Appalachia Appalachian Writers Profiles of Mountain People

Reflections On A Schoolyard Day

Today is the first day of Summer Vacation around the Blind Pig house. As you might guess the girls are very excited and have big plans for the coming weeks. The end of the school year, as well as the beginning, always makes me feel nostalgic. I began to remember the changes that have taken place in the world of public education since I was a student. There is always change, and that change makes each generation’s educational experience slightly different than the others.

Today’s guest post was written by David Templeton-Reflections On a Schoolyard Day.

Maybe it was because I was always new in school; Mom and Dad moved us just about every time the rent was due and I ended up in a new school and some of the boys would pick a fight with me because there must have been some kind of pecking order to be determined, and sometimes I prevailed, because I was bigger and stouter than most boys my age; still, I got whipped sometimes, too.

Lots of times fights would start over shooting marbles and whether or not it was my turn to shoot or if one of the hit marbles was all the way outside the circle crudely scratched in the dirt. Or, I came to school smelling like Sweetheart soap, which was what Mom bought there for a long time, it’s all I had to wash my face in and some kid would make fun of me and we’d go at it.

I don’t remember that I ever started a fight; I was never inclined to bullying. Most boys were hard as rocks back then and sometimes even boys younger and littler than I was might well whip me. Fights were never any fun and I knew it and it hurt to get a shiner or a smashed lip or a bloody nose and rolling around in near-mortal struggle left scratches and cuts and bruises whether I won or not.

But I remember one school, it was a little one-room schoolhouse just above Cloud’s Ford and it was called Greenvale School and the church nearby was Greenvale Baptist Church, not that that matters but I know when I was there on Sundays I sometimes felt the urge to ask for forgiveness for some of the cussing I did at school when I got in a fight or missed a marble shot or lost my favorite taw. I didn’t pray out loud; I didn’t want my conversation with the Lord to be overheard by my older sister, who thought of herself as my surrogate mother and she would have remembered what I said and she wasn’t as forgiving as the Lord.

I hadn’t been at Greenvale very long and it was hot weather, May maybe. It was first recess and it was over and we were going back in to take our seats and the teacher, Missus McCormick as I remember was her name, but it doesn’t matter, she told me to wait outside the door as all the other kids went on in and then it was just her and me.

Missus McCormick took me off to the side of the schoolhouse away from the door and no one could hear her and she said, “David, you know Joe Tate, don’t you? I said I did, and she said, “Joe is bad about jumping on the other kids. He pushes them, hits them, even spits on them. I could paddle him but I’m not sure it would stick”. She went on, “David, if some bigger kid (Joe was in the fourth grade and I was in the fifth) was to see Joe picking on some other kid, and if this bigger kid jumped in and beat the tar out of Joe … why, I’m sure I wouldn’t be around to see what happened and if somebody tattled on that bigger kid, I sure wouldn’t have it in mind to paddle that bigger kid. Somebody needs to teach Joe that he can’t get away with picking on other kids and being a bully. You’re a big, strong kid, David. I bet you could whip Joe … now, I’m not telling you to but if somebody came to me and said you did, well, you know I don’t believe every little thing all the children bring to me; I’d just have to let it go. And, if some kid taught Joe a good lesson, I would be very proud of that kid but you know I couldn’t say so but he would see me smile at him sometimes and know.”

And she sent me on in to take my seat and she came on in and taught classes and then lunch recess came and there was always a lot of time to play after we ate and I was down on my knees shooting marbles with some other boys and kind of watching Joe a little bit because I got the distinct impression that the teacher would be real proud of me, but she wouldn’t say it, if I took Joe to task, next time he was picking on another kid.

It was a hot day, the schoolyard was dusty and the grass was yellow and dry and the girls were running all around and laughing and running from whoever was “it”. Boys were playing mumbly peg or dropping knives or shooting marbles and not far from where I knelt, Joe was chasing a little girl and he caught her and pushed her down and she was crying.

I believe it was the only time that I was the aggressor in a schoolyard but I ran at Joe and tackled him and we commenced to wallow all around and fight and it was an epic struggle. He was a strong kid and I knew right off that I wished Missus McCormick had picked some other champion, because I was getting slugged, and scratched and nearly whipped but I knew I had to prevail even though I was considering backing off. I did finally prevail however, because Joe quit just before I was about to and he came up confused with big tears welling in his eyes and he said, “What did you jump on me for? I’m going to tell Missus McCormick”. I knew that was okay, I was just glad he didn’t have a big brother.

And, I didn’t get in trouble for fighting that day but I never talked about it after that, until just now and I was looking at an old schoolhouse picture and it came back to me. Then I remembered Joe, standing there, hurt, dusty, disheveled and confused and trying desperately to hold back his big, gulping sobs and saying to me, “What did you do that for? I wasn’t bothering nobody, I was just playing.”

And lunch recess ended and we went in and took our seats and everybody was real quiet and Missus McCormick told us to take up our books and she taught and the day passed.

Now, many years have passed and I never tried to analyze why Joe was a bully or what else the teacher could have done. If the kids he had been bullying were now free from that intimidation then maybe I can reckon that the means were justified by that end result.

Joe never did bully the other kids after that as far as I could tell, not that May, and school soon let out and it was summer and I didn’t get a bad mark for deportment and we moved somewhere else.


I don’t think today’s teachers would instigate a student taking on the bully like David’s did, however during this past school year I was made aware of a situation in a local school that is comparable. A small group of students, about three, were continuously disrupting the class by laughing, talking loudly, and just generally goofing off. When the other students complained that it was interfering with their learning the teacher encouraged them as a group to confront the group and tell them how they felt. Unfortunately the tactic didn’t work, the slackers just kept slacking.

I hope you enjoyed David’s memory of schoolyards gone by as much as I did.





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  • Reply
    June 8, 2011 at 8:48 am

    The last day of school wasn’t such a big day this year, for different reasons. One is that my girls don’t dislike school like I did. The last day for me was always like getting paroled.

  • Reply
    June 7, 2011 at 8:23 am

    What a wonderful story! As I was reading I could see it all happen- this would make a great scene in a movie…
    Thank you for sharing it!

  • Reply
    Suzi Phillips
    June 6, 2011 at 11:14 pm

    Wonderful writing & a very interesting story. Sadly, bullies have always existed & it can be hard to effectively stop the problem without resorting to violence. My oldest daughter had a terrible problem with a bully in the 7th grade. Every single day the bully told her she was going to whoop her butt. She threatened & threatened & my poor daughter worried & worried. She couldn’t tell on the bully without the whole class turning on her for being a tattletale. It was a delicate situation. I told her that the bully was bluffing & that she was just going to have to call that bluff. My daughter was horrified-what if the bully called HER bluff? I told her she wouldn’t be bluffing, she would have to follow through. My brave daughter screwed up her courage & wrote the bully a note telling her to meet her behind the movie theater on Saturday afternoon & the fight would be on! The bully responded in a note we have kept to this day-“I do not fight on weekends, I only fight on weekdays.” End of bullying, beginning of a confident daughter who was never bullied again (for long, anyway).

  • Reply
    June 6, 2011 at 10:57 pm

    It was a terrific story! Everything has to be so politically correct nowdays, he probably couldn’t get away with taking up for another child. Really sad this has to go on in schools now.

  • Reply
    Ed Myers
    June 6, 2011 at 5:49 pm

    A very good autobiographical sketch of courage and passage…and the virtues of a blind eye.

  • Reply
    Garland Davis
    June 6, 2011 at 4:40 pm

    Had to fight a few times because I received better grades than some of the other boys. In those days the teachers would whip you.

  • Reply
    Vicki Lane
    June 6, 2011 at 3:03 pm

    Thank you, David, for sharing your memories. And thank you, Tipper, for introducing your readers to such interesting people.

  • Reply
    Kent Lockman
    June 6, 2011 at 2:56 pm

    As a grade school student long ago I knew who the school bullies were and how to avoid them for the most part. One time though I was bullied too far and I cleaned the bully’s clock and had to see the principal. As a thirty-five year grade school teacher I have seen plenty of bullies from the other side. I generally can get the bully to stop his mean ways momentarily, but I can’t be everywhere in a school of 700+ students. I have fond memories of school both as a student and teacher and this fall I most likely will be retired and down on the river fishing and not in the classroom. I love the kids.
    They haven’t changed much in the classroom; though they’re less disciplined and immaturely mannered these days. They still crave caring and are needy. The reason I am leaving education is because I am being bullied again… by my state (IN) government and local administration to produce high scores and not just educated well rounded future society members. I am of the old education school of practice and my state and local leaders want young technologically savvy teachers that won’t cost them as much as me. I enjoyed Mr. Templeton’s school memories and wish there was a one room school house in which I could continue to teach. Sorry Tipper for the long comment. Love your blog.

  • Reply
    June 6, 2011 at 1:28 pm

    Oh, how times in education have changed…not for the better either! I enjoyed that story very much!

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    June 6, 2011 at 1:27 pm

    Good story, well told thanks David. I guess as long as there are people there will be bullies. It’s just the way some kids cope with life.
    I really identify with your always being the new kid at school. My family moved a lot and I went to a lot of different schools. I was a bit shy and just never figured how to fit in.
    You know now a days the kids wouldn’t be interested in playing marbles, it’s not electronic and if a kid brought a knife to school he’d be expelled!!
    Lordy, how times do change.

  • Reply
    June 6, 2011 at 12:50 pm

    I enjoyed the Schoolyard brawl and
    David’s reflections. He did the right thing! Growing up here in the mountains, most of our parents
    taught us dignity and respect for
    others, but there was always a few
    strays. The main problem I saw was
    some of the kids came from the
    more fortunate town folks and they
    never learned how to mingle with
    regular folks. But one of my
    best friends all thru school was
    a Dr.’s daughter and she smiled
    and talked with everybody, never
    boasting that her family was well
    off. And I’m proud of the teachers
    who taught me and helped determine
    my character…Ken

  • Reply
    June 6, 2011 at 12:34 pm

    I think that teacher was way out of line for puting a child in that sort of position. We can hope that maybe that bully thinks of Dave & wishes he could thank him for making him change his ways.
    As for your experience, Tipper. If a teacher can not maintain control of their class room, they need to find another job. It never should have gotten to the point were she made/suggested the group of students to confront the slackers.
    Just one gals opinion.

  • Reply
    Joe Mode
    June 6, 2011 at 12:33 pm

    I enjoyed the story and it made me think back to the various bullies that I had to deal with. Boy, school days back when sure were different than they are today. Makes me think we are raising a bunch of sissy kids.
    My best buddy, Skip, turned bad and started running with a bad kid and tried the bullying thing on me. I had to whip the snot out of him twice in the same day, once in gym and once before he could even get out of his chair in class. Skip got into drinking, got married, had kids and all. The last two times I saw him he had been drinking. The last time he took a sip was his last as well. Got behind the wheel of his truck and got hiself killed.
    I recall we all carried knives. I even whittled in Art class. On a funny note, my first three elementary school teachers were Mrs. Beaver (she made us say Mizzuriz) Mrs. Butts (Butts was a bad word and I don’t think I ever said her name the whole year) and Mrs. Fish. Beaver, Butts, and Fish. What a trio. Mrs. Merritt, my 5th grade teacher, used to pull my hair and yank my head around.
    Yep, the good ole days.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    June 6, 2011 at 7:46 am

    There wasn’t a lot of bullying at my school, not so far as fighting anyway. There was a lot of hurtful name calling though and I feel that was just as bad if not worse.

  • Reply
    Mike McLain
    June 6, 2011 at 7:25 am

    I remember the school bully at my school, even remember his name. I have thought about him a few times, wondering what kind of a person he grew up to be and if he made something of his life. He wasn’t the “sharpest knife in the drawer”, and maybe he knew that and it may have been the cause of his insecurity – only he could tell us.
    I remember others from those days with much more pleasant memories.

  • Reply
    B. Ruth
    June 6, 2011 at 7:16 am

    Hey Tipper,
    I enjoyed David Templeton’s Reflections on a School Yard Day, very much…Sounds like the story took place in the late forties or early fifties…hence mumbly peg and knife drop were games that I remember the boys with the “ducktail haircuts” playing. David would remember, the ones with the collared shirt turned up and the short sleeves rolled up to hold a pack of Lucky Stikes! ha
    The ones that smoked outside just before school started….I really don’t think his character Joe was that type of bully…I think this guy had something else going on…
    That day Joe was definitely “it” and poor feller probably got his dues…and you know what? It may have changed his thinking and life for the know like a wake up call!
    Thanks again David…
    and Thanks Tipper….
    PS….No rain in sight here until maybe the weekend..and 90’s all week…Can you hear the grass crunch…and will this weather mess with our blackberry crops…

  • Reply
    June 6, 2011 at 7:15 am

    I did very much enjoy that story. I’ll bet that bully has always remembered the day he got whipped. I guess he finally figured out why.
    The teachers have it hard nowadays. They hardly have the right to punish a child. And the bad thing is that the children know it. And sadly, some parents don’t care.

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