Jodie McClure Memories- The Home Stretch
School cafeteria food sucks today in most places. Today, kids (and teachers) are fed pre-processed food that has to be warmed up and which tastes like cardboard. No salt, no seasoning, nothing fried; just what they call “healthy” food. Bottom line, it’s terrible now. Back then, the highlight of the day was eating in the school cafeteria. Jodie McClure had one of the better ones, and the workers sincerely cared about what they feeding us. Mrs. Owens, my classmate Renee’s mother, worked at Jodie McClure back then in the cafeteria, and she helped put out some really good food. My sister and I normally took our lunches to school, but on certain days, we almost would beg our mom to let us not take our lunches and eat whatever was on the menu that particular day. Especially on Wednesdays and Fridays. Wednesdays meant fried chicken, hot rolls, mashed potatoes and gravy, peas, and a decent desert. We’re not talking no generic, tasteless crap; we’re talking real food which was fried and/or baked with care. The chicken and mashed potatoes tasted really good, and the rolls were probably the best rolls I’d ever ate. In fact, since the 5th graders always ate last, if there were any rolls leftover at the end of the lunch period, we’d just about run back to the line just to get them when it was announced that there were some left. Even if I’d brought my lunch that day, I’d still jump in the line for the leftover rolls. They were that good.
Fridays was hamburgers and fries day. Plus, one of the most underrated pieces of chocolate cake was usually served that day. Hamburgers were my favorite food back then, so as long as it was edible and tasted good, I would eat it. It did not taste bad at all, and it tasted like a hamburger, not like something totally different (like mackerel and brown gravy- brother/sister private joke). One thing me and the guys would do back then with our burgers would be to put our french fries on our burgers along with the lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, and onions. It was delicious. Speaking of delicious, the chocolate cake had a taste that I’ve never experienced before or since. Sometimes there’d be slices of chocolate cake left over at the end of the day, and I’d run and grab two or three of those, too. They tasted better than Duncan Hines or Betty Crocker any day. I truly miss just how good they were.
Return to East Ward
For one day (actually one evening), I got to return to the school I attended in the 1st and 2nd grades. On Halloween night, East Ward Elementary held a Halloween carnival not only for their students, but for students from other elementary schools as well. At least, I guess that was what they did; maybe I was an exception since I used to go there. Anyway, I put on my Batman costume that I literally had begged for the last couple of years after being a devil and a clown the previous Halloweens. I don’t remember what costume my sister had on, but she went along, too. When we arrived, everything was situated in the cafeteria; they had games, bobbing for apples, and a “haunted house”, which was the school stage. I saw and (barely) recognized a few of my classmates, who I hadn’t seen since we were all in the 2nd grade, and because of that length of time, we kinda had a hard time talking to one another. It wasn’t hard to talk to Jennifer; I talked to her mostly- but Deyavor, and Joanna, and JohnYoung, and the rest, I just said “hi” and that was it. I did have fun, and for one night, I missed East Ward Elementary.
Getting Ready for Middle School
One day while we were sitting in Mr. Taylor’s science class learning about atoms or something, Mr. Taylor told us he was going to have a middle school student come and talk to us about what to expect in middle school. He was going to be a former Jodie McClure student of course, one of Mr. Taylor’s favorites, and he was coming in to put some fear in us, I guess. I had no idea who the student was going to be, because this was my first year at McClure and I didn’t know any of the older kids who had attended Jodie McClure before I came, except for Micheal and Mark Simmons, Willie Simmons’ twin brothers, who stayed down the street from me. My classmates had a feeling of who was coming to speak to us since they knew him, and so when he showed up the next day, they weren’t too surprised.
Of all people, it was Tommy Davis.
I wouldn’t get to know Tommy until a year later, but I remember clearly that it was him who came and spoke to us that day. Why he wasn’t in school that day didn’t occur to any of us back then, and we were more interested in what he was telling us anyway. Looking back, there are two things which come to my mind now- First, he was going to Foster at the time- That would change less than a year later for a bunch of us sadly- Second, his sister, Nancy, was and is my classmate, but she wasn’t attending Jodie McClure at this time- she obviously was at Hudson Pep. I don’t know if Tommy had ever attended Hudson Pep, but I know he went to Jodie McClure. Anyway, Tommy was telling us about all the homework he had every night, how you had to get to your classes before the bell rang or you’d get a tardy (first time ever hearing that term), how you had seven classes everyday, how you had lockers that kids would break into and steal your stuff, how lunch only lasted like 30-35 minutes, how much bigger Foster was compared to Jodie McClure, and how the bigger kids would bully you, and so forth and so on. After hearing all that, I was wishing I could stay at Jodie McClure another two or three years.
Anyway, later on, somewhere in April of 1979, some representatives came to the school to visit with us fifth-graders. Both Miss Stone’s class and Mr. Taylor’s class met in the school cafeteria with these people, who said they were from Foster Middle School. They wanted us to fill out some sheets based on what we were going to be taking in the 6th grade. I remember putting down all regular classes, we had to have a PE class, and a music class. I put down choir because all they had was choir, band, and strings to choose from, and my current experience with the piano was souring me on all musical instruments. And although I signed up for regular math and English, I got changed to Advanced Math and Advanced English. Either that was my mom’s doing or they looked at my grades and decided that I should be taking those classes instead. I didn’t care one way or the other at the time, but later on, that would change. I looked forward to going to yet another school, my 5th in the last 6 years, and yes, that statement was pure sarcasm, but little did I know I was in for a sad surprise with that as well come that August.
PE at Jodie McClure was mostly fun, but there were a few dark moments, too. PE usually occurred after lunch at around 1:30 every day. We used to start off PE by doing exercises, jumping jacks and all that, before we would go run, play football, kickball, or basketball. Our coach was named Coach Stroud, and if you were to look up the word “redneck” in the dictionary, you’d see a picture of him with the cherry-red nose and with some tobacco in his mouth. I don’t want to say he was racist, but I don’t think he liked black kids all that much, not unless they were great-to-excellent athletes, and even then, he basically just tolerated even them. I got off to a poor start with him at the beginning of the school year when he decided that I wasn’t doing my exercises right and so he decided to hit me with his paddle (board). I wasn’t the only one who got hit, but I’d imagine the rest were used to him and his ways; I wasn’t. So I was mad. This happened somewhere around the first few weeks of school, but by the time school had ended that day, I’d forgot all about it and I never did tell my parents about that. Later on, Coach Stroud was timing us in the 40 and 600, and seeing how many sit-ups, push-ups, and pull-ups we could do, basically just doing track stuff, and he said, “Anybody who walks on any of the runs will get busted (paddled)!” I took him literally, figuratively, seriously, and whatever other adverb one can think of, and ran my butt off. I had to run the 600 three times in one day, and I ran it each time without walking not once. And coming in first each time. Then I noticed that some of my classmates were walking, in the areas where Coach Stroud couldn’t see them. And here I was running like a fool. This particular day, though, I would pay dearly for it.
When I got done, I sat on the ground totally spent. It was like I couldn’t get my breath. Plus I was more thirsty than I’d ever been. We went inside and I went straight to the water fountain and I just about drank all the water out the water fountain. And I still was thirsty! And I still was breathing hard like there was absolutely no oxygen in the air. Daphne asked me if I was allright, and I told her I’d be OK, but I felt absolutely drained. I had never felt like that before, and when I went to sit at my desk, I sat there hot and feeling like I wanted to throw up. Miss Stone let me go to the restroom, but before I went, I stopped at the water fountain and slurped down some more water, but all it did was make me feel worse than ever. I went into the restroom and proceeded to throw up everything. Somebody went and told Miss Stone I was throwing up, she had my mom called, and my momma came and got me early from school. Usually I would’ve felt better by the following day, but for the first time, I didn’t. The next day, I did something I had not done since I was in kindergarten: I was absent from school. I had never missed a minute of school from the second semester of my kindergarten year all the way up to the fifth grade- I’d had bad colds and still went to school, or been sick only for a little while, but not enough to stop me from going to school. But this was the first time I could not and did not overcome what was wrong with me. I just kept throwing up, I couldn’t keep anything down, and pretty soon I was dry heaving non-stop. Obviously I had gotten extremely dehydrated, and it took me a while to recover.
When I got well, I was back running and doing everything everybody else was doing, only this time, I paced myself and made sure I had enough liquids in me. We played basketball a couple of times, but I had no idea what I doing (it was the first time I had ever played basketball). We also played kickball, and we usually played Mr. Taylor’s class, but unlike football, we probably came out even as far as wins were concerned. We had people like Robert Taylor, Charlie Templeton, Orlando, Marion, and Roy who could kick the ball high and far, but as for myself, everytime I tried to kill the ball, I’d wind up kicking it straight up in the air, it would usually get caught by somebody, and I’d be extremely pissed off.
A few times though, I did really good. Once, we had one of those days where everyone on our team was kicking the ball far and over everyone’s heads, and Mr. Taylor’s class couldn’t get any of us out. Our stronger kickers were kicking for some of our weaker kickers, but I went up there and kicked for myself. And for the first time, I kicked a ball that went over everyone’s head and way out into the outfield. I was so stunned that I only got to first place because I stood there and admired the kick instead of taking off running. After I scored, a couple of the girls wanted me to kick for them, and I didn’t let them down, I kicked the ball far both times. I thought that this would be the start of something great, but the next day, I kicked another pop-fly and got out.
Another time, I came up again and decided I was going to kick it far or else. Else was kicking it hard…right to the pitcher. The pitcher was Billy Craig, one of my least favorite people at the time, and he got the ball and ran toward me as I ran to first. I knew and could see from the look in Craig’s eyes that he wanted to nail me with the ball, preferably in the head or thereabouts, and so I timed it just right: Just as he threw the ball, I hit the ground (dove on my stomach), and the ball went flying over me into the next county. Billy cussed and ran after the ball, while I went tearing around 1st and 2nd base. When I got to 3rd, he still hadn’t retrieved the ball, so I headed home. He got and threw the ball to Tracy George, who threw the ball at me just as I slid into homeplate. Though the ball hit me in the head, I was safe, and my class celebrated like I’d won the Super Bowl.
Another time I made three straight outs- I was playing third base, and the first kicker up kicked a ball up in the air on the other side of 3rd base. I ran and caught it, and that was the first out. The next kicker kicked one in between 2nd and 3rd base. The shortstop tried to get it, and it went over his head…and right into my hands. I had to slide to my knees to make the catch. That was two. The next kicker came up and kicked one up in the air on the 3rd base side again, and this time I had to run down the line and make a running catch. I’ve never forgotten that because everyone was impressed.
We had more athletes in our class than Mr. Taylor’s class, and we’d try to do incredible things like double plays. If I played first base and somebody was on first, I’d cheat a little more toward 2nd base, hoping the ball would be kicked straight to me, and I’d tag the person running to 2nd base, then run to first base and tag it. A one-man double play. I did that a few times until I got someone hurt (Bridget Wallace was running to 2nd one time, and I got the ball and tagged her a little too hard and wound up knocking her down- I forgot about the person running to first and checked on Bridget, apologizing the entire time while asking if she was allright.), then I stopped trying to do it. We’d also try to make diving catches, leaping catches, throw the ball behind our backs, run without stopping, and stuff like that, which probably caused us to lose more games than we should have.
The last days of school at Jodie McClure were spent having our class picnics and attending award ceremonies. I received three or four awards that year for different things, but the one thing I remember about the award ceremony was that Momma had me wearing these hideous blue and yellow checkered pants which looked way more ridiculous than anything a circus clown would ever wear at the top of his game. It was horrible, and I was smiling like I was styling. Awful.
During our class picnic, me, Rhonda, Chris Edwards, Tammy Allen, and another student were sitting with Miss Stone. The picnic was held outside on the eastern side of the school, and the rest of the class were in different spots- I heard that some of them were sitting (hiding) in the bushes and not doing any eating. However, those of us who were sitting with Miss Stone got to know her a little more better (we learned she was the daughter of the Chief of Police), and she got to know us a little better, too. I’ve mentioned before that although she was white, the black kids adored her. She treated everyone the same, and didn’t judge us or make assumptions based on race or skin-color. We had some teachers (and a coach) at Jodie McClure who did just that. However, Miss Stone did not have a racist bone in her body, and she was probably the nicest teacher I’ve ever had. And she knew her subjects. We had her for spelling and reading mostly, and I don’t think it’s no accident that my sister and I became really good spellers because we both had Miss Stone for our 5th grade teacher. My class was her first ever class, and she told us she would never forget us.
She didn’t lie. Seven years later in May 1986, I went to go see my favorite teacher of all time and give her my graduation invitation and to thank her for helping make my 5th grade year as enjoyable for a new student as it could be. She was still in the same classroom and when I came in there, she knew exactly who I was without me telling her. She gave me a hug and told me how proud she was of me, and other than my parents saying it, her saying it meant more to me than she or anyone else would ever know.