I never got in trouble at school. This is not to say that I never did anything wrong, I was just very careful, you might even say sneaky, and seldom got caught. The handful of times I did get caught, my reputation as a “good” kid and my mother’s reputation as a perfectionist with no tolerance for mistakes, kept me from any form of serious punishment (paddling) at the hands of my teachers. In fact, I received mostly Outstanding in conduct throughout my elementary years. I would like to believe I was truly an exceptionally well behaved child, but the fact that my mother had marched into the school demanding to know what my big sister had done to earn an A minus in conduct, no doubt prompted the school to deem my extremely average conduct unprecedented. It probably prompted the move to Outstanding and Satisfactory instead of A and B grades, too. I’m sure word was out that a minus was tantamount to failure by my mother’s grading system! A paddling at school…the equivalent of the electric chair! My mother would never have stood for it!
Even at the tender age of six, I realized my mother was counting on me to show the world what an exemplary mother she was. So when Mrs. Gantz, my first grade teacher, sent me out into the hall for building camaraderie (talking too much), I began praying in earnest that my mother would never have to find out! The rules at that time stated that if the principal came across a student in the hall for disrupting class said principal could inflict corporal punishment on said student swiftly and without mercy. My mother’s rules stated that if said student were punished at school, said student, namely me, could expect to be sentenced similarly at home, with no hope of appeal. I had only been out in the hall about five minutes when I saw our principal, Mr. Pope, headed my way. GULP! At about that same time, I heard Mrs. Gantz telling the rest of the class to line up for lunch. As luck would have it, she had kindly left the door open after ushering me into the hall. Ever so casually, I eased over so that it looked like I was lining up for lunch and had just been jostled out into the hall by the other starving animals in our class! It worked! The principal smiled benignly at me as he passed by our door, mercifully turning a deaf ear to that tattletale calling out a play by play of my scheme to Mrs. Gantz! Lucky? Possibly. Grateful? Most definitely! I am pretty sure I saw Mr. Pope wink at me as he walked by.
Fast forward to my junior year of high school. At 17 I idolized James Dean. Billy Joel’s “Only The Good Die Young” had become my anthem. I was still viewed as a good girl by my teachers. My grades were okay and I liked to learn, but the Friday morning pep rallies rankled. Our school spent an enormous amount of money on football while drama queens like myself were doomed to wander in vain searching for the nonexistent theater department. I saw red on Fridays, not only literally because our school colors happened to be red and white, but figuratively, as well. Football players and cheerleaders were the stars of the show at every school function. I knew that schools were designed to function to conserve and promote culture. I was just sick and tired of the football culture our school was determined to conserve and promote! So when my friend Cindy suggested we skip the pep rally that Friday morning in late fall, she didn’t exactly have to twist my arm.
Our plan was simple, skip the pep rally and be back in plenty of time for second period. No one would miss us! My car was parked in the main parking lot, far away from the gym. Cindy who was always late had parked haphazardly in the makeshift lot nearest the gym. The lot everyone walked through to get to the pep rally. Naturally, we took my car. That was mistake number one. We didn’t really have a plan so Cindy said we should drive out to Coca Cola lake because no one we knew would see us if we drove away from town. Her logic was impeccable! If only her parking skills had been, as well! But I am getting ahead of myself. We got to the lake and walked around a little bit. Cindy was grunge before grunge was fashionable and was wearing sneakers and overalls. I was wearing a rather chic ensemble that included wedge heels. Mistake number 2! So when for some unknown reason (I think it was temporary insanity) we decided to cross a downed log, I took off my wedge sandals and attempted to cross barefoot which proved to be very cold and painful. Painful enough that I slipped off the log and fell into the brackish water! Cindy almost wet herself laughing until I reminded her that I could not go back to school looking like I fell in a lake. Second period was English, not underwater basket weaving! No worries. We would drive to her brother’s house, dry my clothes, and go back to school after lunch. Well, her logic was getting less impeccable by this time, but I really didn’t have much of a choice. If I drove her back to school on my way home to change clothes my chances of being seen were pretty high. Trying to come up with an excuse for my grandmother as to why I got wet at school seemed impossible. So, because I had been in for a penny I was going to have to pay the pound it seemed. To make a long story short, we didn’t get back to school until after lunch that day. By the time my clothes were dry and I looked normal again, it was our lunch hour. We had an open campus at that time and I usually went home for lunch. Our plan was to go to my house, eat lunch and pretend we had been at school all morning. Mistake number 3 or maybe I should say strike 3! I knew the jig was up when my grandmother was waiting for us on the porch! Her first words to me were “Well, did you girls have fun?” Turns out another girl at school had gotten sick at the pep rally. When she tried to go home, she found her car blocked by Cindy’s car. Like I said, Cindy was always late and basically drove into the makeshift lot and stopped regardless of whether there were any spots left! They tried calling for Cindy to move her car. No luck. By the end of the pep rally, the office had realized Cindy was not at school and because it was well known we were best friends, they began to look for me, as well. By now, the whole school knew we had ditched the pep rally! It wasn’t long before they let our parents in on our secret. So what did my grandmother do? Ground me for a week? Take my car keys? No, she simply sent us back to school to face the music, but only after feeding us a delicious last meal. So back to school we went. I sweated through two class periods before I got the dreaded call to the principal’s office. Turns out the school secretary had torn up my office referral at the principal’s request. I was ordinarily such a good girl that they both just knew I had learned my lesson! The Assistant Principal didn’t quite share their high opinion of me. When he heard that the principal was letting me off, he went ballistic and called me in. In his opinion, I needed detention but since that was off the table he would at least give me a good talking to. He immediately let me know that if it were up to him he would have thrown me in detention for a week! Did I know how dangerous my little stunt was? Did I know how to swim? What if I had drowned? Where was my school spirit? Did I think I was funny skipping the pep rally? Pep rallies were a privilege! I answered every question in a quiet voice designed to show just the proper amount of respect tinged with remorse. I knew that there wasn’t a thing he could do to me, but I still didn’t want to make any unnecessary enemies at my young age! I still laugh when I remember how mad Cindy was at me for getting us off! She had actually hoped we would get D-hall. I guess she was a bigger James Dean fan than I was… definitely more rebel with out a cause than me! I was simply relieved and grateful to my principal. All those nights of babysitting his children had paid off in a big way! Then it hit me, I had skipped school on a day I was scheduled to babysit for him! How stupid could you get?
That night as I opened the car door and crawled in beside him, my principal grinned at me. He asked if my impromptu swim had been fun. Like Mr. Pope, he winked at me, as he said ” Just don’t ever do it again!” and drove us toward his house. Good looks and money are nice, but I love a man with a sense of humor. I have for about as long as I can remember!