Sunday, December 24, 2006

Williston's first White Christmas, or how to extend one's Christmas break

Two weeks ago I wrote about falling for a girl in the ninth grade, only to discover that she was my new teacher. I promised more stories about her "baptism by fire." Here's another story of Ms. Gooden's class.

I always dreaded going back to school after a long break, but the morning of January 2, 1972 was the worst. I headed to the bus stop, shuffling my feet like a man going to the gallows. I even made sure to wear a new shirt, with no rings around the collar, just in case. A pall had hung over the entire break. I boarded bus #23 and sat silently in the back as we traveled up South College Road to Roland Grice. Everyone got off. The seventh and eighth graders headed out to play while those of us who were ninth graders got onto another bus for the shuttle downtown to Williston. This was the first year of cross-town (actually cross-county) busing, which for me meant that the first hour and a half of each school day was devoted to riding or waiting for buses. The same was true for the afternoon, another hour and a half of waiting and riding, the price I got to pay to be a part of a court-ordered social experience. On January 2nd, the ride took even longer.

I don’t remember who made the first dare. Right before the fourth period bell, standing in the back of Ms. Gooden’s room, Abraham, Mike and I dared and doubled-dared each other to toss out the window some of the old outdated books stored in the shelves along the back wall. As it was with the first bite into Eve’s apple, after the first book flew out the window, the rest became easier and we’d all tossed a couple out into the bushes below by the time the bell rang and Ms. Gooden came in from the hall and began to teach. It was the last day of school before the Christmas break.

Our indiscretions should have ended then. But it didn’t. As fate would have it, Ms. Gooden had to leave the room for a few minutes during the class and we came up with another dare. In the back of the room was a filing cabinet where the former teacher, now one of our assistant principals, had stored years of test papers. I don’t remember which one of us was the natural litterer, but soon a file folder of papers sailed across the front yard. Someone joked about snow and we all got into the act. Wilmington hadn’t had a white Christmas in a hundred years and we were out to change that. A brief snow flurry ensued, blanketing Williston’s front lawn. The flurries died down as soon as we heard Ms. Gooden’s high-heels clicking down the hall. We jumped in our seats, covered our smirks with our hands, and tried to act like nothing had happened. A few moments later, the principal, Mr. Howie, stormed into the room. He didn’t bother to knock or ask permission. I’d never seen a black man so red.

“Who threw those papers out the windows?” he shouted.

Our smirks retreated in the face of his anger. The three of us, an unholy trinity, sat there praying that no one would rat us out.

“You’d better have their names in my office by the end of the period,” he warned his young teacher before stomping out the door.

Ms. Gooden walked back to our corner, her heels clicking with each step. Then she just stood there. There’s nothing worst than having a gorgeous woman look at you with big, sad, disappointed eyes. We immediately forgot that she was on the other side, a teacher, and confessed to our misdemeanors. After class we headed to lunch while Ms. Gooden went down to the principal’s office.

Our final two classes of the day were dreadfully long. The three of us walked around, looking rejected, kind of like the Pakistani soldiers who’d just been defeated in by the Indians in what is now Bangladesh. We kept waiting for that dreaded speaker above the chalkboard to call out our names and tell usto report to the office. Our prayers must have been effective or, more likely, Mr. Howie and company were looking forward to their holiday every bit as much as us. The summons never came.

Having safely made it through the last day of school, we all assumed our actions would catch up with us the first day back in school. We headed back to school, fully expecting to be sent back home, suspended for at least a week. But to our surprise, nothing more was said about the strange snowfall that December day. I often wondered what kind of conversation had gone on between Ms. Gooden and Mr. Howie, but I never inquired. It was best to let that sleeping dog lie.


  1. Always let sleeping dogs lie!

    Happy holidays to you as well Sage!

  2. good story!
    ahh the heartbeak of falling for your gorgeous and unreachable lady teacher. Must happen to all school boys, I may have to tell my tales someday
    Merry Christmas!

  3. All I can say is that you were three very lucky boys! She must have been fond of you to talk the principal out of punishing you. Michele sent me tonight, Sage. Merry Christmas!

  4. Your stories keep getting better--just when I think...the detail is amazing

    Anyway, Sage, have a wonderful Merry Christmas

  5. Merry Christmas, Sage! I'm about to head down to the land of swamp and sand.

  6. I'm guessing she told Mr. Howie she had no idea who'd done the deed. Teachers are nice like that sometimes. Especially the hot ones.

    Or at least I always imagined they were.

    Hope you had a merry Christmas, Sage.

  7. I'm with the others; I think she covered for ya.

    A great narrative, thanks.

  8. Wonderful story! Hope you had a wonderful Christmas!

  9. I hope everyone had a Merry Christmas.

    Kontan, some lessons I learned early.

    David, we'll look forward to your stories.

    Kenju, Maybe I'll tell some more stories when my luck didn't seem to hold out

    Pia, glad you liked it and hope your day was wonderful too

    Laurie, no trip to the beach for me this holiday (Or were you going to Waccamaw?) anyway, have fun. I hope to get down to NC late in Feb

    Bone, Christmas was wonderful and I hadn't thougth about her covering for us, but I like the thought of that!

    Catnapper: thanks for stopping bye, I like that interpretation

    Tim, I hope you had a great Christmas too!

  10. That had to be a tough break not knowing what was going to happen on the way back...I would have made myself sick with worry and dread!

    I hope you had a wonderful Christmas.

  11. I love reading about what you were doing when I was only 6 months old. Tell me more (and make sure it's one where batting the blue eyes didn't work). :)

  12. Deana, I was sick with dread for most of that vacation!

    Murf, maybe that was it, maybe my blue eyes got me out of another pickle...