More High School Memories
his week I pondered through the various memories of the new Louisa High School building to see what I may have forgotten. Many of my classmates and those a generation earlier had attended the professional wrestling matches, the ‘donkey’ basketball game, the parents/students basketball games, and, of course, the Bulldogs in action. We attended dances that were staged in the gym, too. We promised to be careful with Mr. Cheek’s polished and waxed floor. (No oil here, just the good stuff.) Our classrooms and teachers will always be a part of our lives as well as the assemblies in the old building, and the gym activities in the new building.
This campus was an academic learning ground and maybe even more of a social behavior incubator. We learned to talk with the other gender and finally began dating. Some sweethearts married and had children of their own, enjoying a happy life together. Others went off to college, or the service, and a remaining few got jobs locally. This phenomenon took place in the small towns all over the nation. Some towns grew, but many lost the young graduates who would make for themselves new lives in other places. Nonetheless, we all remember ‘our home town.’
I have written tidbits of my memories over the years, so it is a challenge sometimes to write the fresh articles you, my readers, deserve. One thing I have learned in life, including childhood and later old age is that good stories are not stale. My children loved the books I read each night when they were growing up, often begging “Read it again! Read it again!” It’s a hard thing to refuse knowing they find a level of comfort even from knowing the words and catching me if I leave anything out. For an example I just repeated the story of the great fall of the class clowns, Kay Varney and Mike Coburn, when we hit those oil soaked floors.
The fifth period math class that we were enrolled in was the stage for many disasters and jokes. My Great-aunt Shirley Chapman had a good sense of humor. Frankly, without that we couldn’t have had the crazy experiences we had back then. A prime example is what I have come to call my favorite cake caper. Apparently, at some point I had bragged about my cooking ability and told the folks in that math class that I could also bake. My mouth had already proclaimed this untruth and entrapped me to ‘put up or shut up.’ I was charged to bring an example to class. I was not one to shirk a responsibility even when caught in a fib, so I determined that I would bake a cake. Not just a cake you understand, but the best cake anyone had ever eaten. It never crossed my mind that what I thought might be really good may not fit the same idea for others. This proved out as I took outlandish liberties to combine ingredients with little regard for basic principles such as how to measure.
I’m sure I was helped by watching my mother over the years, but alas, she was not there. I was on my own and that should have sent me to my aunt or someone else for help, but after all, she had heard the brag and my skills at baking had been overstated. I only knew the appearance of cake batter and that it was baked in an oven for an appropriate amount of time. I knew to be slow and careful, lest the cake ‘fall’ and become more of a lop-sided cookie. It was then that I decided to do something all men abhor. I pulled out the plaid Better Homes cookbook and read through several recipes. I placed no value on the tables of measure, or the several pages of instruction, but I was keen to read terms like ‘sugar, butter, and added ingredients. I figured if this stuff was good then other favorite flavors had to be an improvement.
It was years later when I learned that when using flour by measure, such as a ‘cup,’ it was to be sifted prior to the measure and that ‘cup’ didn’t mean a ‘coffee cup.’ As it happens the oversight actually worked in my favor because I went on to add to the mixture at least two jars of peanut butter. The oil in that, plus the additional eggs I’d thrown in for good measure increased the liquid balance against the heavy flour mixture. Next I added a bit more milk to offset the sticky batter of flour, sugar, peanut butter, eggs, and vanilla. I used a hand mixer and the big wooden spoon I had seen my mother use. The spoon made me feel more in control since the mixer tended to throw stuff all around, including on me and the kitchen walls. I remembered that mom cut out waxed paper before pouring the batter into the cake pans, but I used rich butter, as well. Yum! While this was rising and baking, I turned my attention to the icing.
What could be better than some real peanut butter icing? I took a regular sugar frosting recipe and added a jar of peanut butter, but this time I used chunky peanut butter. I spread this on the hot cake and soon discovered that it acted more like a glaze by melting and running down the cake. I was forced to add more and more icing by taking the run-off supply from the buildup on the plate. Once things cooled enough the cake and icing performed better. As it happened I had two or three nickel bags of salted peanuts I had purchased at Simpson’s Gulf Station to later use in a bottle of coke. Oh, well. This sacrifice would soon pay off with a better cake. Without opening the bags I took a hammer and beat the peanuts into little pieces. I used them to sprinkle like a garnish. When it was finished I was proud of the big, heavy cake. No one in the world would have created a better one, so off to school I went to show off. It smelled peanut-buttery and just had to have a delightful taste.
I couldn’t wait until I took it to Aunt Shirley’s class and served a healthy slice to each of my classmates. It got good reviews, but I had forgotten to bring milk or some other drink. Comments were rather muffled, likely from the peanut butter sticking to the roof of their mouths. Regardless, I had proven myself in my own fashion. The cake was good and I did it! Later, I had a kitchen to clean…top to bottom!
Coming up I’m trying to obtain stories about those small schools sprinkled around the county that took up the first six years of our educations. I went to the old Louisa Grade School and have written about some of the events of that time. I know little about the one-room schools that often had a single teacher, male or female, that taught the several grades together. I know they had spelling bees, small libraries, and kids either walked to school or in some cases may have ridden a horse. They may have used the famous McGuffey Readers, and had a course of memorization, reciting, figures, and penmanship. Other ‘county’ schools were a little larger, but they all had to deal with a shortage of funds and teaching aids. I’m sure they all began the day with a prayer, the reciting of the Pledge of Allegiance, and maybe sang “My Country tis of thee.’ If any of this rings a bell for you, please write and tell me so I can share it with the full readership. My email is at the end of this article, so please drop me a line or send me some favorite stories and memories.