Please understand one thing: This column is really not about me. It is about the journey I have been on. My recounting of it affords me the opportunity to mention the names of many that shared the journey with me. I hope you will recognize some of them and they will give you cause for a smile. Ultimately, though, I hope each reader will reflect upon their own journey and think back about those who shared it with you.
My memories of kindergarten are very vague. I mean, give me a break, I was only five years old. I do know, thanks to my mom, that I went to Cadiz Community Kindergarten and it was held at the Cadiz Methodist Church. The year was 1965 and my teacher was Mrs. Jane Burnett. Mrs. Burnett was the wife of basketball coach Duke Burnett. Mrs. Cecelia Hopson assisted her at the kindergarten school. Back then, the kindergarten was not run by the school system. It was a private school run by the Methodist Church. Since I was sort of a private school student for a brief year, (HA HA) I was prompted to double check with my mom and make sure we were not wealthy once upon a time. Her reply was, “Of course not!” The only other thing I remember from that year is Mrs. Norman Ellis painted a portrait of me that still hangs in my mom’s house to this day. No matter what furniture is bought and sold, the portrait always lives on.
Right here, first grade that is, this is where my memory begins to kick in. First grade classrooms back in 1966 were located in what is now the north half of the current Trigg County High School. As a matter of fact, I remember exactly what room we were in. High school art teacher Stephanie Gilbert currently inhabits my old first grade classroom. My teacher was Mrs. Francis Handley and she meant business. Mrs. Handley was a disciplinarian. She would pop your knuckles and wield her paddle in a heartbeat. You know what, though? I am OK with that. I got my share of whippings early on in school, but it is to those whippings that I give partial credit for my good conduct in later years.
I have four first grade memories that are permanently embedded in my mind. First, my best buddy was Ricky Radford. Guess what? Ricky was black. I guess he was the first “African American” friend I ever had. I noticed one thing about Ricky real quick – he could really play some ball at recess. As fate would have it, Ricky and I would be teammates all the way through our senior year at TCHS, and he did turn out to be a great athlete.
My second memory is that Mrs. Handley made us clean our plate at lunch each day. Could you imagine a teacher doing that today? The lawsuits would flow. Anyway, one day she made me eat all my orange sweet potatoes. I told her I didn’t like them and I didn’t think that was a good idea. She stuck to her guns. Mrs. Handley stood over me as I forced down my last bite of the orange goo they tried to pass off as sweet potatoes. About a minute later, she found out why I said it wasn’t a good idea to make me eat those sweet potatoes. She simply couldn’t move fast enough to avoid the return of the orange goo as it came hurtling back out of my mouth. Not a good day for Mrs. Handley or me!
My third first grade memory is one of a girl that just seemed so smart. She seemed to already know everything she would ever need to know, and she was only a first grader. That girl was Rhea Ann Davis, daughter of Ned and Martha Davis. Once again, as fate would have it, she truly was really smart. Twelve years later Rhea Ann was our class Valedictorian and went on to be a chemical engineer.
My last first grade memory is one of the economic nature. It was Christmas time and Mrs. Handley had us draw names so we could exchange gifts in class. I drew my name. A couple of nights later, my mom and dad took me to Cayce Yost in Hopkinsville and we purchased a red Etch-A-Sketch for the lucky lad whose name I had drawn. Well the big day finally arrived and it was time to exchange presents in Mrs. Handley’s room. We took turns walking up to the classroom tree to find the present that our fellow student had left there for us. When I finally found mine, I noticed that it was very small and it was not wrapped nice. As a matter of fact, it was just downright crumpled. I tore into it nonetheless. To my surprise, my present was a Pay Day candy bar. Normally that would not be so bad. There was one catch, however. The Pay Day was half eaten. Apparently, the boy that drew my name had a hunger pain on the way to school. For some reason, I was more startled than upset. When I got home and told my parents, they sat me down and explained that the boy that drew my name came from a family that really struggled. My parents explained this with so much compassion that I felt bad for my young classmate. The whole ordeal served as a lesson that taught me to appreciate my parents and how hard they worked to make a decent living.
Next week, we will take a journey back to 1967 and check out what was going on in Miss Earle Ford’s second grade classroom. After that, we will board the bus to McUpton School for the 3rd and 4th grade.
OT: Anybody remember any of the names mentioned today?
Enthusiasm Makes the Difference
Mike Wright is the outgoing head coach of boys basketball and cross country at Trigg County High School. Emails concerning Coach’s Corner can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.