The nice lady in charge of the student newspaper approached me Thursday morning and wanted a picture of me as a child. It seems that her news staff is running a feature on "Teachers Back When." I guess they want to humanize us and show the students what we looked like before we grew horns and forked tails and developed eyes in the backs of our heads.
My promise to "look for one this weekend" was met with a look of disappointment, not joy. "Let me guess," I said. "You need it tomorrow."
I'm glad that I am not the only teacher who is as big a procrastinator as my students. I went right home after school and began to look for a suitable picture. To my dismay, I couldn't find one.
Now there were pictures taken of me when I was a child. Not many, understand, but there were some. When I was a baby my mother joined an Olan Mills Memory Club that I am sure she couldn't afford and got an 8x10 matte finished portrait of me and my sister every 12 months. There were some pretty nice pictures of me in that Olan Mills album. I was a cute baby, even if I do say so myself.
That album is gone, however. It was ruined two summers ago when our house flooded, while we were away on a three-week camping trip in the Pacific Northwest.
There were other pictures of me as a child, of course. Mama always bought the school pictures every year and she had a Kodak camera, too - a little box job that you held at waist level. The view finder was on top. Film was expensive, though, and processing even more so. We didn't take a lot of pictures. When we did it was a special occasion - like Christmas or Easter.
I don't remember seeing very many Christmas pictures of myself. There was one where I was wearing a cowboy hat and playing a Roy Rogers guitar and another where I had on a dress and bonnet. I wouldn't have minded my students seeing a picture of me dressed up like Roy Rogers, but I wasn't about to turn over the one in the dress. It didn't matter. I couldn't find either of those pictures, either. I suppose they fell victim to the same flood.
Finally, after rummaging through many boxes and drawers I found a picture of myself that I believed would be appropriate for our school newspaper. On the back, in my mother's handwriting, was written "Darrell. First Grade."
I guess my mama was afraid she would forget who I was or something so she identified the picture by writing my name on back. I'm glad she did. There are days - many days - when I seem to forget who I am.
I spent a lot of time looking at the photograph, and even though it was taken way back in 1958 I remember the event as if it were yesterday.
My first-grade teacher's name was Ruby Jordon, and I thought she hung the moon. I loved her as much as a 6-year-old boy can love a 65-year-old woman who is not related to him. Miss Jordon told us a day ahead of time that we were having our class pictures made and that she wanted us to all look nice for the picture. I was pretty sure that "looking nice" was her way of saying "dress up for the picture." Now most of us boys at Porterdale School wore the same overalls to school every day. By Friday the knees would had gotten a little grimy from playing marbles all week, but every boy's knees were as grimy as every other boy's knees, so it didn't matter.
I wasn't about to show up at school in my overalls when my teacher had instructed me to look nice for a picture. But the clothes I owned, other than my overalls, was the outfit I wore to church. On the night before the school picture, I snuck my church clothes out of the chifforobe and put them in a brown grocery sack. That night I hid the grocery bag under the house. The next morning I retrieved the bag before leaving for school. I changed clothes on my way to school, under the Yellow River bridge and hid my overalls in some bushes.
It was worth the effort because Miss Jordon beamed at me when I showed up in my Sunday clothes for the picture. The problem was, I knew I wasn't supposed to be wearing my suit coat, which happened to be wool, so I refused to take it off all day. It was a hot day, too, and there was no air conditioning back in 1958. I wore the coat straight through recess and lunch and was burning up by the time we had our beauty struck - which explains why my hair looks like it is glued to my face In the picture.
And for the record, when I got to the bridge after school my everyday clothes were still there, and I got my church clothes back in the chifforobe without incident.
But when that picture came home and Mama found out what I had done, well, let's just say those memories weren't quite so precious.
Darrell Huckaby is a local author and educator. He can be reached at dHuck08@bellsouth.net.