Miss Clara and Other Stories
Miss Clara Hamrick, fifth-grade teacher extraordinaire, was one of the best. And she was fair. Didn't take kindly to juvenile delinquents, but then who did, right?
Morgan Square. In the '50s and '60s, you knew it was Belks Country.
Sometime during the year I was in her class, Joe Dill, an older big kid, enrolled in our school and was plopped down in the midst of us back-row dwellers. He was, to put it mildly, one more funny guy. He could tap the top of his head and make hollow sounds come out of his mouth, and that was just for starters.
Joe was awesome.
Miss Clara seemingly had no control over him. The other boys and I were continually in an uproar over his antics, which finally forced her to exile him to a seat along the wall. Yet even then he held sway over our imaginations.
Exactly two days after his arrival, no Joe. Never did see him again. Gone. Curtains. Banished to that limbo reserved for great outlaw talent.
It was amazing what grownups could do when they made up their minds.
A spring morning in 1957. CarolBrown and I were sitting on the south steps of Southside Elementary when she told me this one.
A man finds an ant, takes it home and begins to teach the little creature to do tricks. Three long years later the guy's perseverance pays off -- the ant can now do some amazing stuff. It's time, he thinks, and he takes it down to the local tavern to show off. Elbowing his way up to the crowded bar, the man carefully puts the ant down.
"See this?" he says to the people around him.The bartender leans over. "What, that ant?" he says, as he squashes it with his thumb.
Seriously, the best joke I ever heard:
Q. Why do ducks have flat feet?
A. From stomping out forest fires.
Q. Why do elephants have flat feet?
A. From stomping out flaming ducks.
Roll-the-bat's not a game I ever ran across outside the Carolinas. Maybe today people are crazy wild about it from Key West all the way to Point Barrow, but I kinda doubt it. It was an acquired taste, and who today has the time?
The essential roll-the-bat -- or roll-a-bat, as we called it -- requires a batter and one or more fielders. Enough players, you can have a pitcher and catcher.
Here's the scene: you're at bat. The pitcher throws the ball, you swing and miss -- what happens? Well, if the catcher catches the ball in the air or on the first bounce, you exchange places with the catcher.
If you connect with the ball and it's caught on the fly or first bounce by one of the other players, you exchange places with that player. Pitcher, fielder, catcher. Whoever.
Should one of those guys catch the ball after the first bounce, the rules require you to put the bat on the ground, long-ways facing the pitcher's mound. When that's accomplished to everyone's satisfaction, the player with the ball throws/bowls it at the bat. Should the ball touch the bat, you and that other player trade places.
Them was the rules. Not a lot of 'em, huh? Another point of interest: it had to be the most egalitarian ball game I ever heard of. No choosing up sides, and if you played the field, you could do it anywhere you wanted.It wasn't a game requiring athletic prowess, but rather was something to do during those times when a kid's life slowed to a crawl.
In my time, I played a lot of roll-the-bat.
I was outside the other day when a B-25 flew over the house. My very own personal hero, Ray Star, flew as copilot in one of those babies during the big one, WW2, which was probably why I was able to recognize that plane.
Ray was a radio personality back in the 1940s, '50s and early '60s. Last time I saw him was in the spring of '58, when he dropped by the house to say good-bye to Mom. Had he not been in showbiz -- since that was truly what he was about -- he probably would've been a great teacher. He knew a lot of cool stuff, and even took the time to introduce me to science fiction.
Sure, maybe whatever attention he paid me had everything to do with the fact my mother was a pretty divorcee, but I was starved for a male role model and wasn't above taking advantage of the situation. Anyway, before he left, he came up to my room to see me.
As he walked through the door, he was holding in his hand an object about the size of a couple of packs of cigarettes. "Got something for you;" he said. "A radio. It's small because it uses transistors. Transistors are going to change the world."He was right. About the world changing, I mean.
Several neighborhoods in my city are located in the floodplain of a river. Today at least part of downtown is protected from high water by a levy stretching from one of our main streets to a point where the river flows under the Interstate—a distance of about 1.3 miles.
Not much going on up there on top of the levy, as you can imagine. In winter you might see a couple of leaves blown over from the scrub oaks growing nearby, and during the other nine months of the year the levy is infested with fire ants. Those two things then, along with grass, are all you’ll find there. Usually.A couple of years ago, I was walking along the levy and noticed a dirty, well-chewed pocket comb laying in the path. A quarter mile away was another, and then some distance beyond that one was yet another. Over the next several days I counted four, maybe five such combs. Eventually I picked one up and brought it home, and soon after that they all disappeared.
A real mystery, huh?
Summer of 1960