Kindergarten wasn’t around when I was forced into knowledge, so we kicked it off with 1st Grade. The old school, now long gone, across from the Malone house, now The Bank of Cadiz, was overcrowded so my first year was spent in the basement of The Cadiz Baptist Church. I was welcomed to the world of learning by Mrs. Dorothy Thompson. She was a delightful, loving, yet stern, pretty lady that understood that kids had to go to the bathroom sometimes other than “bathroom breaks.” Yes, “restrooms” didn’t come about until later, although they pretty much served the same purpose. She also introduced me to Doctor Seuss. You got to love a woman that does that for you. I’m loving this school thing! Thanks, Mrs. Thompson!
Now I’m going to omit real names because my real lawyer charges real money and I do this for free, but let’s move to 2nd Grade. I walked into my classroom, across from Mrs. Fannye Wallace’s office, full of hope and a real yearn to learn ... only to be addressed as “James.” My real name is James Delbert Stagner, Jr. (yeah, that’s my Government name), but my street name is Monty. I was like 7 years old and everybody called me Monty, I could barely spell James! I really didn’t know to whom she was referring. Really. I’d never been called that in my life. I was Little Monty or Monty. She decided I was belligerent and uncooperative. And she knew you could beat that out of a kid. Talk about a kid not understanding! I got out of second grade with a red butt and some real concerns about life.
Although I was most hesitant, I went up the steps to the top floor the first day of 3rd Grade. I was met by another old woman wearing one of those smock-type dresses with pockets and big black shoes. And, of course, she must have been really good friends with my 2md Grade teacher ... the scorn and beatings continued.
4th Grade, in the new school ... worse than all the others combined! She hated me! She must have been best friends with the other two. I got my little butt whipped many times a day. One day, I noticed she was a little winded after my beating and but my butt was getting pretty tough. I’d had enough. I looked back at her and said, “didn’t hurt.” Well, she was quite taken aback. And another, even better whipping commenced! She was now gasping, wishing off a heart attack. I had her! Again “didn’t even feel it” (lie). After a few more whacks she just panted “get back ... to ... your ... seat.” That was the end of the beatings. I was becoming hard. The other kids noticed. I was on my way to Cell Block Something.
I was ready for 5th Grade. Give me your best shot, punk teacher. I walked in expecting the worst, only to have a vision, an angel with the Earth name of Mrs. Ethel Holland, or Mrs. Rex Holland, greet me with a huge hug. I think she said, “let me give you some sugar, honey.” I wasn’t ready for that! She obviously had heard about James, as I’m sure all of the old bags had, but she called me Monty. She knew I wasn’t a bad kid. I had just been tagged. I would have walked over hot coals for her then, and I’d do it today. I loved that woman. I wish I knew where she was buried so I could just go and say thanks. Mrs. Holland saved me. And if you’re related to her, know for sure you have a saint in your family.
OK, years later, I’m selling cars on the very same land that school sat on. The Cadiz Motor Company. I looked out the big glass front window and my old 4th Grade teacher is coming across the street! Still wearing one of those old lady dresses with pockets and big black heavy- healed shoes! I hurried out, by this time thinking how all that kid-hatred had just been in my head. I said “Hello Mrs_____, how are you doing? Haven’t seen you in 30 years!” ... “Gonna buy me a new Ford Tempo.” ... “Great, I have every color and honestly too many, I’ll make you a great price if...” and got cut off. “You just go on about your business Mister Big Shot Diamond Ring!”
True story. She couldn’t accept the fact that a kid she’d decided was bad really wasn’t. So sorry to disappoint! I try not to make that same mistake in my life, because I know how it feels ... and I was just a little boy.
Please, please don’t make quick judgment calls. Especially with kids. They may not have a Mrs. Ethel Holland.
Monty Stagner is a columnist and can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.