Terry Thomas

Sixth Grade

The Sixth Grade

I am not sure how it all happened but during Christmas school break I was sent to Tennessee to live with my father and older brother Tony. Later on in life I learned Mother had a small battle with cancer so I was sent to live with my father as they were separated at the time. That in its self is another short story.

Upon arriving in Nashville I started to look for the only kid I really knew from living there back a few years ago. Buddy was a little different to say the least and trouble was always close by him.

The first day him and I hung out together we were in the big field as we called it. It was located in the projects that Buddy lived in. It was a huge grass area surround on three sides by project housing, massive trees and the fourth side was Delta Avenue.

Daddy’s cousin Johnny Nipper lived in one of the units that surrounded the big field. Unknown to me at that time was Buddy had been chasing after one of Johnny’s daughters. So wanting to fit in and not be a chicken I let Buddy talk me into climbing up on top of the front porch roof and tapping on her window to get her attention. It was a good plan and as I waited outside the window for her to enter the room at some point in time. Her mother walked in. Scared I would be seen I had no option except to jump back down onto the ground which was at least twelve feet of free fall.

It wasn’t that bad, I landed on my feet and my knees buckled and I assumed the crouch position. It would have been the landing of a life time but my right knee made contact with my right eye with a lot of force. By early the next morning I had a Jim Dandy of a black eye.

Now we lived in what I call the little house out back as that was what it was. Clara and Bob, daddy’s cousins owned the place and the main home which set on Garfield Street was occupied by someone else. The little house in back or the barn was lived in by us. One bedroom, one other room that made for a kitchen and sitting type of room. All wood plank construction including the small front porch and the floor.

So the new kid about to show up for his first day at a new school was becoming extremely nervous. Since daddy was on disability the family income to say the least was poverty. Clara and Bob worked at the Jarmin Shoe Factory and they stopped by to drop off a new pair of shoes for me to wear to school.

I figure now that the shoes they brought us were rejects or blems of some type. Anyway the new shoes were suede type leather that had a long extended pointed type toe and on top of that they were just a little big. My foot probably measured around eight inches and the new shoes measured somewhere around thirteen inches.

Daddy went shopping at the pore folks store and bought several pairs of Jeans. Both pairs required a safety pin to take up the waist and they were at least six inches to long.

I know, you think it couldn’t get any worse.

On top of the outside storage shed or the rat shed as I called it. I had seen several rats inside it that were as big as cats. I never felt comfortable going inside that shed to find what ever it was daddy sent me to get. On top of the metal type roof of the shed daddy had walnuts that he had collect and they needed to be hulled.

Now I thought that was gong to be fun. Dad and I stood side by side working on the walnuts. I would hull and put them in the bucket and daddy would rinse and lay them out to dry.

After a little a bit I made the comment to daddy about the brown stains on my hands and he told not to worry, it would wash off. Just a heads up for those who intend to hull walnuts, walnut stains do NOT wash off.

So off to the new school I went. Black eye, shoes big enough for two boys, pants that would fit a line backer and hands the color of dark brown.

I know you think it couldn’t get any worse.

My six grade teacher was several hundred years old and meaner than any woman I have ever known. So all the kids are seated and the teacher starts to call row count. Each time a kids name is called the kid stands and says something that made no sense to me. Then they sit back down.

When my name is called I stand up and say present. You could have heard a pin drop. Mister black eye, big shoed and poorly dressed brought total silence to the class room. The nice teacher told me I was to quote a verse from the bible when my name was called.

Can one imagine something like that in today’s world?

She then spent a few minutes asking about what verses I knew and my answer under prosecution was that I did not know any.

THOU SHALL NOT KILLED came back at me with the full volume of sound. I was told to repeat it, and I did. Then I sat down for what was to be one of the longest days of my life.

I thought Vietnam day one would hold that honor, but it wasn’t even in the running’s.

Then it came recess time which I was thrilled to hear that call. My insides were in knots and it was not because of my appearance or my lack of biblical knowledge.

The class I was in was heavy into fractions and I had never done any type of fractions in my Arizona School.

I was completely at a loss and the kind teacher continued to call upon me for answers to her writings on the blackboard. Such a nice lady.

I made a beeline for the rest room and I figured from there I could at least hide out until recess was over. Just so you know, if a new kid has a black eye the school bully now thinks he has a scraping partner. So when he came into the restroom he started in on pushing me around and telling me how after school he would be waiting for me.

I just wanted to die, I had no idea how this would ever work its self out. So I spent the rest of the day plotting my escape once the bell rang. I figured I would walk to the door cool and calm, step out in the hall way and then run like I was on fire.

And that is exactly what I did.

I could hear the sound of my high wooden hills as I ran down the hall way. My shoes that were to big for my feet were slapping the floor as I made my exit. When my feet touched the school yard I was off and running. I looked back and saw Duke was trying to catch me. But I was fast on my feet and he was not that fast. So I slowed down a little and kind of made fun of him.


I made it home to an empty house. I sat down and cried for what seemed like hours. Then daddy came in and wanted to know what was wrong. So I told him the whole story. I then asked if I could stay home the next day and was greeted with a strong and firm NO.

So I went outside and cried some more.

That evening after we had eaten daddy came to me with a bible in his hand. Now my father was the worlds greatest swear-er I had ever known. Daddy use the Lords name in vain with every other sentence along with some other fine attributes. So it was hard for me to believe that he had any knowledge of the bible. I was wrong on that one.

The bible was his choice of books and about the only book I ever remember him reading.

He opened the bible to Matthew and points to the verses I should study and I did. It was just before bedtime and I was trying to do my home work which was useless as I had no understanding of fractions. Daddy on the other hand knew a lot about math. Daddy knew a lot about math but he knew nothing about patience. The more he tried to explain the math to me, the madder he got. I was nearly in tears again and I had no place to go.

Daddy grabbed a whole cake, what I called two day old cake as it only cost twenty five cents at the bread store after it was two days old. He slammed the cake on the table and took out his favorite butcher knife. I learned the hard way several years later about how sharp daddy kept his favorite knife, but that is another story. All I will say is that one should not use Daddies knife to try and cut open a golf ball.

Daddy took the knife and drew lines on top of the cake, first one line as he explained to me that made two halves. Then he drew another line perpendicular to the first line and explained to me that meant fourths. I could see the four equal pieces made the whole cake. He then divided it again into eights and then into sixteenths.

My God, I had it; I now understood fractions and finished my home work within minutes.

I was actually looking forward to school the next day. I was so excited I hardly slept. When my name was called at roll call I stood and said, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth”. When the nice teacher starting writing on the board and turned to me to answer her math problem. I didn’t even hesitate, and I gave her the correct answer.

Life was good that day and it was a great day, except for the way I treated Duke yesterday. I paid for that during recess that day but the nice teacher pulled him off of me. Duke got ten swats from the nice teacher ruler after recess as the whole class looked on.

Before school would end in the summer daddy managed to get us into the housing projects.

Now before you could get into the projects they would send people to interview you and to look at how you maintained your home. Daddy was a clean man.

It had been raining for several days and the yard around the little house we lived in was nothing but mud. Every time we stepped on the porch we had to wash our shoes at the only water bib the house had.

Yes there was no running water inside the house.

Once we would go back outside daddy would mop the floor. Then the people came to visit with daddy. I am not sure but I bet he did swear a number of times under his breath. As the people tracked mud up on the front porch.

The housing projects were a really nice place to live. Mother joined us along with Judy and Clara.

My problem with Duke continued as for some reason he just liked to beat on me. I would come home from school and my older sister Judy wanted to know why my clothes were torn and or dirty. So I told her the story about Duke.

I was about to graduate from the sixth grade and would be going to North Nashville Junior and High School combination. Just before school was over for the year Duke once again wanted to beat on me some. So after school I did what I had learned to do best and that was to run.

I remember running around the corner of the school building and headed to the projects and I knew Duke was on my tail. I heard a scream and I stopped and look back.

Judy had laid Duke out right there in the school yard for all to see. Duke was crying some as Judy stood over him and read him the right act about picking on me.

A few days later Duke sent his big brother after Judy.

I remember looking out the front door as Duke’s big brother was calling for Judy to come outside the house. Judy was not at home then, but Tony was.

Tony had made it to state finals in the Golden Glove boxing competition in his sixteenth year of his life.

So Duke’s big brother got introduced to Tony.

Tony gave him quite the whooping. My Duke problems were now over.

Folks, there is only one way to deal with someone who bullies others. Once they get taught the same lesson Duke was taught, their bullying days are over.

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