Terry Thomas

The Knife

The knife


As I look back on my younger years I remember the sixth grade most of all. I left Arizona for a short time and returned to Tennessee half way through my sixth year of school.


So here I was over Christmas break in a new city to me and only one kid who I thought was my friend. Thinking about my first day of school was scary to say the least. During the holiday break I let my friend convince me to climb up on the balcony of one of my cousin’s home. So up the down spout I went and when I reach the top of the porch I stood proudly looking down at my friend because of my achievement and as I turned to look at large glass plate window behind me I saw my cousin entering the room. Not knowing what else to do I decided to jump off the roof. That was not one of the more cleaver things I have done in my life. The free fall was great but when I landed my knee made contact with my left eye and yep, it was quite the shiner.


So now it was a new school, one friend and a black eye to boot. My new teacher was a mean ugly woman who looked to these youthful eyes to be 100 years old at least. She gave her long wooden rod a smack on the desk top and the room fell silent. She ordered everyone to sit down as she was going to do roll call. Just before she began she informed the class that we had a new student and she made me stand up and announce my name. There I was, hand me down pants that where to big, pointed toe Swede shoes that made my feet look four times larger than they where, a gift from my daddies cousin and one Jim Dandy black eye that brought laughter from everyone in the class. At least I think it was the eye.


 After being ordered to sit down the teacher began roll call. I set there and my little mind raced left and then right as I tried to figure out what was going on. After each students name was called the student would rise up and recite a verse of some kind from what I later learned was the Bible.


So when she called my name I stood and said present. You could have literally heard a pin drop. She looked up from her desk and in no uncertain terms told me I was to answer when called upon at roll call with a verse from the Bible.


I had no idea what she meant and I really did not know any verses from the Bible. With no way to escape I was forced to tell her I did not know any versus from the Bible. With a look of what would be a deer in the headlights she told me “Thou Shall Not Kill”, I repeated those words and slithered back down into my seat. So now we can add humiliated to the long list of things that was wrong with me on day one at Buena Vista Elementary School.


What I thought to be some sort of hillbilly school was doing things in math I had never even heard of. I was once again completely lost and was in no way ready for the sixth grade at this school. So know we can add stupid to the list of things that were wrong with me on day one at my new school.


The pressure was finally off when the bell rang as we were escorted outside for recess. Now no matter where you come from in America every kid is an expert at recess. It was however my first lesson at Mummly Peg. It was as natural as could be for a young student to have a Jack knife and allowed to play with it at recess. Can you imagine that today. One glimps of a knife and you are home alone for weeks as your parents try to sort it out with the school. But back then Mummly Peg was played by all the boys.


Though I took a few losses in no time at all I was the new Mummly Peg champ at school.


It was during the last half of my first day at rest room break I got to meet the school bully. He was bigger than any other kid and he knew it. After pushing me around for few minutes I got the news he would be waiting for me after school. Who would have ever thought the school bully had to beat up every new kid just to prove he could do it. I was truly scared and had no one and nowhere to turn.


So as my finger nails shorten over the next few hours I began to plan my evasive action, what door to exit, how far could I run without stopping and how long it would take me to get home. By the time class had ended I was ready. I exited the class room cool and slow but the moment I was through that threshold of a door I was at a full gallop with the harden hills of those oversize shoes singing cadence down the echoing hallway.


I looked back over my shoulder to see the bully eating nothing but my dust and of all the stupid things I began to make fun of his speed that would be another not so clever thing to do. But I made it home safely and I figured if I cried hard enough my father would let me stay home or better yet put me in a different school. I was wrong big time on that one.


Daddy was not understanding at all with the things I told him, but even today it still impresses me as to his knowledge in both math and religion. By the time the lights went out that night I not only knew some Bible verses but I also knew what Chapter in the Bible I could go and learn as many as I wanted.


Daddy was not one for patience so the math thing was really getting him upset with respect to fractions. He could not believe I did not know about fractions, as this was a man who had only an eight grade education and as I learned in my later life an eighth grade student back in the old days had to know trigonometry before they could graduate.


As his patience’s shorten and his voice began to rise, as the tears filled my eyes he reached over and picked up the chocolate cake and set it on the table. With his famous serrated extremely sharp knife which I still own today, I learned of this knifes sharpness while trying to get the inner ball out of the inside of a golf ball, which was another bad idea.


Daddy started drawing lines on the cake explaining ½ of cake, ¼ of a cake 1/8 of a cake and so forth. He then would point to different parts and help understand what I had if I added them together. That was it, it hit me like a train and by the end of the next day if I was not the smartest student in math I was real close to the top.


We were poor and I mean poor, Daddy was disable from a broken back of  years ago and all we had each month was Daddies little check. Some how it didn’t seem to matter as we would ride to the bakery the first of each month and he would buy two day old cakes for twenty five cents and loafs of bread for a nickel. We ate lots of fish, beans, ground hogs, squirrel and frog legs thanks mostly to Cousin Ed.


The recess part of my problem I found out Daddy was also an expert at. When it would come to Mummly Peg and or checkers he was the champ. And in the evening last light he brought and old sort of rusty jack knife and gave me few pointers on the game of Mummly Peg. When we were done he handed me the knife to keep for him and he went down the list of do’s and don’t. Once I had repeated all the rules about handling a knife we retired to the lamps inside the two room house for Bible training.


The bully problem was something I could not tell Daddy about and after a few beatings it was my older sister Judy who came upon me as I was crying. She made me tell her everything and I did. I really did not know that Tony my brother who had been boxing for several years and competing had been giving Judy lesson. It happened like this, school let out and once again I was running full throttle around the corner of the school with Duke right on my heels. I heard a scream and looked back to see Duke on the ground crying and Judy was standing over him. Its true Judy was eight years are elder but Duke was every bit as big if not bigger, except at that moment he seemed like a little baby and he sat there and cried after Judy leveled him out. My bulling problem was over.


When I graduated from sixth to seventh grade I had to go to a junior high and high school combination. It was the first year that colored people where allowed to attend a white school.


The next few years are another story.

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