Monday, April 20, 2020

LBDM Episode 23: 6th Grade Memories- They Just Keep Comin'

Continuing the Lobos, Blue Devils, and Mustangs (LBDM) series where I look back at life in Longview in the 1970s and early 1980s:
LBDM Episode 23 – More 6th Grade Memories (They Just Keep Comin’)

Playing Toss-Up:
Playing toss-up was like playing football except there were no teams, it was every boy for himself, and you didn't even have to have a football to play; usually we used a tennis ball (or some balled-up paper or aluminum foil). A guy would throw the ball up in the air, and whoever grabbed it would have to try and run for a TD without getting tackled or touched (if we were playing touch). The first couple of times I played it, practically and almost every boy at Judson was out there playing, so I didn't even get a chance to get the ball and run with it. The third or fourth day, though, was a different story. I suddenly became recognized as a threat to break one all the way, and it wasn't because I got the ball and ran with it either. Although I didn't know them at the time, Raymond Strange, Amos Harris, Antonio Jackson, and Clyde Boyd were considered the fastest out of all the 6th graders. Raymond got the tennis ball and just like that, he was gone like a shot. Nobody bothered to chase him, except for me- and I almost caught him. Almost all the guys were impressed, and me, I didn't know I was that fast. The ones who weren't impressed changed their views when the next day, I caught Amos from behind and he was basically gone and I went and caught him right before he crossed the goalline. From then on, I was considered one of the fastest and dangerous ones because I could catch people from behind without looking like I was trying too hard. At first, that's all I would do- catch people from behind at the last minute before they crossed the line. That always made everyone excited for whatever reason. I wouldn't really try to get the ball, I liked the chase more.
Later on, I started getting the ball and if I had a little space, I'd break it. The only ones who'd catch me would be Raymond, Antonio, John Johnson, Charlie Templeton, or Clyde- The rest I'd outrun and usually score. I made a lot of friends on that gravel courtyard, a lot of them who are friends to this day: Clyde and Harvey Boyd, Brady Johnson, Tommie Taylor, John Johnson, Anthony Sims, Antonio Jackson, Brian Robertson, Byron Vaughn, Arthur Polk, Randy Polk, Alex Jones, Donny Morrow, and my best friend to this day, Dennison Johnson.
It's funny how we meet people for the very first time who later become our friends, and a lot of times we don't even remember how or when we became friends. With many of my classmates, though, I remember how and when we became friends- and usually it's in a funny way. The way I became friends with Clyde was on the football field, when he ran straight over me when I tried to tackle him, and all I did was tear part of his shirt. It was like trying to tackle a train and I probably didn't even weigh 50 pounds at the time. That was basically my first time meeting him. I apologized instantly for tearing his shirt as soon as I made sure all of my body parts was intact and I knew where I was at, and from that point forward, we became good friends.
I remember I met Tommy Taylor for the first time on the bus- For one of the few times I had a seat, I was sitting with him, and he had me laughing the entire trip to Judson. This was during the time we actually hated going to Judson, and he did not hide his displeasure with being bussed 1000 miles to a school with a bad football team, strange and possibly racist teachers, and school colors which weren't green or maroon. He really wasn't that serious about the whole thing, but he was so over-the-top with what he was saying that it was extremely funny.
I also met some of my female classmates for the first time during my 6th grade year. Rosalyn Jones, LaShelia Ingram, Robin Hubbert, Taree Dobbins, Meoshi Davis, Lisa Skinner, Dee Dee Whitaker, Sirveran Johnson, Connie George, Elaine Moody, Virginia Halton, Brenda Woodberry, Sherry Ballard, and Vickie Starts all come to mind first. Vickie and I sat by each other in Science and talked almost every day, and I remember talking to Elaine and Virginia quite a few times during choir. I would get to know the rest more during my 7th and 8th grade years.

Being In Choir Class:
I had choir 6th period and in my class were Antonio Jackson, Brian Robertson, Wray Wade, Danny Beall, Darrin Craine, Sherry Mapps, Julie Grimes, Scot Walker, Mark Smitherman, Kevelyn Peoples, Lisa Skinner, Russell Hohlt, Wilbert Thomas, and James Seale to name the ones I can recall. At first I sat by Wray Wade, and we were talking too much during class everyday, so our teacher, Miss McFarland, switched Wray with Antonio, and me and Antonio became really good friends the entire time at Judson. I took choir mainly because I didn't want to take band or strings (Back then, you HAD to take a music class), and although I didn't care too much for singing at first, I really enjoyed taking choir and enjoyed singing a lot of the songs.
We sang a lot of interesting songs in choir, songs that I remember to this day. "One Tin Soldier" was definitely my favorite, and I still know the words to that song. We also sang "What's More American", "Corner of the Sky", "Margie", and "Fernando". And of course, we had a couple of choir programs during the day and performed for our parents and friends. The incredible thing about that was this was the 6th grade classes performing, there were probably at least four periods of classes, so our choir teacher had to give four programs (and play for each one) in one day. And no, they definitely don't do that now.
We did other interesting things in choir besides just singing different songs. One thing we did was the Bamboo Stick Dance. You have two students holding two long bamboo sticks in each hand about half a foot off the ground, and one student who does the dance. The two students hit the ground twice with the sticks open and then hit the sticks together once closed. It was to a three-count- bam, bam, pop, bam, bam, pop- and during the time the sticks are open, the student dancing does sort of a two-step, making sure to not let his feet/ankles get caught when the sticks close. Those of us who were really good at it got to go and perform at the mall (and eat some of that delicious food at the mall at the time).

Campbell's Soup Labels
Back in the day, schools used to have students collect Campbell Soup Labels to turn in for money I suppose to get school-related equipment. It was a big deal back then, and classes had contests to see who would collect the most labels. One of the funniest things I remember most about this was that students would bring in labels other than Campbell's labels- like Chunky Soup, Libby Libby Libby, Green Giant, or some really off-brand labels no one had ever heard of- and the teachers would get mad (some of them, anyway, who took the thing entirely too seriously) and berate those students for bringing in strange labels. I can also remember eating (and drinking) a bunch of soup back then just so I could get a bunch of labels, and going and getting labels from every relative I could think of. I mean, I took the thing almost too seriously myself. But I was rewarded when the Longview News Journal sent photographers to our school that year, and they wanted two students to photograph counting soup labels, and since I'd brought the most labels, I was one of the students chosen (along with Stephanie Grogan). We took a picture, and it appeared in the paper like a month or two later after everyone had forgotten about it.

Cupcake Sales
Another fund-raising actiivity Judson had was cupcake sales. About once a semester, the Judson PTA would hold cupcake sales in the girls' gym which were contributed by members of the PTA and parents of various students. My momma, being a member of the PTA, would bake a bunch of cupcakes, and I kid you not, her cupcakes were usually one of the first gone and sold before any others. Truth be told, my mom did bake some excellent cupcakes back then, while some of the rest (or, most of the rest) looked like somebody just threw them together and baked them in the oven for a few minutes and they came out looking like rocks with frosting on them. I remember seeing some really pitiful-looking cupcakes and not even thinking about spending 25 cents for those atrocities. In fact, by the time I'd get to the girls' gym to buy some cupcakes, my mom's cupcakes would already be gone. Some of my friends and classmates would express the same disappointment about the disappearance of the good cupcakes (especially the ones who went to Jodie McClure with me), and my mom in later years would set some aside and save some for those of us who had second lunch and who'd been knowing us for a while. Sometimes I wonder what Judson did with the money they made from the cupcake sales.

Buried "Dirt"
One day we were playing toss-up on the field parallel to the football field (basically the practice field). It was a gloomy, overcast afternoon, and I have no idea why we were playing out there instead of in the courtyard where we usually played. It was during lunch, and as soon as we'd finished eating, we went out there and started playing. Some of us had eaten our lunches slowly, so we were late getting out there. I was one of the late ones, so by the time I came outside, most of my classmates had congregated way at the other end of the field and seemed to be looking down at something. When we made it to the other end, we saw that everyone was looking down at a deep hole. The hole was freshly dug, and the pile of dirt was not too far from it. The hole was big and deep enough for a couple of guys to fit into, and what they pulled up from that hole made all of us gasp (or at least those of us gasped who weren't used to what they pulled up). One of the boys held up about two or three x-rated magazines, and there looked to be about twenty or more magazines down there. Our more brave and adventurous classmates started looking at the magazines; the rest of us looked back and saw our assistant principal looking at us rather menacingly, so we stopped and started back to playing toss-up and tossed all the magazines back in that hole. The next day, we came to find out the hole had been filled. That didn't take long.
Electronic Football
One of the most popular fads of my 6th grade year were the handheld "electronic" football games. Every boy had one. If you didn't, then you was just a poor square. Much like the cellphones of today, boys were bringing their football games to school right and left, and getting in trouble for it if they were caught with one or playing it. Even though we weren't supposed to, we'd bring them to school anyway and try not to let the teachers know we had them. Which in a way was silly because the only time you could seriously try to play the game was either before school, or maybe during lunch, or on the bus, or sometime after school, which that would be defeating the purpose in the first place. Then the Head-to-Head electronic football games came out. Every boy in his right mind HAD to have one of those. These were the descendants of all the cellphone and handheld games you see today. Just like you see almost everyone and their mother with a cellphone in their hand, now you had an epidemic of electronic football games, many of which were being taken up day in and day out. It was a challenge to bring them to school, even though there wasn’t any way one could play those during class, between classes, or even in the cafeteria. I will admit that I gave in to temptation ONCE and snuck my football game to school- I only got to play it that morning- I think I just wanted to show it off more than anything (and had a hard time getting it back when I did). I thought I had it turned off by the time 7th period rolled around and I was in Mrs. Pugh’s class (she was one of the no-nonsense teachers). To my extreme shock, however, the thing went off in my bag (BEEP-BEEP-BEEP!!!) at the worst time…when it was super-quiet in class and no one was talking. Everybody heard it and Mrs. Pugh’s head jerked up like it had been snatched up by Frankenstein and she asked in a loud voice, “Who has a game in my classroom??” Nobody said anything and I felt my ears growing red-hot. I didn’t dare reach down in my bag and turn the thing off, because she’d see me, take my game away from me, and I’d never get it back. Ever. So I sat there, pretending to read my book, hoping and praying the thing wouldn’t go off again. Fortunately for me, it didn’t.
More Angela
Through my entire 6th (and 7th) grade years, I continued to admire Angela S. from afar. I was still too shy to talk to her, and as the 6th grade year progressed, since that day she spoke to me in the library, I learned a few things about her: I learned that she stayed right around the corner from me, I learned that she was in the 7th grade and therefore older than me (I didn’t care), I learned that she was extremely talented, she could sing, play the piano, dance, cheerlead, do gymnastics, and was extremely smart, and I learned that her birthday was four days before mine. With all of this information at hand, one would think I’d muster up enough courage to try and talk to her, but I didn’t. Not for a while anyway. That all changed (sort of) one cold December evening. My parents had decided to take my sister and me to the Christmas parade, which would be our second time ever going. We went to the parade and were walking towards Tyler Street when my mom said, “Look, there are the Stanmores.” I looked and there was Angela and her family, and my parents walked over to greet them. Myself, I didn’t know whether or not to walk over there or run the opposite direction, so I went on ahead and followed my sister and parents. It would turn out to be the highlight of my 6th grade year. While our parents talked to one another and my sister talked to Angela’s brother, Angela and I had our first meaningful and decent conversation and kinda got to know one another. She knew more about me than I did her (I still wonder how) and I really enjoyed talking to her. We spent the whole time talking and watching the parade, and for a brief moment held hands, until our parents glanced at us to see what we were doing- I think we were holding hands because it was very cold that evening, and I had on gloves and she didn’t, but we were standing real close to one another anyway and it was a nice moment, one I will never forget. Even though it was cold, I hated it when the parade ended and we had to say our goodbyes. I had a crush on her even more so after that. And although it seems kinda silly in retrospect, I had always looked at that moment at the Christmas parade that year as my first “date”.
Next: The 7th Grade Memories Began…On A (Very) Sour Note-