My Short, Career-Ending Accident That Ended My Time on "The New Home All-Stars"
My Dear Friends
this is not a happy hub. I wish that it was. I guess that you were swift enough to know that you didn't see two huge, goofy eyes going in a clockwise direction and a large flapping tongue going up and down from this hub's mouth. If you did see these two items, you would definitely be about to read a hub that pertains to a goofy topic. Not now. And by a friendly warning, you might even have tears in your eyes when you get to the finish of this piece. I am not kidding.
First off, the happy things: On this particular Monday (date, circa) in August, 1961, was a day of firsts. It was on this morning when I rode my first school bus, went to New Home School to attend the first day of my first grade in school. I was both excited and dreading it all. This was normal. Every child facing the dark, unsure first day of school feels dread mixed with excitement.
My mom was not able to walk outside our yard to meet the school bus because she had met with a nasty accident in the previous summer. An aluminum dish pan (full of scalding hot water) had fallen from the top of her wood stove in the kitchen and burning her left leg so deeply that our doctor prescribed for her to not walk on that foot and rest every minute that she could. The doctor's advice hurt my mother worse than the burn for she had always been a doer, most times, active. Day or night. She loved doing things for her family, friends, neighbors, and strangers.
And There it was, a Yellow School bus
coming down the gravel road that led from the farm/market asphalt County road 129 to our house where we lived (in the New Hope Community). My dad had moved the family to her renter house (where we lived) had agreed to share-crop for a Mrs. Verta Dobbs, a gentile widow who had acres to plant, but could not do it alone since her three sons were now grown men with jobs, families and responsibilities. So with my mom sitting in a chair in our house, where was my dad? At work in Dobbs' fields plowing and planting corn and cotton and in the fall, harvest these two commodities and take them to Hamilton, Ala., our hometown where he sold them at Shelby Ballard's Milling Co., for the corn and Ray Gin Co., for the cotton. With my parents, the two most important people in my life being detained, you can just see where this day was going.
With Mrs. Verta's farm being located in extreme rural northwest Alabama, Marion County, there was not a lot of going back and forth to town for securing supplies. People went once a week, sometimes once a month to get their medicines, household necessities and what few groceries they needed. This story was set in the early 1960s, but still far from Hamilton, Ala., our hometown being a boom town with riches and gala activities going on daily. This was the idyllic rural America at its finest. Looking back, I would have sworn that Norman Rockwell himself had a secret out-building that sat near our backyard.
Upon Boarding my
school bus, of course, I was terrified. The light rain was gently falling which was a blessing for the rain covered up the sweat that I had running down my neck and face. The first person I met was Mr. Linlon Cox, a neighborly farmer who lived up the asphalt County road 129 in the New Home Community and farmed when he was not piloting our school bus. Another thing that I couldn't help noticing was his extreme love for chewing gum as he laughed and talked to me to obviously calm me down. This was my first day of school. What school kid wouldn't be shaking in his boots?
"Name's Linlon Cox. What's yours?" he said smacking his gum.
I told him my name and he smiled as he shook my hand and told me to just go back into the bus and sit anywhere. But I didn't have the nerve to tell him that the "anywhere's" that he said to sit were all occupied. All except one seat belonging to the prettiest blond girl that I could ever have imagined. There was that moment all humans have when meeting new people.
"My name's Peggy. What's yours?" she softy asked while slowly brushing her pretty blond hair out of her blue eyes. This is all true.
She told me that if I wanted, I could sit with her on the way to New Home, the name of the farming/community school that supported the State of Alabama's State Board of Education from the years circa 1945 through 1966. In essence, all that one of these early American icon's was (in my case) a two-room building that had two teachers: Mr. and Mrs. L.J. Ballard. Mr. (L.J.) Ballard was the principal and taught grades four through six and his wife, Gertrude, taught grades one through three. A nice set-up, but all the same, a needed set-up.
I can tell you the truth about New Home School. This place where all of us farming children would meet from 8 a.m. until 3 p.m., was not as much a school, but a slice of heaven. The rooms were huge, rough-looking and by that I mean, the paint had started to crackle a bit, but the floors must have been used by Noah and his sons when they built the Ark for they were, as Mrs. Ballard, told me once, build many years ago by our granddaddies. I did not doubt it.
At 10 a.m., we had a half-hour recess. Wow! It was like being at home. Mrs. Ballard's teaching model was that of remedial things like: Hand writing, spelling, math, health, using manners, and respect for yourself and others. This too, was the truth. Mrs. Ballard just might have been a rebel and a pioneer rolled into her petite body and she meant for us to know what "thank you, ma'am," or "no, sir," meant. If a student acted up they were warned once. Twice and she took them to meet with Mr. Ballard who gave them a stern-but-respectful talk on the error that they had committed.
The next transgression meant the student being paddled by Mr. Ballard's piece of slick 1x4 piece of lumber and knew exactly how to apply this paddle to the butt of the rebellious student. I can truthfully say two things: One, I lived in so much fear of Mr. and Mrs. Ballard, I was afraid to get in trouble. And two, there were no returning offenders at New Home School. A pretty good success rate, huh?
Our lunch period was for one hour. After lunch, all of the children and the Ballard's joined them at the big clay playground at the back of the school building for a rousing game of softball, catch and other games that were popular during this time. The Ballard's had one rule: if we, the students, played well together, we could play until Mr. Cox's school bus drove up to take us home, but if one of us started fussing about something, we all had to go inside the school building and study. This principle, probably designed by the Ballard's, worked like a charm.
I Said all of This
in order to tell you about my other first. To review, you have me boarding the traditional yellow school bus driven by Mr. Linlon Cox and being carried to New Home School. Now it was morning recess and once again, two more "firsts" were coming almost immediately.
When you are young, unlearned, and just "going with the flow," this principle works for a lot of areas of life and in some areas of life this principle is useless. When a fifth-grader, Bobby Stovall, a husky, rough and tough student got up a real game of baseball. I was excited. Until now I had only watched the professional baseball players on my sister's new Philco television that they used in my parent's house while she and her husband were building a new Jim Walter home.
I knew the names of the ballplayers: Roger Marris, Whitey Ford, Sandy Koufax and Pee Wee Reese. Legends of the game. Wielders of the pine lumber at home plate. "Diamond gods," they were. But to say that I knew how to "play" baseball, that was a new thing entirely.
Stovall gave instructions on who went where and what to do. My job was easy. I was hunker down behind Charles Deline, the batter, and catch the ball when Stovall threw it to me. If he took a swing and missed it, that was a strike. The rest of this gets blurred.
All that I honestly remember is the two teams yelling and just being rural guys playing a good game of New Home All-Stars Baseball. I hunkered down, Stovall took his wind-up and let the ball go. Deline did hit the ball and I saw it go almost out of sight--but what I did not see was the big end of the bat coming from being thrown by Deline who didn't see it either as he was now going to first base.
Ka-Bam! Uhhhhhhh! Saaa-wwwwoooossshhhhh! Tweet. Tweet. Sounds made in my mind as I fell in slow motion to my back while watching millions of yellow stars swirling around and around. My forehead was numb. Lomax Carrol, a new friend, helped me to get to Mrs. Ballard's first grade room. I sat down and she freaked when she saw the two lumps rising in my forehead.
But Ballard was wise and very cool under pressure. She left momentarily and grabbed a "cure-all" product: Red Cross rubbing alcohol and bathed my forehead with the nice smelling liquid and Mr. Ballard was quick to take me home. I dreaded what my mom and dad would say when I arrived.
Mr. Ballard, a well-grounded, wise rural teacher, was supportive. "Oh, you will be okay. Just get on the bus when your folks say that you are able," he advised.
Mom and dad were shocked. But neither of them yelled harsh things to me about not knowing a thing about how to play baseball. I went to sleep that afternoon and slept until the next morning. In a day or so, I was getting on Mr. Cox's yellow school bus--and Peggy, the pretty blond who let me sit with her and all of my new friends were asking if I was okay and just making sure that I was okay.
A fitting side-note to this most of adventurous days for yours truly was the one thing that my new friend, Lomax Carrol did in light of me having my head bashed with the baseball bat. Without any instruction, he and his brother, Billy Joe, both started handing me sheet after sheet of brand new, unused paper to be used for school work.
To me, this was the purest of Christian gestures. Did it cure the pain? No. But in the same breath, it didn't hurt anything either.
I am sorry for not having a cutesy ending or punch line.
A story like this one does not need one.
© 2017 Kenneth Avery