Sitting in the junior high principal's office, I remember shaking like a leaf while the butterflies churned in my stomach. You see – Hank Thompson was as feared by students as bad guys were afraid of John Wayne. Despite his rapidly receding hairline, his bright red hair, flaring nostrils and the piercing stare from his steely blue eyes were quite intimidating to a young teen.
Sitting in the junior high principal's office, I remember shaking like a leaf while the butterflies churned in my stomach. You see – Hank Thompson was as feared by students as bad guys were afraid of John Wayne. Despite his rapidly receding hairline, his bright red hair, flaring nostrils and the piercing stare from his steely blue eyes were quite intimidating to a young teen. Like the military, students at Hank Thompson's school toed the line. A hush fell throughout the hallways when this six-foot plus, 200-pounder stepped out of his office. The fun and games were over and some learning was about to take place. As I waited to enter his office, I sat quietly trying to figure just exactly what the “big guy” wanted to see me about. The teacher simply told me that Mr. Thompson wanted to see me. I knew that I hadn't chewed gum in glass, smarted off to a teacher or smoked in the boys' room, which were among the most serious offenses of the day. Finally, I got the call. At first, I didn't want to look him in the eye and I took careful sight on my shoelaces. However, I could feel that cold, icy stare. In a thunderous voice, he began to question me about my algebra grade as to why it was so low. He noted that he had looked over my previous grades and knew that I had been an “A” and “B” student in most of my math courses previously. In a voice that probably squeaked at the time, I simply told the man that I was having trouble understanding algebra. Apparently he didn't buy it. He told me in no uncertain terms that it was his opinion that I wasn't putting out any effort and strongly encouraged me to improve or my next meeting would be with the “Board of Education” and to a student that was the equivalent of “execution.” I was devastated. I told him the truth – I didn't understand algebra. Before my encounter with Mr. Thompson, I recalled the long walk home from school with a “D” on my report card. I had never taken home a report card with a grade lower than a “C.” Mom and Dad were not terribly pleased with “C's” but a “D” was unthinkable. I survived that encounter with Mom, who believed me. My grades didn't approve much after that despite some additional help from the teacher. The encounter with the principal left me dreading each impending report card. I breathed a sigh of relief when Mr. Thompson decided not to return the following year. Over the years many of my columns have addressed the joy of boyhood and growing up in the Arkansas Delta during its glory days of the late 1950s and early 1960s. Most of my memories are fond ones and drift through my inner being giving me a sense of satisfaction and warm fuzzy feelings. However, growing up was not always easy. Like adults, children must learn to deal with the unpleasant side of life that exists everywhere and in every era. Looking back, the problems that faced us as children and young adults seem now rather trivial but then seemed insurmountable. I recall making myself physically ill on days of school when I was supposed to complete an assignment in front of the class. There were occasions that I actually had rather been sick with the flu than take on the task that I faced at school, even though in reality I knew that illness was only a temporary solution that put off the inevitable. Then, there were the times that I had to face the classroom bully. Fortunately that was only three days a week in physical education class and the bully eventually moved on at semester. If you dig deep enough into your subconscious, you suddenly realize that being a kid wasn't always so easy. Despite that notion I don't think I would change a thing. Looking back, I feel that I grew up during the best time possible. I am grateful to God Almighty for the way that I was raised.