It was the spring of 1963; the east (or, more accurately, the NE) side of the old 3-story Cisco High School building, along with the auditorium, was partitioned off because it was condemned; the town was divided over and squabbling about a bond issue to replace the high school building at a site on the edge of town. The members of the class of 1964 were juniors, and many of us were taking typing in the afternoons under Mrs. Carolyn (Page) Broughton — Shirley’s and Sandra’s mom. In the words of Dickens, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”
A word of caution about the story I’m about to tell: If you think that this is but another tale plucked from the annals of my memoirs (See And God Said, ‘Let There Be Friends’… And It Was Weird!) centered about me, that would be a pitifully shallow reading. This goes far beyond just me. This is about acknowledging that not only was I fortunate to have true, blue friends (Ode to Dr. Bill R. Lee, The M-4..And the ‘M’ Stands for…, Ode to William L. (Bill) Adling, Ode to Bob B. Berry, Ode to Robert W. Cole) I had great teachers and I had great sets of “second parents,” parents of the friends just listed.
One of my “second moms” was Mrs. Lois Adling, Adling’s mom, who worked as Principal C.B. Midkiff’s office secretary at the time of this tale in the second floor principal’s office below the third floor typing classroom. A.K.A. “Mable” (for you beer drinkers, remember “Hey, Mable! Black Lable!”), she also later worked for the city in a secretarial capacity. Those of you who knew her know it is not difficult to figure out where Bill Adling got his wicked sense of humor (Ode to Willliam L. (Bill) Adling).
The afternoon typing class in question happened to be one in which all the “misery” we dealt Mrs. (Page) Broughton — as I told her in 2009, we did it because we loved her — she, sweet as ever, smiled and said “I know” — came to a climax when I took my classroom antics a “bit too far.” She had very generously given me a typewriter key cleaning brush, because she knew I had a manual typewriter at home (The time when all typewriters were either manual or electric seems like the Dark Ages, doesn’t it?). Those of you reading this who went to school with me will not be shocked to read that the black brush, when held “just right” to the upper lip, looked to me just like Adolf Hitler’s mustache.
The fact I would notice this right away perhaps needs some explanation, especially for those who did not go to school with me, and are already wondering if I am a closet Nazi or have Teutonic Fascist leanings. As I have said elsewhere (Ode to Dr. Bill R. Lee) my friends and I, especially by today’s standards, were far from politically correct. We drew military maps and forts and attacked them with our pencil leads, complete with orally uttered and guttural, throaty “explosions” ; we played board games of strategy and tactics that we called simply “war games;” we took pictures of each other dressed like Nazi SS officers. And this is not to even mention The Confederate Club I headed years before high school and the fascination especially Dr. Bill R. Lee and I had for the Confederacy and the Civil War. This just gives you an indication…
In the typing class prior to this afternoon, this Nazi form of political incorrectness I had taken already too far, probably, as I had discovered Mrs. (Page) Broughton had some Polish ancestry, so when she was particularly demanding one day in class, I had popped off with “Mrs. Page, no wonder the Germans hated the Poles!” Another day she engaged me in a conversation about my father’s service in WWII in North Africa, and I had popped off that he was “Uberlieutenant Hastings of Rommel’s Afrika Korps,” just to get a rise from her. (He, of course, was in the US Army Air Corps stationed near North Africa’s Lake Chad.) The brush, to me, seemed like a “natural” progression of opportunities in the class. I could stick the brush to my upper lip and turn around when Mrs. (Page) Broughton had her back turned or had temporarily stepped out of the room and do my patented “Hitler speech rant,” or, better and more conveniently, I could load the brush with ribbon ink from the typewriter keys and paint a black mustache on my upper lip that was easier to hide than a brush.
I was doing all this for the same reason I clowned around in my classrooms since about the third grade — to get a laugh or response from my classmates; I was a part of a group who served as our graduating class’s “class clowns.” Admittedly, it was insensitive and callous to use controversial or politically charged material such as this, but class clowns, like so many comedians, tend to be oblivious to the implications of their actions; if they get laughs, that is sufficient justification, as short-sighted as that may be. I had a real “bad case” of such obliviousness, as my personal drive to not only be a class clown, but to be different — never to copy or be like anyone else — attracted me to that which puzzled, horrified, or shocked most people (That is one of the reasons why I loved and love rock and roll and heavy metal — see Hail, Hail, Rock ‘n’ Roll! Hell, Hell, Heavy Metal!). I was attracted because of its shock value, never paying attention to its potential adverse effects on others, for the selfish reason that it did not adversely affect me personally.
[How much greater is the mystery of what Sylvia saw in me!? How much more understandable that most all other girls pretty much stayed away from me!?]
But enough of my own psychological rationalizations. Anyway, on this afternoon I had the typing class “eating out of the palm of my hand.” The class would periodically burst out in laughter when Mrs. (Page) Broughton turned her back, and when she turned back around I could cover up quickly enough she could not figure out what was going on. She had to threaten the class to tell her why the class was out of control, and Becky (Reich) Odom ratted me out. Mrs. (Page) Broughton immediately asked me to accompany her down to the office; I had no option to talk her out of it.
I offered her my arm to help her step down the stairwell to the second floor, hoping to be able to wipe the ink off my upper lip in the process; she would have none of it after she saw a couple of first wipes. We entered the waiting room of Mr. Midkiff’s office to find no one there at the moment except Mrs. Edward Lee, the Junior English teacher, one of the greatest teachers we had in high school (It was right at the end of fifth period.). Mrs. Lee thought it was funny I was sent to the office, and Mrs. (Page) Broughton found Mrs. Lee’s amusement contagious. Mrs. (Page) Broughton told me to stay and wait for Mr. Midkiff and she and Mrs. Lee left, to be replaced by “Mable” Adling, the office secretary, the office girl for the sixth period, Sandra (Hart) Burkett, and another great teacher we had, Mrs. Evelyn Bailey, the Senior English teacher.
I am having to sit there and take on as ridiculous a countenance as I could (the old clown defense), in order to get out of this as lightly as possible, despite the fact Sandra is my sweetheart Sylvia’s twin sister! I could visualize at the end of the day Sandra saying something like this to Sylvia: “You know that guy you go out with every once in a while? Well, guess what I saw and heard in the office today?” For all I knew, it was all over between Sylvia and me.
Mrs. Adling took one look at my upper lip and knew exactly what had happened. “You were imitating Hitler, weren’t you?” I nodded “Yes” with blinking eyes and a shit-eating grin. She started laughing and grinning with that infectuous smile of hers, and if Mrs. Bailey had had any thoughts of playing disciplinarian with me, “Mable” had rendered them mute and useless. Mrs. Bailey joined Mrs. Adling in the laughter, Sandra had to leave to pick up attendance slips, and I started “milking my audience” for all I was worth, for I knew it would be just a matter of time until Mr. Midkiff arrived.
It seemed he arrived too soon to me. But Mr. Midkiff had a hard time supressing his smiles also, even when he found out what I was doing there with a smudgy upper lip. He asked the two ladies what should be done with me.
“I don’t know,” said Mrs. Adling, ” I’ve been trying to figure that out for years!”
Mr. Midkiff took me into his office in some haste, either he having somewhere he had to be or he knowing I had to report to the field house for sixth period, or both, for the fact I would receive no paddling licks was established “right off the bat,” or “right off the paddle.” He gave me a quick lecture about classroom behavior and dismissed me. I was as cooperative as I’ve ever been known to be.
Mrs. Adling was still laughing when I exited the office. Mrs. Bailey was gone, but Sandra had returned and had caught a case of Mable’s laughter. On the way down the 2nd floor hall to the west side exit outside stairs, I rubbed off most of the ink from my upper lip to my fingers. I thought the whole thing was over and all I had to do is get to the field house at the end of Chesley Field as fast as my legs could carry me the three or so blocks distance. But I had to pass Mrs. Edward Lee’s room, where the door was open so that she could see out into the hall; apparently, she had no sixth period class. She called me in when she saw me. I thought I was going to get another lecture.
Before I reached her desk she asked, “I bet I know what you were doing!”
“You were imitating Hitler, weren’t you?”
“Yes, ma’am.” I expected the worst, and certainly not what came next.
“Well, I think it’s cute!” And she asked me to sit down in a student’s desk in front of hers. I was in pleasant shock.
She proceeded to ask me about my college plans, which, even though it was late in my Junior year and even though it was clear I was college material that should go directly to a four-year school, I really had no plans, as strange as that may seem, especially by today’s standards. There was little or no college tradition throughout my extended family. Only one of my cousins had earned a bachelor’s degree. She made me identify a place I would consider attending, and I said Texas A&M, primarily because it was different from all the other colleges, and because every Aggie graduate I knew in Eastland County had a job.
She made me go across the hall on the 2nd floor to the library and check out an A&M catalogue. I had walked upon the 2nd floor arm-in-arm with Mrs. (Page) Broughton — I wondering what was going to happen to me, and I now left the 2nd floor down the west steps wondering in what I should major at Texas A&M. After this whirlwind tour, I don’t remember any anxiety at all regarding any trouble I got into for being late to the field house.
Cole (Robert Cole) [see Ode to Robert W. Cole] provided the postscript to this big afternoon. In Mrs. (Page) Broughton’s shorthand class (Cole had taken typing before he moved to Cisco.) he learned she had decided to go and talk to my mother at the bank (or maybe my dad at the A&P grocery meat department) about this “Hitler thing” I had been perpetuating in her class. Cole, who was a major war gamer among us fanatics and made a mean photographed SS officer, assured her there was nothing serious or sinister about my antics. He convinced her, and she changed her mind about seeing my parents. I will always be indebted to him; he “saved my ass.”
So, in one afternoon in Cisco High School in 1963 I avoided punishment thanks to the sense of humor of one of my “second moms,” and I was put on the path to college by one of our class’s great, understanding, and insightful teachers. Around the same time one of my true, blue friends prevented my classroom antics from being distorted and misrepresented. And all this in the context of one typing teacher with the patience of a saint.
[Oh yes, what a wonderful sister-in-law I have! When I asked her about her role in this afternoon, she had no recollection of ever telling anything to Sylvia about my “visit” to the principal’s office that day. In fact, she said she had trouble remembering anything about it at all. Sylvia is sure she learned nothing about me and that afternoon from her sister.]