Schoolhouse Minuet

Did you know that December 10th is the date Mississippi reentered the union after the civil war? I only know, not because I’m a Mississippian, but because on December 10, 1971 I enrolled into Duncan Academy and the 6th grade class was having a Happy Birthday Mississippi party.

It was a sweet little school, the kind Francie Nolan gets to go to in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Grades 1-6, it was a stately old building, one long hallway through the middle, a auditorium with a stage and a library no bigger than a bedroom. The classes were small; there may have been 15 in the 6th grade class, including me. The desks were wooden, bolted to the floor, the desk top attached to the seat in front of it, think A Christmas Story, we even had a hole for ink wells. There was a cloak room and a radiator. It was very quaint.

Duncan Academy was a private school, right on old highway 61 (it was the only 61 then) at Duncan Miss, a little burg between Cleveland and Clarksdale. Smack in the middle of the Mississippi Delta. The last time I remember seeing the building was on a trip from Lafayette to Eudora back in the mid eighties, at that time it was a nursing home. The old gym was now a ramshackle structure, the old lunchroom not visible from the road, but probably was still in use. I think there may be a school on that site, I hope some of old building was renovated. I love old buildings.

The children who went here were the children of cotton planters, managers of cotton farms, and white cotton farm laborers children. Then there was Me, Dot and I lived with Auntie Virg and UncaHoney after the Hardy years came to a screeching halt. I was at the bottom of the social hierarchy, the poor relation.

I was forced to play girls basketball, I sucked, the most athletic thing I can do is sit on the couch and cheer the Saints or Cowboys on. We studied Mississippi history. That’s a bloody history, most of the material had to do with the Civil War. I don’t think Mississippi History taught these days concentrates so much on that, in fact I think it’s kinda glanced over. We took a overnight field trip to Jackson and met the Guv (see blog post “Picnic”)

The other big happening that year was the school play. When I say School Play, I mean ever’body. We sixth graders were the real stars, we had all the speaking parts. It was about a little country school putting on a school play, ah, art imitates life imitates art. Each class came up to “practice” their song for the “play”. My cousin, DoodCuz was in 3rd grade, and his class’s number was “You Get a Line, I’ll Get a Pole”. We had to wear Hillbilly clothes, cut off blue jeans and ropes for belts. We talked “country” (as if our real voices weren’t).

It was on a Tuesday night, I believe, and in the days before VCRs and such, Auntie Virg missed her favorite TV show, Sonny and Cher, to see our performance. I sat on stage right, all the way to the end, right in front of the audience, I looked at the footlights to keep from looking out at the audience. I didn't want to mess up like I had in the third grade. I was supposed to keep eyes straight at the audience, being part of a Christmas tree, wrapped in crepe paper, sitting on the steps leading up to the stage. But I turned and watched the play and the teacher leaned over and smacked my shoulder with a ruler, in front of everyone.

I remember standing at the black board in that 6th grade classroom, a fellow class mate making fun of the way I wrote an uppercase "D". I was the scapegoat in that small class. Later I would lash out at one of the girls I considered most hateful to me. My mother told me years later I had caused the girl's mother to have a nervous breakdown. I don't know if that's true, but I sincerely hope that it is not. That might not be a story for another time, it shows an ugly side of me.

We lived with Auntie Virg and UncaHoney through the winter and in spring Dot got us an apartment in Merigold, Mississippi. We only got one channel, Channel 6 out of Greenville/Greenwood. I spent a lot of time listening to the radio. There was no FM then, not in this area. I listened to WHBQ out of Memphis. Popular songs of the day were "Brandy", "Vincent", Jackson 5 and Osmond songs. "Doctor My Eyes" "A Horse With No Name". I remember my bedroom in that little apartment when I hear those songs. I am instantly transported back to a lonely 11 year old reading Tiger Beat and 16 and Rona Barrett's Hollywood magazines.

What ever happened to Rona Barrett, anyway?

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