Day the Mules Went Crazy
by Jim Foreman
I suppose the best way to describe me was the school nerd. I suppose I was also the school smart ass. One time a teacher asked he how I spelled some word and when I spelled it, she told me I was wrong. I replied that she didn't ask for the correct way to spell it, she asked how I spelled it. She didn't seem to appreciate my sense of humor either.
I was a voracious reader, read everything that I could get my hands on, even textbooks if they contained anything interesting. I loved history because it told a story and would even haunt the county library located in the basement of the court house for additional material on things that I found interesting. I read everything I could find about adventure of any sort as well as every book in the library on flying, radios, engines, electric motors and boats. I was the one who discovered a copy of "All Quiet On the Western Front" and showed all the other boys the more earthy passages. As soon as the librarian found that the book was popular with the boys, she suspected the worst and removed it from the shelves.
I was also blessed with a great memory and once I'd read something, it stuck with me. I never took homework with me, usually doing it during class or study hall. Math was always easy for me. By the time I was fourteen, Mr. Zzikxz had taught me to use a slide rule, an abacus, a sextant and a book of logarithms to do celestial navigation. He also taught me many shortcuts and how to do most math problems in my head. When the math teachers would hand us a test, I could usually go down the problems and write the answers without any calculations on the paper. They always thought I was cheating somehow and often would give me a different test. I'd taken every course offered in high school, including typing and cooking (both of which I have appreciated many times over)
I had my own "shop" where I built (or destroyed) many things, mostly in trying to figure out how they worked. It's a wonder how I escaped injury from some of the things I tried. One of my experiments was successful enough that it almost got me into serious trouble with the government. http://www.jimforeman.com/Stories/spyhunt.htm However, most of them were just smelly, noisy or led to my dad threatening to burn the place down before I did.
It was the middle of May in 1947 and the end of my tenure at Stinnett High School. I had made it through twelve years without ever playing a down of football. The coach said that the reason why I wouldn't play football was because I was too lazy to train, but the truth was that I never found a good reason for me to put myself in a position to be jumped on by 250 pound farm boys from Morse and Spearman who wore overalls and chewed Red Man Tobacco. At the beginning of my second year in high school; the coach, principal and superintendent (the only men in school except for the janitor) decided that I was going to play football whether I wanted to or not. The war was on and most of the boys old enough to join the military were gone which left the pickins rather slim when it came to fielding a football team. I was a tall, lanky string about six feet tall but weighed no more than about a hundred twenty-five pounds. I couldn't knock many people down but after years of being chased by school bullies, I'd become about the fastest kid in school which happened to be what the coach needed the most.
One afternoon as I was leaving school, the coach stopped me and said I was to report to the gym to get suited out for football. I told him that I didn't want to play but he said I didn't have a choice. I went on home and asked my dad if I had to play football. He told me that it was totally up to me and if I didn't want to, then I shouldn't. When the last class ended the next day, the coach was waiting for me at the door. He told me it was my last chance to come out for football or face the consequences. I told him that my dad had said I didn't have to go out for football so he took me to the principal's office where the superintendent held my arms, the principal my feet and they spread-eagled me over a library table where the coach pulled up my shirt and gave me about a dozen lashes across the back with his belt. When they let me up, he told me that was what would happen to me every afternoon till I reported for football practice.
I walked down to the pool hall which my dad owned at the time and showed him my back. He didn't say much but I can remember the day like it was yesterday; it was raining and my dad put on his yellow saddle slicker and cowboy hat and told me to come with him. We got in his pickup and drove up to the school where he parked in front and got out. He told me to stay in the cab and as he walked toward the front door, the coach came out carrying a baseball bat. I could see the principal and superintendent standing just inside the double front doors. When the coach came to within a dozen steps, my dad pulled back the slicker, drew the pistol he always wore and put a bullet into the ground between the coach's feet. He turned and ran for the doors which they locked as soon as he was safely inside. My dad walked to the doors and told them that if any one of them was in town when the sun rose the next morning, it would be the last sunrise they ever saw. He returned to the pool hall where he called the sheriff and told him what had happened. The story was that when the coach called the sheriff and said that my dad had tried to kill him, the sheriff replied that had my dad actually tried to kill him, he wouldn't be calling. I don't know what else the sheriff told them but they were never seen there again. For some reason, the new coach never mentioned football to me.
When they added up the grades and credits to see who would and who wouldn't graduate, they found that the Class of 1947 would be made up of five girls and two boys, the smallest graduating class in the history of the school. It was a given fact that Laura Parker would be the Valedictorian because I don't think that she ever made less than an A-Plus on anything from the first grade on. The real shocker came when they found that I was the Salutatorian. I don't know whether that revelation came as a bigger surprise to them or me. I didn't think that it was possible for someone to goof off more than I had and still make grades high enough to graduate, much less be second in my class.
Mrs. Sword, who had taught English for the past twenty-five years, was in charge of our graduation speeches. She told Laura to talk about looking forward while I was to cover the opposite view, looking back at the good old days. Apparently she felt that I couldn't screw up what had already happened. We wrote our speeches, she read them and re-wrote them. She finally dumped everything that I had written and handed me a speech to read. She told me to memorize it before Saturday night.
Saturday night came and the seven people of the graduating class of 1947 sat in the front row of seats with our parents. We wore our caps and gowns, our fathers wore their Sunday suits and our mothers wore their best dresses. Various aunts, uncles, cousins and other people who had nothing better to do that night sat behind us.
Everyone who was connected with the school in any fashion sat on the stage. Even Mr. Foster, the janitor, and Mr. Dobbs, the bus driver, had a seats on the stage. The Graduation ceremony finally got under way. The Preacher prayed then Mrs. Weaver played the piano. The Superintendent talked, the Principal talked, the Coach talked, Mrs. Sword talked. Lawyer Tate, who was the keynote speaker, talked and talked and talked. The speeches must have gone on for an hour before they finally got around to calling our names and handing out the diplomas. Everyone applauded as we accepted the fake rolls of paper tied with a ribbon and took our seats on the stage with the teachers. Laura gave her speech, filled with clichés and platitudes. She sounded just like Mrs. Sword had written it--which she had.
As I walked to the podium, I fully intended to give the speech that Mrs. Sword had written for me. It would have been easy, there was a copy of it laying on the podium in front of me in case I forgot my place. I went through the usual recognition of the various people on the stage and my parents sitting in the audience. I looked down at the speech and something sort of snapped in my mind. I simply could not deliver this pile of crap. I looked out over the audience and gave what is probably still the shortest graduating speech ever given.
"Mrs. Sword told me to talk about looking back at the good old days. She even wrote the speech for me to give. The good old days for those of us who are graduating tonight include growing up during the worst depression in history, living through the worst war in history and Eleanor Roosevelt. As far as I'm concerned, the good old days are all ahead of us. I don't think that there is any way that we can screw up things any more than they already are, but I'm sure that some of us will try. I don't know where the rest of you will go from here, but I will begin by going out the door."
As Mrs. Sword and the rest of the teachers sat there in stunned silence, I turned and walked off the stage, followed by the rest of the graduating class. We left the gymnasium through the side door and I haven't returned for nearly fifty years and if Mrs. Sword was still alive, I'm sure that she would be happy if it stayed that way.