Someone once said that every writer is still trying to win that third-grade fight.
This is a picture of my school in 1964, when I was in third grade—same as Nick Gray in Chain Gang Elementary. My brother Rich added the ominous clouds, though this is how I remember it in winter. (Missouri winters are bleak—one reason I live in Georgia now.) I had originally considered using the picture for the cover of my novel but decided against it. Too soon, I guess.
The town of Houstonia had a population of 235, and the school district was so small that grades 1-12 were all housed in one building, and in grade school, two classes shared each room—and teacher. Third graders sat on one side of the room, fourth graders on the other. My other brother, Dave, was three years ahead of me, and he would warn me about terrible teachers to come.
Houstonia’s school system consolidated with the Hughesville district to form Northwest R-V for the 1964-65 school year and each grade got its own classroom. Junior high and high school shifted over to Hughesville. Kindergarten was added. Even after consoidation, the high school didn’t offer chemistry until Alan McCurdy’s father insisted that it be taught. Alan and my sister Valerie were the only two students who took the class—valedictorian and salutatorian, as it turned out. No surprise.
We lived on a farm a mile and half outside Houstonia and rode the bus to school. The bullying on the bus was persistent and vicious, some of which centered on the fact that my father had tried to integrate the school. (George Wallace carried the precinct in 1968.) The fact we were last on and first off made the daily rides a little less hellish. Not being one to willingly back down, I ended up in a lot of conflicts. One of my classmates claimed I got in twenty fights on the playground on the first day of school. I think she got that confused with the Battle Royale I was involved in one summer at 4-H Camp.
Our farm went bust in the late 1960s and my parents, who both already had college degrees, decided to attend graduate school at the University of Missouri. We moved from Houstonia to Columbia after I finished eighth grade.
The day we left the farm was the happiest day of my life.