In the small Mississippi Delta town of Leland, we members of the class of 1961 were blessed to have J. T. Hall as our principal. In addition to being the school’s administrative leader, he had taught and coached every member of our class.
At the time, we resented and feared his iron-fisted toughness, but upon entering our chosen careers, we realized that we could never thank him enough for instilling in us the traits needed to be responsible, productive citizens.
When students misbehaved, they were sent to the “green chairs” just outside Mr. Hall’s office.
Back then, I had a bad habit of scrawling my name in public places — J. REED — with a square around it. One day, Miss Smith, our English teacher, was away from her classroom, and I etched my name on the board that could be pulled from beneath her desktop to provide more workspace.
Nobody had ever seen her use it, and since we were seniors, I figured we’d be long gone before she discovered my vandalism. Darned if she didn’t pull it out that very day!
Miss Smith’s angry glare would send rhinoceroses bolting in panic, and now it was fixed on me. The classroom became as quiet as the inner chamber of King Tut’s tomb.
Pointing toward the door, she shrieked, “You! Report to the green chairs immediately!”
Mr. Hall always smiled, but when that smile cracked like a windowpane, naughty students knew they were doomed.
As I sat across the desk from him, the sight of his paddle hanging from the coat tree set me to trembling. It was an inch thick and two feet long, with holes drilled in it.
“Son, have you heard the expression, ‘fools’ names and fools’ faces, always seen in public places’?” He asked, his smile cracking. I nodded woefully, knowing he always amplified errant students’ misery by lecturing before paddling.
The telephone rang and he turned away while taking the call. The conversation dragged on and on, and I became restless, so I picked up a large 8 ball with a window in its base that sat on his desk.
To get a ready-made answer, its owner flipped the ball over, and one would float up to the window. Figuring Mr. Hall never used it, I scratched J. REED on the base with my pocketknife.
“I’m not sure about that. Let me think on it. I’ll call back with an answer,” Mr. Hall said, hanging up the phone. My eyeballs shot out on stems as he reached for the shiny black orb.
“Sometimes, this ball helps when you can’t come up with an answer on your own,” he said, smiling as he turned it over. Instantly his face flushed livid, and his smile didn’t just crack — it shattered!
In this life, there are inevitable rewards for good deeds and inescapable punishment for bad ones. After the thrashing I got that day, this fool never again wrote his name in public places, nor on Mr. Hall’s 8 ball.
Oxford, Mississippi, resident, Ole Miss alumnus, Army veteran, and retired Mississippi Delta cotton farmer Jimmy Reed is a newspaper columnist, author and college teacher. His latest collection of short stories is available via Squarebooks.com at 662-236-2262.
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