Peter B. Green

© 2017 Bill Murphy

Who was your favorite teacher? Who was the most memorable, the most unusual? Who was the one most likely NOT to succeed as a teacher today? For me, that could only be Mr. Peter B. Green, 8th grade science, Enochs Junior High, Jackson, MS.

Mr. Green made school FUN! Mr. Green made life fun. I apologize for the poor quality of the WWII era B/W newspaper photo, but it clearly illustrates Mr. Green’s quirky, mischievous grin. That’s how I remember of him. It’s the only photo I have of him.

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Today Mr. Green wouldn’t last a day in a public school classroom.

1950s classrooms were far different from what they are today.  More expectations were placed upon students. We were expected to pay attention, participate in class, be punctual, be respectful, study, succeed and of course, obey the rules of the classroom/teacher. In Peter B. Green’s classroom, it was understood that he was the teacher, and we were the students. If we wished to live and do well, we accepted our ‘place’ in this ordered, classroom society, where authority was recognized, not challenged. Amazingly, we were happily comfortable in this setting.

Mr. Green had a strong arm and a long wooden paddle. His ‘board of education’ was about 18” long, with a broad, flat business end. It was designed so as to leave neither scars nor bruises. Yet it could inflict a maximum amount of pain per square inch.

There was a firm belief in the 50s that pain was undesirable. It was also believed that students who did not follow the rules, and then received pain upon their softer hinder area for breaking afore said rules, would be deterred in the future from breaking said rules again. Amazingly, this simply cause and effect principle worked 99.9% of the time. It’s a lost art today.

Yes, I sometimes pushed the .1% upper limit. Or would that be ‘lower’ limit?

Rule #1 was the simplest rule of all. BRING YOUR SCIENCE TEXT BOOK TO CLASS. It’s amazing how many students often ‘forgot.’ The book-reminder ceremony was simple: Step back to the doorway, face the hallway, bend over and place hands on the knees. Hold still and receive your just and deserved reward – a single, powerful swat on the seat of knowledge – ‘sending you on the way’ to retrieve your book. I can’t vouch for Mr. Green’s racial beliefs, but I do know that he wasn’t a ‘sexists.’ Boys and girls alike received the SAME book-reminder-retrieval sendoff.

LEAVING an errant book (or gym shorts/tennis shoes) earned a different reward.

Mr. Green surely checked under every desk, every class period. He always knew from which class period a particular item was left. After we’d been given a reading assignment, and our heads dutifully bowed in study, he’d retrieve the offending object, then taking careful aim, throw it at the culprit who’d left the offending item/items. I know this because I peeked. I’d never wanted to miss this ceremony, and witnessed many a pair of tennis shoes bouncing off unsuspecting heads!

Believe it or not, no one ever called the school board, parents, or police.

Did I mention that he really was a great teacher. In addition to teaching us awe and respect for authority, he also taught us the awe and wonder of science. I always looked forward to his class, even test days! Until… One day it became my turn to be on the receiving end.

At the time, I dabbled some with 8th grade level writing, and wrote a clever little poem about Mr. Green. It described his untimely passing on. Not making the heavenly grade, he descended into the great fiery below. I mentioned that he was issued a pitchfork.

But I made the insane mistake of passing the poem around in class.

You guessed it. The gleeful work of Bill the Poet was intercepted. Strangely, he didn’t say a word. I was terrified. I could only imagine what wrath I had kindled inside him.

The next day, I crept into class, literally shaking in fear. Still, No reaction from Mr. Green.

Shortly after class began, he gave us a multi-page reading assignment. Oh no!

I propped my book on the desk like a drive-in theatre screen, to give me some small degree of forward vision. It’s a good thing I did.

Over the top of my book – I saw Mr. Green, fire in his eyes and a devilish grin on his face, marching toward me – A PITCHFORK in hand!

Quick as a flash, I jumped from my seat, and dashed for the door, Mr. Green in hot pursuit. Down the hall I ran, and out the school building door. He was still after me. I ran across the school yard, across the street in front, and into Poindexter Park across the street from the school.

By this time I was winded. Deep down, I reasoned that in all probability he wouldn’t actually run me through with the pitchfork. Probably he wouldn’t. Maybe.

I stopped. He didn’t spear me. Whew!

We walked back to class side by side, laughing together most of the way. I think he even remarked about the cleverness of the poem.

It was one of those rare moments in life that one can never forget – when you’re glad to be alive, and you’ve just experienced an event that is truly rare, memorable, and totally unbelievable. And yes – that pitchfork chase actually happened.

Thanks Mr. Green!  And as Bob Hope said and sang, Thanks for the memories!

 

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Hey Boy, Don’t Run!

Screen Shot 2017-08-11 at 1.21.47 PM copy© 2017 Bill Murphy 

My e-Mail and model airplane building buddy that hails from the great state of North Carolina is on a fitness regime. In addition to being enrolled in a quite active RUNNING class, he also participates in local running events. So, in addition to our regular e-chats concerning model airplane plans, building, and flying – he’s also keeping me abreast of his exciting life of RUNNING.

And Dave is quite close to my own age. Shame on me.

But I do have a few interesting, even exciting running stories myself. My stories, like Dave’s, may be from yesterday – but not yesterday in a literal sense!

I’ve said before that it’s no small wonder that I survived childhood. My childhood friend Buddy Gorday and I were always ‘daring’ one another to attempt some hair-brained stunt. ’I’ll bet you can’t jump that!’ And off we’d go. I can remember crashing into more than one hedge or fence at full tilt, because I really COULDN’T jump it! But I tried.

But once – I didn’t try. I chickened out instead.

I probably have LEGS today because I refused to be dared to jump onto a rolling flat car on a local freight – and ride it from one crossing to the next. (That would have entailed running.) Buddy wasn’t with us that day, as a group of us walked home from Enochs Jr. Hi along Terry Road. A slow freight was crossing Terry, heading into town. If I remember correctly, one brave (dumb) soul actually did it!

So, I’m a WALKING chicken today. But that’s OK with me.

At Enochs we did LOTS of running in gym – and I proved to be especially fast on the shorter sprints. I was usually FIRST in my gym class. I’m sure you find that difficult to believe today. But that was then. The coach wanted me to try out for track, but I’d heard too many horror stories about how physically taxing ‘track’ was. I never cared for taxes.

Across the street from Enoch was Poindexter Park. The park was our playground and gym field. There was little grass on the side of the park closest to the school. We kept it worn down. This lack of grass cause erosion around the large trees which bordered the park. Because the park itself sat a bit higher than the street, most of the trees had huge, exposed roots near their base. One day, during football practice, I was running downfield, chasing after the ball carrier. Just as I reached him, a down-field blocker from the runner’s team threw an illegal block on me – CLIPPING. My feet went out from under me, and, running full speed, I handed tail-bone first onto one of those roots! Ouch! And I mean ‘ouch‘ in its truest sense. It HURT! I limped for days.

Oh, the title of this piece. That came from the public Swimming Pool which at one time was in Battlefield Park. Because it was a concrete pool, the concrete apron which surrounded the pool could get a bit slippery when wet, which it usually was. Running at the pool was forbidden. The lifeguards would bellow at us, “Hey boy – don’t run.” We heard this so often that it was forever ingrained in our psyche. It because a part of our very vocabulary. If we were, say, at the drive-in theatre, and while walking to the concession stand, we happened to see someone we knew, in a vehicle and in a passionate embrace with their girlfriend – we’d approach the vehicle and scream loudly – “Hey boy, don’t run!”

‘Run‘ assumed many meanings.

In the mid 60s, in basic training with the ANG/USAF at Lackland Air Force Base, we ran every day. The running track required 5 laps to make a mile – so we began with 3 laps and worked up to 5 – and then 6. Some poor guys had difficulty managing 1 or 2! This was SUMMER – IN TEXAS – and it was HOT. A few days it was deemed TOO HOT for PT. (But just a few).

I remember literally DRAGGING my exhausted frame back to the barracks, and stumbling into the shower. These were ‘communal’ showers, designed for mass-showering of 18 or more. No one cared. It might well have been male AND female in that shower! Like I said, no one cared. We were beyond exhaustion. No one was interested – in anything but COOLING OFF – of REST – of blessed RECOVERY! Most didn’t even stand – we simply LAY where we dropped!

Just before we left Lackland, the instructor told us that he’d lied – the track was actually a quarter mile around. We ran more than we thought.

Because Jackson is so close to Vicksburg, I’ve made innumerable trips to Vicksburg National Park in my life. On the west side, there’s a steep hill which overlooks a bend of the river. It’s a high hill, and like I said, steep. In those days, there was no fence or barrier – not at the top, not at the bottom, not in the middle. You see what’s coming.

“I bet I can beat you to the bottom.”

I can’t remember who won. In fact I can’t remember too much about that run downhill. One minute we were running, and the next – everything was an insane blur as we tumbled end over end downhill – in unplanned for cartwheels. Again I ask, how did I ever survive childhood?

1960 was the year of my first marriage. I had the chance to run then, but I didn’t and should have. Like that hill at Vicksburg, I blindly forged ahead. And like the hedges I crashed into earlier, I later found myself asking, ‘What on earth possessed me to do that?’

Running can definitely have it’s ups and downs.

I do most of my running today from in front of the TV to the supper table!

 

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Our Evergreen Playboy

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© 2017 Bill Murphy

Years before the bunny-magazine hit the news stands, the boys of Evergreen Street had our own ‘play boy’ magazine. (Calm down – this is a squeaky clean story.)

It was not a magazine actually, but a catalog – a catalog right out of Aladdin’s magic storehouse! It overflowed with all manner of exotic and exciting items to thrill, inspire, and educate us. This wondrous publication was the Johnson Smith Catalog, which gained almost Biblical respect among the boys of the neighborhood. (The illustration at right is not from a 40s edition.)

This was the late 40s and early 50s. We were school boys then, grade school, junior high. Cokes were a 5c, and bubble gum a penny. Everything in the Johnson Smith Catalog was dirt cheap! We always had enough change in our pockets to order that next ‘gotta have’ item.

For only $2.50, shipping included, I ordered a telescope kit. What came in the mail was only two glass lens, and a single page of instructions. But I was NOT disappointed. Actually BUILDING the thing was the major part of the fun. The telescope body was made from a section of round, aluminum rain-gutter pipe, almost 3 feet long. The movable focusing scope was a piece of metal electrical conduit. The ‘seat’ for the eye-piece lens was an empty wooden sewing thread spool supplied by my mother. But guess what? When finished, I could actually seen the craters on the moon!

Then there were the crystal radio sets. Years before battery operated transistor radios, for $1 (or less) we ordered crystal radios. They were not much more than a small pea-size glass-like crystal, a small coil of copper wire, a thin wire ‘whisker‘ which sat onto the crystal, and a short metal rod inserted through the copper wire coil. It came with a one-ear ‘ear-bud’ head phone, and an metal alligator clip fastened to a long wire. To listen to your favorite radio station all you need do is: set the whisker on the crystal, attach the alligator clip to a metal pipe (most schools had hot-water radiators for heat, with lots of metal piping), move the metal rod to the right position to tune in your station – then LISTEN! Remember, there were NO batteries, NO outside power source. Unfortunately, there were teachers who caught us listening to the radio in class.

I ordered the ‘learn to throw your voice’ kit, fortunately BEFORE ordering the ventriloquist dummy.

There was the disappearing ink, fake ink spill, fake vomit, fake doggie poop, whoopee cushion, miniature ‘spy‘ camera, and my favorite – ITCH POWDER. (It really worked!)

No doubt, there were very few male 12 year old Johnson Smith customers who did not order the X-Ray Glasses. They were a huge disappointment. It was enough to warrant a letter to the Better Business Bureau.

The frame of the infamous X-Ray glasses was nothing more than two pieces of cardboard glued together to hold in the ‘X-Ray’ lens. X-Ray lens – yeah, right! Then ‘lens’ were nothing more that pieces of BIRD FEATHERS! The false-advertised X-Ray vision was created when one eye, looking through the bird feather saw a shadowy silhouette of the cute girl in front of you, and the other eye saw the same silhouette, but slightly off to one side. Where the two shadowy figures merged in the center, your eyes/brain gave you the fuzzy impression of viewing a skeleton. Bummer.

Amazingly, Johnson Smith is still alive and well (and selling X-ray glasses), although the cost of a single item is more than 6 months worth of my orders way back when. And the catalog is in color now, and on-line. Oh, and now they’re more truthful in advertising, admitting that the X-Ray vision is only an illusion. Peggy Sue – you are now safe from prying eyes!

Things just aren’t like they used to be. Oh well.

 

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Obit Photo

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©2017 Bill Murphy

Occasionally I’ll see an obit photo of a person in their early 20s and think, What a shame – to die so young! Then I read the obit and find that the person was actually 97. I suppose they wanted to be remembered as being young.

I’ve told my children that the photo at left is the one I want with my obit – when days were care-free – with not a worry in the world!

The truth is: this photo could very well have been my obit photo – within months of when the photo was taken!

My grandparents lived next door to us on Evergreen Ave. in south Jackson. ‘Doodleville’ we called it. Grandpa Fairchild took me with him on long walks, mostly on the railroad tracks. That’s him in the background, in the swing.

My grandmother took me with her downtown, to the movies – and shopping.

Downtown Jackson of the 40s was a far cry from what it is today. The city was not covered with shopping centers. If you wanted to shop, it was downtown – where you could make a once in a lifetime purchase like a wedding diamond, or everyday items like groceries. It was a busy, bustling place!

I was downtown with Mamaw Fairchild. Back then, there were NO one-way streets. We were standing on the corner of Capitol and West streets, on Capitol, facing west toward the Post Office. I suppose I tired of having to wait for the light to change. I yanked my little hand away from Mamaw – and bolted out into the street.

That was the last thing I remember – until I woke up cradled in the arms of a big policeman. Mamaw was rather hysterical!

Witnesses said that a car traveling north on West Street was turning right onto Capitol. I walked – or ran – into the side of the car. The sharply turning car ‘pushed’ me down – and the rear wheels of the car ran over me! Fortunately, the two rear tires didn’t flatten me – I lay BETWEEN THEM as the car passed over by body.

I probably had a bump on my head, but I don’t remember having ANY injuries – none at all. But poor Mamaw was a basket case.

It was many years later before I had the information at hand to put 2 and 2 together, as to why this incident affected my grandmother so terribly.

Just over 30 years before my run-over incident, Mama Fairchild had lost a child of her own – a daughter named Violet. She was weeks shy of 4 years old. She accidentally ingested rat poison. As mothers do, no doubt Mamaw Fairchild felt responsible for Violet’s death – feeling that she somehow failed to protect her.

Deja vu. Now it was her grandson.

No grandma, it wasn’t your fault! I was the one who broke and ran. It was me – me – me. I’m sorry I put you through that. I truly am. Look at the photo. I’m sure that mother told me not to play in the dirt.

Technically, I didn’t. Ashes from burnt leaves aren’t dirt – are they?


 

 

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