A Word on the Awkward Years

My Junior High years (at that time, we had no kindergarten, only 1-6, 7-9, and 10-12) were not particularly distinguished in many ways. I made decent grades, made the honor roll, that sort of thing. But you know the good things we do are usually mundane and uninteresting. So…

In ninth grade, we had an art teacher named Mr. Snyder. He really was a nice guy, but he had this obsession with art (I know, obviously) and would force us to attempt art techniques that were way over our heads, and way past my interest, like wood block engraving and printing. Seriously? The only good thing was that there was a girls’ gym class at that time and the art classroom was on the side of the building overlooking the football field. I got busted every time for staring out the window.

So amid all of the attempts to make us the next generation Florentine artists, John and I had a contest. The contest was to see who could torment Mr. Snyder the most and get the most swats from his wooden pointer. Corporal punishment was quite encouraged at that time. The idea was to aggravate him to the point that he would call you up in front of the class, bend you over and give you two or three good swats to the backside. The only really bad hits were when he would miss and hit your calf muscles. No question, I asked for every one of those welts. The worst came when he asked me if I wanted backhand or forehand. I considered the offer, and being over-confident in my cleverness, thought that no one could have a backhand as powerful as a forehand shot with its extended backswing. I should have realized he had that smug little smirk on his face for a reason as I requested the backhand shot. It turned out that he was some kind of amateur tennis star. If you ever get that offer, think about why you got that offer before you decide on which to take. He gladly informed me of his status, after giving it his best shot, with a grin like the Grinch after he stole all of the Christmas gifts and decorations from the Whos.

The only time I got a serious paddling was from the principal, Mr. Ermelick. I was in the 8th grade and we had a band party. A kid brought in a baby aspirin bottle of liquor. Three of us were walking down the hall and he asked if we wanted to try it. Sure, why not? I barely got it to my lips when he ripped it out of my hands, and I do not believe I actually got a taste. A certain nerdy kid (that ended up being a General in the army, go figure) spied us doing it and for some reason ratted us out. Three swats with the paddle and a call to the parents. I am not sure which hurt more. Ok, the wooden paddle with the holes drilled through to reduce wind resistance definitely hurt more.

In Seventh Grade we had Miss Williams for English. She was tough as nails and was well known for teaching sentence diagramming. That was one of the most hated exercises of any class, in any grade, anywhere. But it was the best method for learning the parts of speech, their correct use, and their correct positioning in sentences. By the Ninth Grade, she picked a bunch of us for her creative writing class. It was an unstructured class meant to bring out our creativity by not repressing it with a lot of rules and strict classroom rigidity. For many of the assignments we were permitted to go anywhere on the school grounds we wanted to, and usually worked in teams. John and I positioned ourselves at the base of the back staircase. Subtlety is not a characteristic of 14-year-olds. Come on, I was in Ninth Grade. It worked pretty well until one of the teachers caught on, and berated us until we left. At least we didn’t get in any trouble. Even with our immaturity, the class actually did achieve its purpose. As a group, we produced some decent poetry, stories, and even put on a play written by one of the students. In all, it opened our minds to creativity. Miss Williams, wherever she is, should be proud of her accomplishments, only outdone by my high school English teacher, my nemesis, my mentor, and the only reason I am still writing sentences for a living. I will talk about her at another time.

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