About 60 Years Ago Today

Published by Rick on Tagged Uncategorized

Firstly, I’ve actually made it to the age (67) where things that happened 60 years ago I’m actually able to recall in detail, and secondly, the substances I ingested in those ensuing 60 years didn’t completely destroy my ability to remember.  Maybe if I’m still around 20 years from now, you can ask me again, and I may have trouble remembering what you just asked me. But for now…

The setting is Myrtle Place Primary School, the second of three primary schools I would attend in that one school year our family lived in Lafayette, Louisiana, the heart of Cajun country, before moving to Tucson, Arizona in summer of 1958. I attended three different schools that year because my parents spent the bulk of the school year trying to find me a spot in the same school my brother was attending, and nothing came up at that school until after Easter. My first teacher that year, at a suburban school in the neighbouring town of Scott, was Miss Dupuis (pronounced Doo-PWEE), a scary Cajun lady who was also the school’s principal, and did her discipline with a ruler or a yardstick, whatever was most handy, and would keep whacking until the student cried. Happily, I avoided the ruler, and after only about six weeks, I was moved to Myrtle Place.

But it was out of one frying pan, into another fire, as my teacher there was Mrs. Boudreaux (pronounced Boo-DROW), who didn’t rule with a ruler, but was pretty free with slapping or spanking. She slapped me across the head one time because I corrected her, after school no less, for calling the 6th planet of the solar system “Satan.” I told her it was pronounced Saturn, but she wasn’t having it. I once called the police to have them arrest her. My mom didn’t realise that’s who I was talking to until I’d been on the phone for about five minutes. Parents of today can be thankful that people like Dupuis and Boudreaux have long since been obliterated from our school systems and probably WOULD be arrested nowadays.

About one week before the Christmas holiday break, and as traditional in so many primary schools, our class put on a Nativity play, though there were actually only about ten of us involved because the teacher wanted kids who could carry a tune. I’m not sure why, but our classroom had its own stage. Maybe at some other time, it had been used as an assembly room, I really don’t know. There were several groups of parents there to watch as well, and I remember only my mother could make it. I was about to make her very proud.

Our roles in this particular play were actually rather simple, with no costuming and no real acting talent required, just the ability to memorise a paragraph or two and sing a verse of a chosen Christmas carol. We came onstage in pairs, and I was paired up with a red-headed kind named Jerry. We’d rehearsed a couple times over the previous week, and were going to sing one verse of “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” As Jerry and I walked onto the stage, I noticed he seemed a bit bedraggled, but didn’t think this was particularly serious. I did my little monologue about the wise men following the star or something like it, and then it was Jerry’s turn. He opened his mouth but all that came out was his lunch! His parents rushed to the stage to tend to him, leaving me to fend for myself and Mrs. Boudreaux wondering what to do next. I calmly recited Jerry’s segment, as I’d heard him do it enough times, while standing next to a nice pile of Jerry-vomit, allowing Mrs. Boudreaux to ease over to the piano and be ready to accompany me solo on “O Little Town.” I belted that tune out with all my soul, even though I was secretly wanting to puke just from being adjacent to Jerry’s leavings.

My mother was astounded by my cool, especially for being only a month past my 7th birthday. She even said something later to the effect of, “Gosh, if you can stay calm in that situation, you’d have no trouble being a professional performer someday.” (So maybe SHE’S to blame for putting the show biz bug in me!) I hadn’t really thought much about anything having to do with the future, I just knew that for the moment Jerry had put me in an awkward situation. He and I never spoke about that incident; in fact, I don’t think we ever talked again about anything. I’d finally be at the same school with my brother (and have a much nicer teacher with the non-Cajun name of Mrs. Wise) in a couple of months.

OK, we all gotta start somewhere, and currently a 7-year-old named Brooklyn Prince, a 21st Century name if there ever was one, has gotten rave reviews for her performance in “The Florida Project,” standing a good chance of breaking the record for youngest Oscar-winner held by Tatum O’Neal. Yeah, I wasn’t quite ready for Hollywood when I was seven, nor apparently at 17 or 27 or 37 or 47 either. But for that little moment nearly 60 years ago, I showed some aplomb I didn’t know I had, though I imagine that day marked the end of poor Jerry’s show biz career.

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