Bill's Blog

REMEMBERING WHEN THE SCHOOL YEAR STARTED THE TUESDAY AFTER LABOR DAY … WITHOUT AIR CONDTIONING

Yesterday it was back to school for Memphis and Shelby County school kids.  Being old school myself, I can’t understand the school year beginning in early August.  It is too early and too hot, and it is still summer!  

When I was a student in Memphis City Schools 60 years ago, the new school year always started  on the Tuesday after Labor Day.  There was a very sensible reason for this.  The schools weren’t air conditioned.  

Even in those days before global warming, it was pretty dang hot on the Tuesday after Labor Day, and particularly in an unairconditioned public school building.  Each classroom had a large box fan at the front of the room.  It did not keep the classrooms cool, and the poor perspiring teachers had to yell to be heard over the roaring fans.  

There was one air-conditioned room in my high school.  It was the office of Mr. Stephenson, the Principal.  Ironically, if you misbehaved in class, your teacher would send you to the Principal’s office for discipline.  During the first week of the new school year, this was something of a disincentive for good behavior.  If you acted up in the classroom where it was 95 degrees with a fan blasting hot air, you would be “punished” by being dispatched to Mr. Stephenson’s quiet office where the temperature was a cool 70 degrees.  

But in the Principal’s cool office, things actually heated up.  Mr. Stephenson believed in corporal punishment for misbehaving students.  He administered this with a large wooden paddle.  The paddle had three holes in it that somehow made the impact on one’s misbehaving derrier even more painful. 

So help me, Mr. Stephenson’s paddle had a name stenciled right on it: “Rainmaker II.”  I’m not sure what happened to Rainmaker I.  It was probably shattered in the line of duty. 

Suffice to say that the administration of Rainmaker II was closer to capital punishment than corporal punishment. 

And by the way, there were no lawsuits or complaints filed against Mr. Stephenson for his use of corporal punishment.  If you got such punishment at school, you never told your parents, because if you did, you would get a second spanking at home.  

The threat of Rainmaker II kept my fanny in a hot classroom.  But the heat wave was temporary.  By mid-September in pre-global warming Memphis, the weather got cooler, and by October, it was fall.  

I am sure the kids in the airconditioned Shelby County public schools are cool and comfortable this week.  But I feel sorry for them.  

I fondly remember the endless summers of my childhood youth.  August was still a time for daily swims at the pool at Frayser Community Center, or fishing at McKellar Lake.  And for a real outing, my parents would take me to “the beach within reach” in Maywood, Mississippi, just a short drive from Memphis.  Maywood was a big swimming hole surrounded by white Florida sand that was shipped up from the Redneck Riviera, the Florida Gulf Coast. 

And when schools did reopen on the Tuesday after Labor Day, I was ready to go back and sit with my classmates and friends in a hot classroom beside the roaring fans … and try to avoid a visit to Mr. Stephenson’s office and a close encounter with Rainmaker II!  

Posted by Bill Haltom at 14:12