DAYS: LESSONS IN JUSTICE
Last Saturday I attended a school reunion and that stirred up memories of my school days.
I started school in Kaplan, Louisiana. In 1928, the first graders were housed in a gray-painted two-roomed building, apart from the rest of the school. Nearby was a long shed-like construction that we called "the restroom." (I'm sure you know what THAT was.)
Mrs. Yolande Toups was my teacher and I loved school, right from the start. I still remember the first line of ten words in my spelling book: is, and, are, day, he, in, it, me, all, at. I learned quickly and every six weeks, I got the prize for the student who had made the best grades. This was usually a large Hershey Bar, donated by Womack Lejeune's mother. (He was one of the students in my class and, much to my disgust, went around telling everyone that I was his girlfriend!)
Just once, the prize was given to another student, Percy Guidry. Miz Yolande explained to me that although my grades were better, his had improved greatly and she asked if I would mind if Percy were given the prize this time. Of course, I agreed. After all, I liked Percy. And then Percy came over to me, broke the candy bar in two, and gave me half of it. So I made a friend and had some Hershey Bar, too.
The next year, when I was in the second grade, I went to the larger building. Miss Louise Bailey was my teacher. (Many years later, when my own children were in school in Abbeville, Miss Baily, now Mrs. Balcombe, taught one of my daughters.) When I had completed the fifth grade, my family moved to Perry. This school was painted gray, also, and the Bayou Vermilion was just a couple of hundred feet from its back door. One teacher I had there was Mr. Irby Hebert. When he retired from teaching, he went into politics and was elected to the office of Clerk of Court in Vermilion Parish and served in that capacity for five terms. My favorite teacher was Miss Olga Ramke, a tall slim lady, with the most gorgeous red curls I'd ever seen. After I moved from Perry someone wrote to tell me that she had married a gentleman by the name of Pickett. Miss Olga is still alive today, an alert lady in her 90s.
The only one I ever had trouble with at this school was the principal, Mr. M. G. Richardson. This is what happened: I always did my arithmetic homework at school during study period, and I put my papers in my book, which I left on the shelf under my student's chair. Suddenly, my papers started to disappear. I didn't have my homework to turn in! This went on for about a week, and one day I asked the teacher (Mr. Irby) if I could be the one to collect the homework for him that day. I looked closely at each paper as I collected them, and found my paper! My name had been erased and the name of another student was written in its place.
I knew that if I confronted this student in the classroom, she would only deny taking my paper. I also knew that she lived in the country and would have to wait a few minutes after school was out for the bus to take her home. When school was dismissed that afternoon, I told her that I wanted her to walk with me down to the bayou because I needed to talk to her. She refused at first, until I said, "Okay, if you want everyone to know what you did, I can say it here!" So she accompanied me to the bayou bank, and I proceeded to tell her what I thought of someone who would steal another person's homework. She continued to deny it, so I... well, let's put it this way: I whipped the starch out of that girl!
Of course, she told her parents what I'd done, and the next day I was called into Mr. Richardson's office. He demanded that I tell him why I had hit her. I would only say that we'd had a problem and that I had taken care of it and if he wanted to know more about it, he'd have to ask the other student. As far as I was concerned, the matter was over. I was kept in at recess time for a whole week, but that was not really a punishment. I just spent that time reading. If I recall correctly I read six books that week.
I graduated from Perry Jr. High School in 1936 and went on to complete high school at Orange High School in Orange, Texas. My family moved to Selma, Alabama, after that and I completed a business course at the Sacred Heart Academy there. (Some day I may tell you about Sister Mary du Chantal, but that is a whole 'nother story.)
All those schools, and I never had a class reunion... until last Saturday, when there was a reunion of all alumni, teachers, and workers who had ever been at Perry Jr. High. I saw Miz Olga but the crowd was so large that I didn't get to talk to her. I sat next to Miz Josie Guarino, who was brother Jerry's first grade teacher. And I saw and talked to many friends that I had not seen in years. I wouldn't have missed it for the world!
Copyright © 2001 Aline T. Meaux, Abbeville, LA
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