In 1931 we had a mean ole boy in our class who had failed two terms. He was head and shoulders bigger than anyone else in the class. In those days school authorities did not kick anybody upstairs to get rid of them. The only way you could get out of a class was to learn the material required. The teacher, Miss Sidney Deener, had seated this ole boy behind one of the smartest girls we had with us. I guess she figured some of the smarts might rub off on him.
Miss Sidney was a legend in her own time. She was already an old lady by the time we got to her. She was the unquestionable commander of the second grade. If you ever wanted to know who was boss, all you had to do was start something. Youíd find out. She had separated my buddy Joe Glen Varner and me by two isles and a row of desks. This was probably done to control our continual talking to each other. We were constant companions. I thought of him as I did my own brothers.
One day, the smart girl raised her hand to be excused. Miss Sidney said "no." In a few minutes, she raised her hand again. Miss Sidney said "no". The third attempt brought an impatient response of "Donít ask me again."
The smart girl began to gently and softly cry as a stream of water spilled off her seat and onto the floor. Now this big ole boy behind her was barefooted. He jumped up, yelling and laughing and pointing his finger at the smart girl, generally humiliating her further.
Joe Glen Varner had a strong sense of justice and loyalty. He also had the determination to back it up. He was a robust youngster, healthy and energetic. I was frail, underweight, subject to infections from my eyes, nose, ears and throat. Varner yelled at me, "Letís get him!" We came out of our seats at the same time. The smart girl was our friend and you didnít humiliate our friends. Joe Glen attempted to tackle him around the waist and I aimed high. I was going for a bear hug around the neck. I didnít make it, though. Something hit me. I think it was a fist. I literally bounced off the bulkhead across the room. I hurt like you wouldnít believe.
I felt bad about everything. Varner stood alone fighting this monster kid with the tenacity of a bulldog. I felt like I had let him down. I let the smart girl down. I hurt so bad, too.
Miss Sidney was furious. She broke up the fight. She sent the smart girl home for some dry clothes. I had to stand in the corner. Joe Glen had to stand in the corner and the mean kid had to stand in the corner. Miss Sidney was rapidly running out of corners. She was mad, too. Real mad!
I tell you, it wasnít easy growing up in White County in the 1930s.
(The author was a member of the White County Historical Society who is now deceased.)