Mack Williams column: Grade-school worries, near and far

  • Posted: Monday, November 18, 2013 12:46 a.m.

Everyone has some “worst case scenarios,” stubbornly lodged in the furthest recesses of their minds. Sometimes, it’s just a low level of general apprehension, either genetic or taught, waiting for something more concrete to give it “front burner” status.

The vehicles giving the angst a ride can be of local or world-wide origin.


Our main fear at Granite Quarry School was that if we got out of hand (as children are sometimes want to do), the “hand of judgement” would wield the “paddle of judgement” upon the only place of our body which served as a cushion for the hard wooden seats of the desks in which we sat. Those seats were made of similar stuff as justice’s instrument, but they weren’t likely to come after us.

Just as some diseases can infest different parts of the body, the administering of discipline in those days sometimes spread to the digits of the hand, the palm, and to the earlobes. One day, another teacher from across the hall stepped in to look after us while our teacher was called to the office. I can’t recall her clothing accessories on that day, but in retrospect, I bet that her belt was black, and that its color had nothing to do with what matched, but instead, meant that she had achieved the highest level of proficiency in the “backward thumb pull,” the “ruler-to-palm slap,” and the “earlobe twist.”

Years later, as a social worker, attending a workshop, I volunteered to be the guinea pig “attacker” for a karate instructor demonstrating self-defense. What he did to my thumb brought back memories of that teacher. Although the karate instructor applied what he did in the spirit of defense, the teacher was definitely on the offense.

That particular teacher was referred to by us back then as “Old-lady.......” The series of repeated periods do not stand for profanity, but instead, the teacher’s last name (hint: alliteration is involved). I won’t mention her name here, but those of you who were at Granite Quarry School back then have possibly already guessed, and in your attempted guesswork, you are probably correct.

In the sixth grade, and as I mentioned in a previous column, my fears of grade-school punishment took form in a bottom- most place when I misbehaved for a sweet, elderly substitute. She was substituting for my favorite Granite Quarry teacher (and everyone else’s, even if they were never in her room) Mrs. Roselyn Misenheimer. Mrs. Misenheimer recently told me that it hurt her much more than it did me to have administered that paddling. I believe that her hurt was truly heartfelt (although mine was experienced in a different region).

Unfortunately, our local grade-school anxieties of “what might happen” were added to by developments on the world scene.

In the beginning of “God Bless America,” Kate Smith sang: “While the storm clouds gather, far across the sea” about a war which was decidedly “hot.” The war clouds which intruded upon our young lives at Granite Quarry School, however, were decidedly icy, coming from the same land as that of the polar bear and Siberian tiger.

The apprehension of the Cold War made its way into our lives via movies, the “duck and cover” drills, and a little card with morse code symbols. These codes, when activated by a civil defense siren, would tell us if attack were imminent, and how long we had, or more fatally, how long we had left. This little piece of paper was to be carried by us at all times in our wallets or purses. I put mine in the recesses of my wallet, then put that wallet in a pocket next to a recessed area of me, trying not to keep what it represented uppermost in my mind. If that fear were boiling on my front burner every morning, my emotional “pilot light” would have probably flickered disturbedly.

One day, in those apprehensive, early 1960s years, the sound of explosions did arrive, and we felt a slight rumbling in the wooden floor of the old building (no longer extant) in which our classroom was located.

The source of the explosion was not a distant nuclear fireball in the more strategic metropolitan area of Charlotte, but instead resulted from the invention of Alfred Nobel (for whom the prize was named). The television sit-com actor Jimmie Walker later took the name of Mr. Nobel’s invention, extracted the “a” from it, inserted an “o” where the “a” had previously been, and created a catchword popular during certain years of the 1970s.

We heard and felt the rumble that Cold War day, but kept our seats, knowing that the frigid struggle between two nations of greatly differing ideologies had not ignited, and that the sound and vibration represented something else.

Children who have resided all their lives in a great metropolis are often referred to as “street-wise.” In the same manner, attending that particular school, in that particular little town, both of that particular name, we had long since become “quarry wise.”

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