July 30, 2021
((This is going in my next book. It is long but the last story will make it worth it. Just for my own curiosity If you read the whole thing would you type “Done” or similar in the comments.)
My first 8 years of public education were spent at Gordon Elementary in northern Clay county Missouri. Gordon was a one room school house that housed grades one through 8. The grades were divided by rows with a row for every grade and usually 4 to 6 desks in each row all in the same and only room.
Most years there were from 20 to 30 kids in all 8 grades. Usually closer to 20 than 30. There was no kindergarten, school started at first grade. I was 5 years old when I started first grade, that is the age most kids start kindergarten. I turned 6 in November so I was normally younger than the other kids in my grade. My younger brother Phil also started at five but he didn’t turn 6 till mid February. My theory is that with 9 kids in the family by the time Phil and I came along Mom was so tired of taking care of kids that she lied about our ages. I can’t prove that but I seem to have some recollection of Mom painting a mustache on my lip with an eyebrow pencil and telling me that if I didn’t lower voice when I talk people would think I was a girl.
For most of those 8 years of Mrs. Buena Ferne Hudlemeyer was our teacher. She handled all eight grades every day all by herself. She was the teacher, the Principal and the school nurse all in one.
I watched her paint one boy’s throat with iodine when he came to school with a sore throat. I was playing softball during recess one day without a ball glove. A hard line drive was hit right at me. The ball hit the end of my little finger and knocked it out of joint. I went to Mrs. Hudlemeyer and showed her my hand. The little finger was bent sideways at the second joint. She just laughed, jerked it back in place, said “you’re fine” and sent me off to play. I did and I was.
Mrs. H always kept order in the classroom. She was firm but cheerful. She had a big handbell that she used to call us in from recess and if we ever got too loud during class she would smack it on the top of her desk. That metal bell would catch the air as it hit the desk and make a boom. We would jump and then the room would be quiet again.
She was tolerant but not hesitant to use corporal punishment to maintain order. During the years I saw her use a paddle, lovingly manufactured by her husband Logan. She had a pointer stick that was meant to offer emphasis on the alphabet. She broke that stick on my brother David’s backside offering emphasis on obedience. She used a fly swatter from time to time but when she was really mad you could expect a kick in the butt, literally.
The first 3 years I was at Gordon Elementary there was no running water in the school house. The older kids were assigned the task of filling the water bucket from the school well which was located on the west side of the building. There was a hand pump at the well used to draw the water to the bucket. After pumping the bucket full we had to pump another bucket to be left beside the pump that could be used it to prime the pump the next time you needed H2O. The bucket was carried into the school and a tin cup was hung on the side to water the student body. That is right, we all drank from the same cup.
We had two, two hole outhouses. One for boys and one for girls. There was no seat on the wood just two holes cut in the bench. These holes were cut straight so you weight rested on the top of the ring which meant if you sat down you were going to have a red crease mark on your behind. I am sure the girls ignored it and pretended nothing was there. Boys on the other hand discussed all things equally and the grosser the better. Which meant bathroom issues were always at the top of the water bucket list.
The brighter your red crease the more you had to brag about. However, one year no one sat on the holes for long because Johnny Lee Jackson who was older than most of the kids was terrorizing the sitters. Johnny was a bully and just plain mean. There was an air vent cut into the back of the privy near the ground and Johnny would take a long stick, wait till someone sat down and poke them in the butt. Needless to say many of the younger kids spent most of that year constipated. I got poked one time and never went again for month’s. Most of us got so good at holding it that our butt cheek muscles could crack a walnut.
Thankfully Johnny got carried away with his misguided escapades and started poking the girls. The boys were too scared and embarrassed to tell on him but when he poked Susan Severns she went straight to Mrs. Hudlemeyer. To say Mrs. H was mad was an understatement. She marched out to the privy and caught Johnny brown-handed with a stick in his hand.
She grabbed him by the collar and drove him back into the school house kicking him in his behind every second step. Once she got him in the school she made him sit beside her desk until all the other kids were in from recess. Then she pulled out her long wooden paddle and went to work on old Johnny Lee’s behind. We kids applauded with every swat. Mr. H was a small lady and to be truthful her kicks were embarassing rather than painful. Even her swats with the paddle were not firm enough to damage a kid the size of Johnny Lee but it sure got his attention and after that we kids could poop in peace.
I only saw Mrs. Hudlemeyer that mad two other times. Once after school Carl King and George Bass got in a fight on the road home. They were walking home on the gravel road by the school still in sight but about a quarter mile away. I was still waiting for a ride home when Mrs. Hudlemeyer walked to her car and noticed me and my brothers looking down the hill. She saw the altercation and leaped in her car and tore out for the fight. Her car was fishtailing back and forth on the gravel road throwing rocks like Sylvester Stallone with a machine gun.
When she reached the two combatants she jumped out of the car leaving the door open and car running. The ring of kids watching the fight saw her coming and took off towards home. Carl and George being in the heat of battle did not see the 5 foot one inch ninety nine five pound educator heading their way. Both of these boys were 12 and taller than she was. She reached out and grabbed both by their collars, pulled them apart, swung them in front of her and drove them towards her car kicking one in rear with one step and the other with the next step. Her car was probably 30 feet away and she kicked them the whole trip. She threw them in her back seat and gave them a free ride home. In those days when you got a whippin in school you got a whippin at home too and those boys never fought again.
You would have thought they would learn but Carl and George both crossed the spry and mighty lady at least one other time.
Carl had been told to come in from recess and he was ignoring it. Mrs. H hollered at him through the door and instead of coming in he smarted off to her. I don’t know what he said but it set the little Wolverine on fire and she swarmed him with a fly swatter. She shooed him into the school and to his seat using that swatter across his back with every step. Carl was thirteen. He was a good 4 inches taller than her and had at least twenty pounds on the little lady. He casually walked to his desk as if she wasn’t swatting him with the wire switch and sat down like nothing happened. She stood there looking at him the way Granny Clampett looked at Jethroe Bodine, rolled her eyes, shrugged her shoulders and walked away.
The final report I have to share was brought on by George and I am sure every kid in that school still remembers it to this day. George had gotten in trouble and was mad at Mrs. Hudlemeyer. We all knew he was mad as George never could hide his feelings but no one expected what would happen next.
I was sitting in the second seat from the front and had a perfect view of the whole trauma. Mrs. H left the room to go to the bathroom. George jumped up and went to her desk with his eraser. Mrs. H had little cup on her desk that she kept pencils, pens, paperclips and a long stick pin that she used from time to time to attach things to the wall.
George, right in front of all of us took that pen from the cup, pushed it through the eraser leaving a good inch and a half sticking up. He then laughed and sat the eraser with the pin pointing up in the teachers chair. The whole school was stunned in disbelief. It was a wicked looking sight and no one would want to sit on it.
I don’t know why none of us warned our beloved teacher. (That was not a sarcastic remark because we all did really love her) We just sat there starring at the booby trap. She walked into the room, went to her desk and started to sit down. She paused for just a second, I suppose her instincts were telling her we were all too quiet. Yet not even one of the girls warned the poor public servant of the impending catastrophe.
After the pause she started to move again and there was a collective gasp throughout the room. I can still see it in my head like it was yesterday and not over 50 years ago. She didn’t gently lower herself to the seat, she fell into it and went all the way down. The whole needle had to have hit bottom. She went down hard and immediately popped out of the seat with a scream!
That is when George’s mischievous grin turned into a look of horror. Realizing what he had done he literally fell out of his seat and hit the floor. The joke had turned into a terrorist attack on a person for whom all our parents had literally given a license to punish and maim at her discretion.
She stood beside her chair, reached down and picked up the eraser and held it in front of the school. The long pin had gone clear through her skinny bottom and bent at the bone. The girls started crying, we boys were speechless. This is the kind of thing you laugh about when you hear it but in person it is a gruesome sight.
At this point George is in a fetal position, if any of us kids had been Catholic we would have been giving him his last rights. We all just assumed that Mrs. H would kill him.
She stood there in front of us all with flames coming from her ears. Her eyes went from green to black, she stared over our troupe of 22 with a look that would have melted Osama Ben Laden.
“Who did this?” She demanded. No one said a thing but we all looked at George on the floor. “George!” She screamed “Get up here!” George slowly pulled himself off the floor and approached her like a dog who had just eaten the couch. He was so low to the floor he could have won a limbo contest in Vietnam.
When he got to her desk she reached out and grabbed his chin which was bent to his belly button and pulled his head up till his eyes met hers. His knees started to bend and he would have gone down again except that she had such a grip on his chin that he just dangled at the end of her arm.
“Why did you do this?” She questioned. George’s lips started to move but nothing came out at first. No sound, no air, nothing. Slowly he started babbling in a slow high tone sounding more like a wounded animal than a boy.
The rest of us stood there in silence. George’s baby sister started to wail over in the second grade row. “Don’t kill him! Please Mrs. Hudlemeyer don’t kill him!” she cried. Mrs. H stopped and looked at the rest of the kids and recognized the horror we were going through. She loosened her grip and in a softer tone said “Sit down!” He fell in the chair next to her desk.
“Why did you do this” she repeated. Again he just babbled in a pitiful tone. She held up the eraser, bent the pin straight that had bent on her behind and handed it to George and said “Sit on it!” At that order we all swallowed hard, our eyes dilated and we stopped breathing. It was so quiet you could hear the ticking of the wind up clock the teacher used to start and stop class.
George slowly reached for the land mine that he himself had created. He stood up and placed it in his chair.
Understand we were all tough country kids who knew how to hunt, kill and clean our prey. Some of us had even slaughtered farm animals but we were all covering our eyes, the girls and younger boys put their hands on their mouths and squealed in muffled terror.
George, with a look of resign motivated by guilt deliberately lowered his booty towards the point of education waiting in the chair. Every eye in the school was wide open and focused on the end of the needle under George. At just an inch from contact Mrs. Hudlemeyer yelled “Stop!” We all let out a sigh of relief. George had been reprieved.
She reached down and picked up the eraser. Handed it back to George and said. “George, I want you to keep this eraser on top of your desk, right in front of you the rest of the week.”
It was Tuesday and that eraser sat there all week just like she said. Everyone in the school avoided George’s desk like a leper colony. He sat in the back and we would go all the way to the front of the row to get to the other side of the school rather than pass that sadistic booby trap.
We all learned a lesson that day about revenge and thinking before you do something. George clearly repented and Mrs. H clearly forgave him. She never picked on him, talked to him with harsh tones or treated him different than any of the rest of us.
I am sure every student that Mrs H ever taught would agree that she was a great teacher, including George and Carl. She taught us much more than reading, ‘riting’ and ‘rithmetic’. She taught us to respect authority, to obey and be honest. She was firm with discipline but controlled by love for her students. She was never mean or demeaning. She not only educated us, she prepared us for life. I am forever grateful for her influence in my life.