm and I had Spring fever and was feeling kind of rowdy. Ms. Odom had to go to the office for a few minutes and left Terry Wilson in charge. Now Terry was one of my buddies so I got a wild hair to sling a blackboard eraser at him… so I did. SWATTTT! Only inches from his head. He protested and told me that I was going to get him in trouble which I though was hilarious…so I slung another one… and another. Unknown to me, Ms. Odom’s visit to the office was a short one and she walked in just as I let one fly. Ricky Watson I need for you to join me in the hall. I didn’t like the sound of that one bit. Rarely did good things happen in the hall. This trip was no different. Apparently she didn’t find my eraser flinging nearly as amusing as I did. While Ms. Odom was getting on up in years, apparently old age hadn’t set in yet because I got the distinct whiff of burning cotton about the third time she hit me with that paddle. I never misbehaved in her class again.
I rocked along without incident until the 9th grade at Dora High. We were in the gym and again it was springtime (can you see a pattern here?). I was minding my own business when all of a sudden splat, I caught a piece of window putty the size of a golf ball right up side the head. It put a red mark on my face the size of a silver dollar. It was my duty to get revenge so I raced up the bleachers and gouged out a handful of putty from those big gym windows and I quickly found my target. I had a good arm so I let that putty fly… but just after I threw it… and I could see this developing in ultra slow motion… Coach Reid walked into the gym and that ball of putty smacked the wall not 18 inches from his head. There must have been 40 kids in that gym, but he ID’d the others and me so fast, that we had no time to flee. The military would be lucky to build a device that could find and isolate the bad guys so quickly. In the blink of an eye we were sitting outside Mr. Gants’ office. My life flashed before my eyes. The others were called in first one by one and when Mr. Gant asked them what happened, without fail, they all placed the blame squarely on someone else…and without fail, they all got three licks from a paddle that looked like it was the size of Rhode Island. It sounded like gunshots when the wood found its target.
When I went in, Mr. Gant “you’ve never been sent to my office before, have you?” I told him I had not. He asked me what I was thinking that caused me to become involved in the putty incident. I told him that I think we both knew that I was NOT thinking. He asked me who was to blame. I looked at him straight and said the words that I was sure was going to bring out the “board” of education….I guess that would be me. He stood up and I prepared myself for more burning cotton but he put his hand on my shoulder and looked me in the eye and said, “Ricky, I’m going to give you another chance.” “It’s not easy to take responsibility for what you do.” He said sometimes you make mistakes, but when you make a mistake, do your best to make it right. I’ve never forgotten those words.
It would have been easy (and justified) for him to have worn out my behind and send me on my way, but what he did was to have me spend my free time replacing the putty in the gym windows. He also left me with words that I could take with me… he never missed a chance to teach.
When you’re young, you think you’ll live forever and you don’t give a thought to saying thanks to those who helped make you who you are. Now that I’m older, I wish that I could tell him how much he meant to me.