That Road Not Taken
Tommy Towery’s recent articles about his entry into Lee Junior High in the ninth grade and recollections of that year have stirred my memories and thoughts. He wanted to free himself of the persona foisted upon him by being in the shadow of his older brother. To do that, he chose to become a “nobody” on the path of becoming somebody in his own right. That took gumption. Many teens of that time--and now, too, for that matter-- would have wailed and raged at the necessity of giving up friendships in the face of a largely uncertain reception and experience at the new school. Poised on the border there on McCullough Avenue, Tommy seized his chance, and cast his fate with Lee.
Unlike Tommy, I wasn’t the “new kid in town” back then. I had been at Lee since the seventh grade, coming over from Rison and joining the other new students and teachers as our school began its evolution into becoming a full-fledged high school. I barely remember the seventh grade. I, like most other students, was partly consumed with learning what the rules were, getting the lay of the land, and trying to figure out what my place was in the new scheme of things. It’s sort of like being in the first grade again: you’re discovering the basics of a new level of education. But you’re dealing with a more complicated world and a more complicated self. I paid attention academically though, my report card reveals. I was Honor Society material that first semester; I made all A’s (the only time I did).
The eighth grade brought tumult. My first period teacher, fresh out of college, often had trouble controlling his classroom and getting his course material across in an engaging manner. At times he found his shaky authority challenged by students who were big and bold enough to raise havoc. On too many days, strife and tension undermined learning.
Disquieting, too--though in a far different manner--was the revelation of a new dimension of life. I became conscious of another part of creation: the attractions of the opposite sex. Glory hallelujah! I fell for three girls that year.
I don’t mean to suggest that the preceding years of school had been placid and without problems. We all had to deal with the consequences of misbehavior, the vagaries of friendship, and the challenges of the 3 R’s. But the eighth grade brought additional complications to the stage—ranging from the potentially troublesome (the aggressive assertion of youthful personalities, the baleful influences of peer pressure) to personal trials (inhibiting self-consciousness, and the occasional anguish of teenage relationships and romances. Adjust this list in accordance with your own memories). It was a play of the clash and harmony of emerging identities.
Looking back at the ninth grade, I find I possess nowhere near the detailed recall of events that Tommy demonstrated in his articles. He came to Lee with the watchfulness of a newcomer and the intellect of a budding journalist. I remember, at least, that the year wasn’t fraught with the drama of what preceded it. It was very significant for me, however. It was characterized mainly and lastingly by the experiences of two courses. One was a great boon that furthered an established and heartening passion. The other came to be a harbinger of trouble.
Music and music-making had been un-alloyed pleasures for me since I began accordion lessons in the fifth grade. After they came to an end, I began learning to play the French horn in the eighth grade with Mr. Foley, who had succeeded Mr. Page as band director. It was a small class of novice musicians; I can only remember Mike Jett and Dwight Jones from that time. Seeing my interest and enthusiasm, Mr. Foley encouraged me to join the full band the next year.
I have sung the praises of being in the band in Lee’s Traveller before, so I will not add many more details here. It was a wonderful socialization and learning experience that spanned four years and enriched my life in many ways. Mr. Foley was a fine teacher—one of Lee’s best. He was patient, encouraging, and mild-mannered. I can only remember him losing his temper once when somebody in the trumpet section was clowning around and not paying attention. In a most uncharacteristic reaction, Mr. Foley chunked a blackboard eraser in his direction. Mr. Foley had an excellent, warm rapport with us, but we always knew who was in charge. He helped lead us to the highlight of our Lee High days, our participation in the Orange Bowl Parade in early 1964.
And now to the dark side. It is a truth, universally acknowledged, that the son of a German rocket team member, in seeming possession of the requisite smarts, should study to become an engineer. Not really, of course, but not knowing what I was really fitted for (and how many do at that age?), that’s the road I started down by taking algebra I. My teacher for that course—bless her heart—was Mrs. Cooper, the art teacher. She was a fine human being and probably an excellent art teacher, but I doubt if she had more than the minimum credentials and experience to be teaching algebra. She was an example of the school administration needing to fit a square peg into a round hole. Perhaps the drama that year started off in the front office, as the administrators juggled instructor assignments. Coach Nunley teaching shop that year was another such make-shift decision. The only benefit I got from his course was getting to listen to Bill Mazeroski hit the walk-off home run that won the 1960 World Series for the Pittsburgh Pirates. But I digress.
I don’t remember the individual highlights of the new arithmetical way of thinking very well, but I do recall when we got to the mysteries of word problems in algebra. (Two trains fifty miles apart begin heading toward each other; one is traveling at 45 mph, the other at 37 mph, etcetera, etcetera.) Ed Paulette was in my class, and at first he seemed as baffled as I was about how to solve them. But then the light came on for him, and I recall being very envious that I remained in the dark. Too many things were moving or had to accounted for in these enigmatic situations. I think Ed tried to help me parse things, but the complexity cleared slowly. A few times Mr. Jones, the assistant principal and all-around disciplinarian, came in to teach a class for Mrs. Cooper. Perhaps she had expressed some worries about her lack of skill with the material. Mr. Jones was a good teacher; everything always made sense when he taught. We were certainly very attentive during his teaching session. Anyway, even though there were other bumps in the road, I somehow gained enough understanding of the course to pass it with a 79.5.
How shaky my foundation actually was in algebra was quickly revealed in Mrs. Davis’s algebra II class. I made a 0—an actual zero-- on the first test. That was a deep shock. I think it was my very first goose egg—in anything. But I didn’t panic. I just thought: Okay, I can still come out fine if I make 100 on the next five tests. Hahaha! I scored 20 on the second test. Whoa! Time to recalculate: 0 +20+ 4 100s gets me a 70. I’ll just have to really buckle down the next six weeks. I made a 56 on the third test, and I knew I was doomed. The succession of new concepts continued to slip by me, and I lost my confidence. I don’t even remember how I did on the last 3 tests. I pulled my first F in a course.
“Du bist nur faul.” (You’re just lazy). That’s how my father characterized my failure. That I had made A’s and B’s in my other courses didn’t seem to come into consideration. “Quit reading so much science fiction and get to work on what’s important. I know you’re too smart for this kind of nonsense.” With my troubles, he was reliving a time in his early life when he had let his grades slip and his father had taken action that changed the course of his life. He didn’t quite know what to do with me.
Although I was dogged, bummed, humiliated (get the picture?) by my failure, I probably did try harder the next six weeks. I’m fairly certain I didn’t plummet to another 0, but a firm grasp of the material still eluded me. Another F appeared on the report card.
I was still being lazy, my father said. He suggested I ask a fellow student to tutor me. I did and between the two of us, a miracle happened. I made a B- for the third six weeks. Unfortunately, I only made a 72 on the final semester exam and was unable to pull myself out of the hole I had dug. I got an F for the semester.
That was a failure of significant proportions. Something had to be done. During the break between semesters, my father met with Mrs. Davis. They decided that she would assign me extra homework in the next semester and keep an eye on her floundering student—something any conscientious teacher should naturally do. The additional work and the closer attention helped. I achieved a C average for the second semester, and at the end of the year Mrs. Davis went back and tweaked my first semester’s grade so that it wouldn’t be an F. I hadn’t failed the course, and I didn’t end up in summer school.
After my father’s intervention, I scored mostly B’s in the remaining math courses (geometry, trigonometry, and advanced math) I took at Lee. Ruled by the technological atmosphere of the times, driven by my need to fulfill my father’s hopes for me, and deaf to a spirit within me that faintly urged a different direction for me, I followed the engineering road to Auburn, where my suitability for that career quickly collided with reality. F’s abounded. I only maintained my college eligibility and kept the draft board from snapping me up by making an A in Music Appreciation. At the beginning of my sophomore year, still masquerading as an engineering student, I began taking additional detours into the liberal arts. Then, in the middle of my college journey, I found myself in a bright wood, on a path that beckoned harmoniously—for a few years, anyway.
To be continued.
(Editor's Note: When Rainer sent the above story it reminded me of a song I heard one night when I went to Jackson, Tennessee to see Jim McBride perform at one of his frequent Songwriter's Nights. The song was done by Casey Kelly and was titled "That Road Not Taken". Here's a link to a sample of the song:)
Memphis, TN - My fear of not having internet connections on the road proved warranted and so I had to wait a bit to get this week's issue ready. It is amazing how much we depend upon new technology in our current lives. But all is not lost, for I am now back into the living world and have a working internet connection and can get back to normal.
by Collins Wynn
I ran across this music on YouTube the other day. It is actually very inventive and enjoyable. Some guy (person, could be gal I suppose) put together about 20 seconds of 500 songs from 1960-1964 and it runs over 2 hours. The bits of music are long enough to stir many, many memories. I thought it was really great and think our classmates might enjoy it as well.
Here is the link. And there are several other links to the individual years as well. Enjoy
From Our Mailbox
Subject: Lost Classmate
Does anyone happen to have contact info for Curt Lewis from the Class of 1966? ? I'm trying to track down one of my classmates and have heard he might have info.
Subject: Lee's Traveller
Barb Biggs Knott
I want to commend you on your December and January issues of the Traveller. Your December issues of the Ninth grade brought back so many memories for me. Also as you described the layout of the classrooms etc. I was taken back to my own memories of LHS.
The article you did on ‘I am a Huntsvillian’ was also a reminder of my years in the Rocket City. I was not born in Huntsville or even the South but when my stepdad was transferred to Redstone Arsenal in 1958 I also became a Huntsvillian.
Your memories for both articles were spot on and brought quite a few chuckles as I remembered how I was…especially in the ninth grade. It was definitely a growing up experience for me.
Keep up the fantastic work. I look forward to seeing the newsletter in my inbox every week.
Subject: Last Week's Classmate Photo
Is this Sally Dowdy and Don Stroud?
Subject: Last Week's Issue
Happy New Year to you and Sue!!! I wanted to take a few minutes to once again thank you again for all your hard work and time to prepare the Traveller for us each week. Mary and I took a trip to Huntsville yesterday to visit Harrison Bros. Hardware, and in one of the antique stores that we visited had your books for sale. I bought your latest book for Mom and she was so excited when I called her to tell her that I had bought it for her. She looks forward to each weeks Traveller and always on Sunday when I pick her up for Church “asked me where is Tommy’s Traveller”? Not”so good to see you but where is this weeks Traveller?” She still lives by herself in her apartment in one of the retirement complexes here in Guntersville. She gave up her car last May so that has slowed her down a bit. Hope you both have a wonderful time at Hilton Head. By the way, the gal in the picture is Sally but can’t recognize the fellow.
Once again thanks so much for all you do.
Subject: Last Week's Issue
The lady in this week's photo is Dr. Sally (Dawley) Stroud. Around the fall of 1962, our sophomore year, Sally's father was transferred from Seattle to Huntsville, one of the many "Yankees" (myself included) to join the Melting Pot of cultures that formed our booming city. She was assigned to my Home Room, and since the desks were arranged alphabetically, I started each school day behind "The New Girl" and we became fast friends. When Sally was in nursing school at UAB, I often dropped by her dorm for a visit when in Birmingham for an Auburn football game. When she married Don Stroud, I was proud to stand with them on the altar as a groomsman. It was a special delight to talk with Pam (Clark) Dickens, who was an LHS cheerleader with Sally, at the reception. Don's parents were like a second mother and father to me, Ken Megginson, Craig Bannecke and others. They served as chaperons for our LHS Marching Band's 8-day trip to The Orange Bowl. We marched in the parade and were seated on the field, where we watched Auburn lose to Nebraska 13-7. Jimmy Sidle was the Auburn QB. The halftime show was a tribute to John F. Kennedy, who had been assassinated in Dallas less than 6 weeks earlier, on November 22, 1963.
Back to Sally; Don had finished his tour in the USAF before they married, and they settled in Auburn, where he earned a degree in Aviation Management and she a Ph.D. in nursing. After they parted ways, Sally joined the faculty at The Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, where I think she became Chairman (Chairwoman? Chairperson?) of the MUSC Department of Nursing. Don moved to Birmingham, as the Practice Manager for a group of neurosurgeons, one of whom was yet another LHS '65 classmate and a fellow (to me) Monte Sano Boy, Dr. Chuck Clark. Don and his wife Mary retired to Guntersville, where they live on a giant houseboat. Sally retired in 2014; she and her husband Mike set out on an extended adventure, to camp and kayak westward, sending in an impressive set of photos to a previous issue of The Traveller. Since the background of this snapshot appears to be a campsite, it appears they are still at it. You Go, Girl!
Subject: Upside Down Hill
Sometime back I had gone up to Briarcliff on further up to visit someone. That street T's into Big Cove. I parked my vehicle along the curb on the upside of the street, but as I got out and proceeded diagonally across the street toward their house I had a sensation of falling over as being pulled in that direction. I worked for FEMA in California in '98 after the El Nino rains and experienced something similar. Working with one of the Utility companies we drove up one of the mountain sides to check on a water collection basin that had since been cleared of debris but had been silted badly from the earlier rains. I believe it was located along the San Gabriel Mtns. Anyway, driving up a dirt road to a crest our driver stopped pointing out the oasis down below on that same road where the water collected for transport by pipeline down the mountain. The driver said the pipeline followed the road passed us and on down the mountain to a couple of collection tanks for use by the community. My question was how big a pump was needed to get the water up and over the rise we were parked on. He said it was all gravity fed. No way! Maybe a syphon effect? Nope, gravity. The illusion was the collection basin a quarter mile on further was below our elevation by many feet. He had to prove it to a new boss that didn't believe it either and they brought up a transient at that time. This was a collection basin for potable water use. But the Corps of Engineers have built numerous collection basins around the base of the mountains on a much larger scale with dams and spillways to slowly release collected heavy rainfall runoff to a void flooding down below. One of the roads we came back on and may have been on that same trip, you could see one of the Corps dams in the distance and the far end of the dam was depressed by a good bit belowthe closer end.
So gravity anomalies do exist and Huntsville has one there along Big Cove.
Subject: I Am A Huntsvillian
Darla Gentry Steinberg
Tommy, I really enjoyed this week's article about Huntsville. It brought a lot of memories back to me. I am a 4th generation Huntsvillian. My grandparents and their parents worked in the cotton mills. I went to Rison Elementary School as did my dad before me. We even had some of the same teachers!
And I think the mystery lady is Sally Dawley....not sure who the guy is however.
We received the above photo in our email this week. This was the first time these two Lee classmates have been together in over 45 years. Can you identify them?
The real answer is Sally Dawley and Ben Still!