(9 pm. – promoted by ek hornbeck)
Those of you that read this regular series know that I am from Hackett, Arkansas, just a mile of so from the Oklahoma border, and just about 10 miles south of the Arkansas River. It was a redneck sort of place, and just zoom onto my previous posts to understand a bit about it.
This is an installment about my fifth grade teacher and Boy Scout leader. I was a bit hesitant to write about this, as I am not sure that he is quite dead yet, but my doing the maths places his age at at least 80 years, give or take a couple. The last part of the post may be disturbing for some, and is not suitable for little ones.
I attended Hackett School from the end of first grade through the seventh grade. The school was quite dismal at the time. In all fairness, the district has greatly improved over the years, I am told, so any comments about it are strictly from those days from around 1964 to 1970.
Hackett School was a weird place. When I attended, there were three academic buildings, the Old Building, built during the WPA era of the Great Depression, the Annex, built a few years later, and the lower grade rooms built around 1955. There were two others, the cafetorium[sic], an ugly concrete block structure built around 1960, and the “new” gymnasium, built around 1964. Actually, it was being finished as I started school there.
I have written about some of the teachers there, who ranged from morons to a very brilliant man. Here is a link about the moron, and here is another about the brilliant man. We had mostly inferior teachers, and one who I really believe was a Cold War plant from the Soviet Union. If there is enough interest about that one, let me know in the comments and I shall do a piece about her.
But this is about Frankie Mickle. He was my fifth grade teacher, and was actually not a bad one. I would have been around 11 years of age or so, and Mr. Mickle, as we all called him, was pretty good with the kids. He was funny, laughed a lot, and actually knew at least some of his material. Of course, even in the fifth grade I knew more science than he did, but I do not hold that against him.
It came out in class that he was a veteran of the Korean Conflict, and this is on which I base my calculation about his age. Since that conflict ended around 1954, and assuming he was 25 then, he would be either 81 years old now or dead. Either way, it passes my sniff test to write about him.
Unlike Jack Meyers, link given above, Mr. Mickle could read well and knew how to pronounce words. He was pretty good in history and geography, or at least knew how to read the teacher’s edition of our textbooks. I never really caught him in a bad error, and his math skills were not too bad either. His was the first grade in which elementary elements of algebra were introduced, and he did an adequate job of it.
Whether or not he really understood his subject matter I can not say, but I can say that he was always prepared and taught well. As I said, he interacted well with the students and just about all of us liked him, and he seemed to like us. Only later did I realize a potential reason why.
I have no idea about his family life, or if he even had a family. He never had any kids in the school system, but that means nothing. He lived in Bonanza, an even small town, if you can believe it, about 3.5 miles north of Hackett on State Highway 45. That is where the Boy Scouts met, in a building owned by the Methodist Church there. It was my interaction with him in the Scouts that made my opinion of him change.
There was lots of peer pressure to join the Scouts at the time. My mum read it right, and knew that it was really just a money making affair. The current Scoutmaster was the manager of the only store in the county that was licensed to market Boy Scout uniforms and other material, like Merit Badges and such. I still have my Boy Scout paraphernalia, or at least most of it.
Anyway, my mum would drive my friend Rex (his actual name that everyone called him at the time, but now as an adult he goes by his first name, so no one who does not know this story will be able to identify him) to the Boy Scout meetings every Tuesday in Bonanza and then come an pick us up afterwards. At the meetings there were always dues to pay, and I can not remember if they were 25 or 50 cents, but there were always dues to pay. My mum caught on to that as well, since the Troop made available only very little equipment. I have a tirade about the Boy Scouts for another time, but that is better suited for Popular Culture.
Anyway, Rex and I, and several or our friends were in Troop 40, and the leaders and the rest of us went on several camping trips with no fanfare, except for the initiation ceremony. It was not anything off color, but sort of embarrassing for a kid. We were fully dressed, so do not get the wrong idea. They led us to the campfire, and taught us a chant that made us members. We had to drop to our knees and worship the fire, and repeat the words, in unison, “O wa, tie gu, siam”. If one were to watch an Islam prayer, with kneeling and putting the forehead to the ground, it would look identical.
This went on for some time, and then the tempo increased, orchestrated by Frankie. As we went into sort of a madressa set of convolutions, Frankie picked up the pace and then threw a pyrotechnic into the fire, making a bright flash (I know now that is was simply a handful of flour). As the tempo increased, we repeated the chant over and over, until the syllables ran together. Here is what we were actually saying:
Oh what a goose I am!
Over and over, and more flour into the fire. Finally Frankie shouted, “Oh what a goose your ARE!” and put one final handful of flour onto the fire. We were all embarrassed, and he laughed like a maniac. Then we got our ceremonial paddlings (knowing what I know now, that would be a red flag), and were dismissed to our tents. Thus was the initiation. I think that Frankie like the paddling part more than the others at the time.
At the time, we all thought that this was just a silly initiation thing, but I have NEVER liked the paddle. Most of you who read my pieces know that I am not a fan of pain for anyone, and in particular children. Anyway, a year or so later I had made Patrol Leader and was a Second Class scout. That is as far as I went, for reasons that you will understand in a few minutes.
Frankie took five of six of us, all new Scouts to a Scout cabin not too far from home. It was unusual, at least for our Troop, for only one adult to go, but since he was a respected teacher, all of the parents were cool with it. I do not remember exactly where the cabin was, but it was easy to get to by his truck, and in those days it was cool to have kids sit in the bed of a pickup truck. I was designated the cook, as I am wont to do. First we all had to get firewood.
There were some large logs around, much bigger that would fit into the old style wood fired range, so we had to cut it. Rex and I did well, since we had both been familiar with a full size, two person crosscut saw. (The trick is NEVER to push, just to anticipate your partner’s reaction, and PULL on your handle. I think that this was a metaphor for Frankie). When he saw that Rex and I knew how to handle a crosscut saw, he called on some of the other boys to use it WITH HIM!
The other boys had never even seen one, so they pushed. That is the easiest way to jam it up and make cutting wood impossible. “Shit, fire, Randy!”, Frankie said to our friend who was trying to learn to saw. It was the first time that any of us had heard Frankie using such language. We were sort of flattered that he talked to us like men. That is how they work, by the way.
Anyway, I knew how to use a wood fired range, and soon had dinner going, because Rex and I found good wood on the other side of the cabin to use. The biscuits were good, and I had brought frozen beef stew (that I had cooked in anticipation of the camping) in my cooler, and just thawed it and heated it up for dinner. I used Bisquik for the biscuits, and Frankie was not happy with that, at least that is what he said, but he ate his share. Even the intimidated kids ate (I was even a pretty good cook at the time) at least got there bellies less than hollow.
We all, except for Frankie, chipped in and cleaned the dishes and the stove, getting it ready for sausage, eggs, and gravy with more biscuits for the next morning. We had enough ice to keep the milk and meat and eggs cold. Then came time for bed. Then it got, well, interesting.
It was cold in the cabin, and I suspect that it was around freezing outside. There were bunk beds around the room, and Rex and I chose a set and drew straws for the top one. So did the other boys, and Frankie started to add lots of wood to the fire (and to himself). It was a large fireplace, and before long he had a raging fire of well seasoned oak and hickory, and it made a very bright fire.
Then Frankie Mickle took off his clothes in front of the fire! He did a shadow dance, the brown walls reflecting the shadows of his penis. But that was not all! He had put so much wood into the fireplace that when he sort of turned toward all of us kids in the bunks, we could see his member. It was not quite completely erect, but was obviously larger that any that we had at our ages. He danced and stroked and shook it around the cabin for quite some time.
Rex and I were pretty much amazed that a teacher would do such a thing, and after a couple of weeks we sort of dropped out of the Boy Scouts. I do not know what happened with the other boys, but I can promise you that Frankie did not get them pregnant!
We never did tell our parents until decades later. I guess that we were embarrassed and sort of freaked out about the whole thing, and 12 year old kids, at least at that time, just did not talk about things like that. A year or two later the troop got a new Scoutmaster and new assistant. I do not know if it was because of some kid telling his parents or if they just got tired of being associated with the Scouts. I suspect that it was the former, because studies show that people with such proclivities rarely give up access to children willingly. To be fair, I NEVER saw the Scoutmaster himself do anything questionable, only the assistant.
Frankie continued to teach for many years until he retired. I strongly suspect that he cut a deal to give up the Scouts in return for the silence of the parents. Interestingly, the new Scoutmaster was the superintendent of Hackett Schools, and was a really nice man who as far as I know is still with us.
That is one of the more disturbing things that happened growing up in My Little Town. I was hesitant to write about this, but it is true (except for the parts that I have clearly indicated are purely speculation on my part). In addition, lots of readers have kids or grandkids involved with organizations like this. The Boy Scouts of America introduced programs to try to keep out such bad actors in the 1980s (it is difficult to comprehend that they waited so long), but no program can be 100% effective. The best thing that a parent or grandparent can do is to talk with their kids and be involved. One of my sons was in the Scouts for a while, and I made it a point to go on as many field trips with him as I could. Another thing that you can do is insist that the leadership adhere to the two person rule, meaning that in no circumstance is a lone adult allowed to be the sole supervision of a group of kids.
If you would like to contribute any of your recollections about growing up, please feel free to do so in the comments. Many readers and I enjoy learning of other people’s experiences.
Doc, aka Dr. David W. Smith
Crossposted at The Stars Hollow Gazette,
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