With gratitude to Mom, not just for her remembered stories, but also for telling them so well. This is the paraphrased version.
On New Year's Eve I had a long talk with my mom, over a glass of wine, about what her school days were like.
It started out as a discussion about cigars.
"When your Uncle Mal was the senior class president, he had to stand before the students and read the senior wills at the end of the year," Mom started, giggling already. Mal is her older brother, and she had been a freshman in that assembly. "He read the wills while smoking a cigar the whole time."
"What? Was this a legitimate school function?" I asked, incredulous. "Were there teachers there? How did they let him smoke?"
"Well, yes, I guess there were teachers there -- there must have been. But anyway, no one stopped him from smoking that cigar, and he just got sicker and sicker," she laughed.
I couldn't get past the idea that the administration allowed smoking in school. "Well, the principal at the time was a complete jerk, so I'm not surprised," Mom continued. "Not much later he was caught embezzling not only from the school funds, but also from the student body funds. They fired him immediately and he ended up in prison."
Wow, an embezzler in the early '50s. The more things change, the more they stay the same -- except maybe for the prison part. These days embezzlers seem to get slapped on the wrists.
"So the high school was suddenly without a principal, and they asked Dad to move up to be their principal," Mom continued. Mom's father was, at the time, her principal at her elementary school. If you think YOU had it rough in school, how would you like to be educated in a one-room school house with your mother as your teacher and your two siblings in class with you -- then move to an elementary school in which your father was the principal? That was my mother's school experience.
"What was Papa like as a principal?" I asked, knowing the stories but wanting to hear them again. Papa was a no-nonsense person for much of his life, and his creative punishments were legendary.
"Well, it wasn't so bad for me, because I stayed out of trouble," Mom answered, "but it was terrible for Patsy." Patsy was the youngest child, and she had a bit of a rebellious streak. "Patsy had Dad for a principal for most of her elementary school years, and was thrilled to be in high school and finally free of his watchful eye. But midway through her freshman year, Dad became her principal again. Poor Patsy," Mom said, laughing.
"I remember once in grade school when two boys brought water pistols to school," Mom went on. "They were having a great time until my dad caught them. He asked the boys, 'So you really like water pistols, huh?' and then he told them to meet him after lunch in front of the school office. When the boys got there, Dad had a bucket of water and he handed the boys their pistols. He instructed them to water the flowers by the office with the water guns, but each time they shot they had to say 'BANG!' Since they were right outside his office he was able to keep tabs on them, and since it was in front of the school the whole student body paraded past them and laughed."
"I'll bet they never brought those water guns to school again," I said. Mom agreed. BANG!
(Original photo stolen from these guys)
"And then there was the boy in high school who was a real cut-up. He was being loud and smart-alecky during a school assembly. Dad was seated behind him somewhere in the bleachers. Dad got up, went down to the kid's row and crooked his finger at him to follow. The kid followed Dad back to his seat, and Dad made him sit on his lap for the rest of the assembly!"
Act like a baby, get treated like a baby. That punishment could never, ever, ever happen these days, unfortunately.
"Do you remember hearing about Papa punishing Tim?" I asked Mom. (I associate this story with my cousin Tim, though I may be wrong and it may have been someone else.)
"No," said Mom.
"Tim did something wrong when Papa was in charge, and since it happened at the ocean -- Monterey or Fort Brag, I forget -- Papa made Tim sweep the beach."
"Really? I wonder what Tim did," said Mom.
"I dunno, but he probably never did it again!" I answered.
(Original photo used by permission from Shiraz Chakera at Wikimedia Commons)
And there you have the most colorful part of my grandfather's administrative legacy. The more lasting results of his career include bringing that high school back from the mess it was after the embezzlement scandal, but that's just not as much fun to write about.
Even over a glass of wine.