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Today is June 22, 2018

Grin 'n' Bare It

A great 40th reunion

Kay Grafe
Kay Grafe

Let’s talk about reunions and 4o years ago. (That’s a whisper.) If you get distressed over your rising age, stop and think about the future, fun, fulfillment, maturity and the “best years of your life are yet to be.”

Sooo, I’ve been to high school reunions, college reunions, family reunions, special friend reunions, but on June 10, I was the only teacher invited to attend the high school reunion for the Class of 1977. Tommy Polk was the courier of the invitation.

These students I remember as kids are now almost 60 years old. Their chatter wasn’t about their children, but their grandchildren. After I got over the initial shock and a wide array of conversations that brought back memories, I could close my eyes and picture those kids so full of life, mischief and dreams of the future … as it was in 1977.  

I didn’t go to college until Dawn and Babette were in school. I wanted the best of both worlds: stay-at-home mom and working mom. I graduated from the University of South Alabama in the spring of 1972 with a major in secondary education, specializing in history. At this point I had never had a paying job. Mr. Roberts, the high school principal, offered me a job teaching history. He had been Mr. Roy’s high school football coach, so I thought I would get special treatment and privileges. Boy, was I wrong.

The first week on the job Mr. Roberts called me on the intercom to report to his office at once. He measured my skirt length. The rule was it could be no more than 4 inches above your knees. He said in a harsh tone to go home and change my skirt. I felt like a student who was disciplined.

Another rule was that girls who wore pants must wear a pants suit to cover their hips. So, on another morning when I walked into the office to sign in, he immediately called me back to his office. “Mrs. Grafe, I can see your crotch; your jacket isn’t long enough.” I wanted to say, why are you looking at my crotch? But I didn’t have the nerve. Another trip home.

The first thing I asked permission to do was to paint my classroom. Mr. Roberts said, just don’t paint it a bright color like red. So, I chose the next best color—orange. All other rooms were that sick pale green. I had read that orange would entice your brain to absorb information better.

I wanted my students to have fun in class, so we had debates about the hot news of the week. Sometimes I read them a few chapters of a best-seller book at the end of class, if we had time.

Also, every few weeks we had an unofficial class party at the end of class and before the bell.  Students would bring some goodies and I brought Cokes in a cooler.

We also wrote stories about famous characters in history, and I gave out parts for them to read. However, this got me in trouble. A student made a remark that started an argument, and her mother came to the office to have a “word” with me. After that Mr. Roberts took me to his office again and said, “Mrs. Grafe, when you get to the Civil War chapter, just skip it.” I said, “Mr. Roberts, I can’t do that. You can’t change history.” He frowned and said, “Yes, you can. I’m your boss.”

One reason I believe the students enjoyed my classroom is because I was the only teacher who had air conditioning, thanks to Mr. Roy. He installed a used window air conditioner that actually worked until I left the high school.

Back to the reunion. All the people there treated me like a queen and told funny stories about things that happened in class. While the stories were being told, Tim Rogers and Ronnie Davis, the class musicians, played 70’s music. The reunion was held at Ralph and Kacoos Restaurant, and we had the entire bottom floor reserved.  

On the way back home after the reunion was over, I began thinking about the significance of the event. The years of college, the sacrifices that my husband and children made, the long nights of study and the long daily drives to Mobile were all worth it. These wonderful kids matured into outstanding, successful adults. Maybe I played some little part in that. They told me that I did and that’s good enough for me.

But I still had a nagging question. Did they pick me as their favorite teacher because of my superb ability to teach history or because they had so much fun in my class?

Kay Grafe is the author of “Oh My Gosh, Virginia.” To order, send name, address, phone number and $16.95, plus $3.50 S&H to Kay Grafe, 2142 Fig Farm Road, Lucedale, MS 39452.

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