Saturday, October 9, 2010

Poolville High School and the green bus

     The grades taught at Toto must have included the 9th because I entered high school as a junior. I was fourteen because I had started school early and had skipped the sixth grade. In those days there were eleven grades; the system changed to twelve the year I graduated, tossing me out into the world at fifteen (soon to be sixteen).
     All the Toto students did not move into the Poolville school. Some transferred to Peaster; some went to Weatherford, but those of us whose location made Poolville the best choice had an unique experience awaiting them: the opportunity to ride in the old green bus.
     It was indeed an oldie. The body was of wood, faded to a dull green. Although it had rows of windows, the were covered by rolled up canvas that was unrolled in cold weather. The seats consisted of benches running the length of the bus and in the center was a flat wooden rail meant to serve as a foot rest for those passengers seated on the side benches. On the other hand, the manufacturer may have installed it for safety; as a brace to prevent the riders from sliding off their seats if there was a sharp turn.
     For whatever reason the center board was meant, it was more often used for the last arrivals to sit upon if the bus was loaded. The pecking order also had a lot to do with the seating choices one had. Our bus driver was a quiet man named Arthur  Fuller. His passengers were either a quiet group or he was not bothered easily because I remember no disciplinary efforts being made.  One the other hand, he may have realized that completing the route often depended upon his passengers.
     If that seems strange, one must visualize the road conditions of those days. Any rain caused the road to be slick enough to lead to a quick slide into a ditch. Then the kids unloaded and contributed enough muscle to get "ole green" back on the road. A heavy rain activated those waiting mud holes and they became a lob lolly that held in their clutches almost any vehicle. Again, we kids lent our muscles to get us on our way again. On those occasions we did not get to school in a pristine condition.
     The weather did not always cause the problem. Once when making a wide turn at the end of the route, ole green suddenly sank to one side. Our driver, still seemingly unperturbed, asked us to unload so the problem could be corrected. All that was needed was a few strong boys to lift the rear of the bus so one of its wheels could be reattached. Making the turn had been the last straw, the wheel had come off and rolled away.
     If ever a vehicle had a personality, ole green had its share. And we kids may have learned a little from riding in it:  it was not sleek and shiny, but it got us there; if there was a problem, we fixed it, if we got dirty in the process, so what? We had done what needed to be done. Of course, in those days, child endangerment was not the issue that pushing a bus on slippery footing might be considered today. Can't your imagine today's mom's outrage..."You asked my child to do WHAT!"
     The Poolville school was a red brick building with its bottom floor housing the lower grades and the Superintendent's office. The top floor held classrooms for the upper grades and the large study hall or assembly room with its stage for programs...and the huge iron stove that attempted the impossible task of warming the entire area. On each side of the study hall was a stairway, more for safety in case of fire than to relieve congestion, for there were nothing resembling the crowds of today.
     Poolville had a janitor to tidy the place and load the wood in cold weather. It was never enough so the boys were often sent to the woodpile for more. Whenever we became uncomfortably chilled, we hovered around the stove and when warmed we returned to our desks.
     There were few discipline problems. The superintendent was a large man whose usual expression was rather stern. Although his blue eyes could twinkle, they also sent the message that he did not tolerate mischief in his school. And, make no mistake, as long as he was there, it was his school.
     School was great after I got over the strangeness of being in a new school and joining a group who had been classmates since the first grade. The classwork was more challenging and more was taught in class than that of earlier years when much of what was learned was in homework. Not that there was not still homework: there was loads of it. We had a civics (today's social studies)  teacher that gave a daily test on what he had assigned for study: Eddie Kannenberg, a German man who did not come back the next year. Whether he simply moved on to another school, enlisted in the army or was shunned because of his nationality, I never knew.  I remember him talking fast, being impressively through, and we were expected to listen. We did.
     R.L. Hodges, the superintendent, taught math. No nonsense in that class, either, although one April Fool's day the class climbed through the chubby hold behind the stage and hid on the roof. Class time arrived, Hodges arrived in the classroom, walked to the joining backstage area and said simply. "All right class, come on down now." We did and that was that: no giggling and no sermon; the usual classwork began.
     A new girl in a small school attracts a bit of attention among the boys so I had my share of dates, dodged all the goodbye kiss attempts, until the guy I ended up marrying came along. Perhaps by that time I had a crick in my neck! We dated two years before he joined the Naval Air Corp and left for the coast.
     This brought about a bit of long ago type of harassment. To date me this guy broke up with a girl who had a close group of friends, so I was on the receiving end of every snide remark that a group of teenage girls could think of, and make no mistake, teenage girls are very accomplished in that respect!  Sixty years later I received an apology!
     Regardless of that unpleasantness, school was great. We usually had time to play volley ball before class and at some time during the day we played basketball. Basket ball was, and remains, the game of the Poolville school and even that of the community. We played on a dirt court, one of the few in the county and we played our hearts out, but always with that disadvantage. Poolville finally got a gym and more recently a new school and a really nice gym. I do doubt that they love the game more than we did in our days on the dirt court.
     This was in 1941 and we had three months of normal school life. Although the war in Europe had been in the news for many months it was far away. News was limited to radio broadcasts, morning, noon and evening, and in rural areas, a weekly newspaper. It was a terrible shock to learn of the attack on our nation that December 7. The following day's assembly was called to listen to President Roosevelt's announcement that we were at war.
     As youngsters, we did not grasp the seriousness of that until some of the older boys began to be drafted and the next year our small class soon became smaller.
     Still, we played ball on our dirt court, attended tournaments, and our teachers did not neglect our education. And, we students on the south-east route continued to ride the green bus. It was old then and sixty-nine years later is there anything left except a few rusting parts? Could it be in someone's pasture, its canvas curtain hanging in a few rotten shreds and housing wasp nests and mice? The next year we had a normal appearing orange bus...but the roads remained the same.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Tragedies of Harassment

The tragic results of harassment are becoming an almost daily news feature. My first thought was to write "extreme harassment" but whether or not the harassment appears extreme is not the same for every individual. Regardless, it appears that the instances have reached a critical stage and that, in general, people are getting aroused enough to take action.

Forerunners in coping with this problem are members of the gay community and they are now extending a helping hand to some of our troubled youth.  Sentiments on the subject are as varied as the colors on a color wheel, but think what you will, the harassment problem can be reduced to a very personal one: What kind of person do you become when your opinion or actions contribute to making a person feel so worthless or hopeless that they take their own life?

Harassment can take many forms but it is meant to hurt.  It is not all concerning gays; those in the workplace, school children, or those of various ethnic backgrounds are also targets. It can target physical appearance or lack of athletic abilities, a slow learner or the person who is brilliant. The list goes on and on.  Most of us have endured some form of mild harassment and we probably called it teasing, but teasing can be friendly or loving or it can turn into something that hurts.

A recent October posting by Michael Bratton created in my mind a very moving scene as he wrote about a harassment situation years ago in his school. His description is extremely thought provoking. What was the background of this child? Was there no one to care about her. How desperate was her situation? Could her family been living out of a car? And above all, why didn't the teacher notice more and what was the school's policy concerning needy children? The image of "Johanna" will not leave me and I wonder what eventually happened to her;  is she still living but in the same desperate condition or did some miracle occur and she has become your next door neighbor, or maybe that wealthy lady living in that ritzy house on the next street?  I hope you will follow Michael's link in the list on the right of this page... Writings of Michael B 

WHAT we can do is the question in our minds. Where is the starting point? What exactly can we do? I have always held the opinion that at some time, in some way, there is a place for each person to use their abilities to do their part. One might support a project vigorously with hard physical labor, in a quiet manner with background action, or if there were a need, perhaps financially, .  Speakers can speak out, writers can write, artists can express sentiments in moving art work, photographers will find opportunities to photograph scenes that will speak aloud.

Among us are politicians, news people, school officials and teachers, counselors...and above all,  parents who care.  Surely as capable adults with experiences in many fields, we can find a cure for this harassment epidemic.