I was a nine-year-old fourth grader and that fight on the school bus was just the latest in about four years of them. However, with one exception, it was my last. Mr. Whatley saw to that.
Mr. Whatley was the Principal of a new elementary school in a new (1954) subdivision in an old North Georgia county seat. Textiles and paper were the big wage industries, but children still were allowed a 'cotton picking excuse' when the family crop came in. The kids I went to school with had Fathers who were WWII veterans, mostly, and Mothers who didn't work. Just about everyone I knew had been born and raised in or near the town. I was one of the few exceptions.
My dad had been a construction electrician, so we moved a lot. The new school was the fifth one for me. Kindergarten in Milwaukee, Wisconsin was in a tough neighborhood. One day, I came home crying because several older kids had jumped me. My Dad's response was some version of: 'If you come in here crying again because you got beat up, I'll really give you something to cry about.' At four years of age I had to take on every kid close to my size so that I could walk down the street without getting hit by a rock. At the first grade school in Florida, I was prepared to deal with being the new kid and quickly developed a reputation as the boy who would not back down, ever. And so it went.
At nine, I didn't go looking for fights, nor was I a bully. It's just that provocations came easily and my violent response was even faster. The place or the opponent's size did not matter at all. A morning school bus was as good a place as any for a fight and I must have felt justified. Mr. Whatley did not agree.
He had an 'any man' sort of look and the glasses and skinny arms didn't help.
However, he was The Principal and an assured leader, so the summons to his office that day certainly was not going to lead to anything pleasant (they paddled in those days). I did not get what was expected, and that man changed my life that day.
Mr. Whatley talked to me for a long time, but the words are lost in time. Whatever he said, I walked out of that office understanding that while standing up for yourself and being proud and brave are fine, a quick temper was something to get rid of and personal fights rarely accomplished anything. It just was not a proper way to behave.
Years later I went to visit a then retired Mr. Whatley wearing my Army officer's dress uniform adorned with the medals recently awarded during my combat service as a Cobra helicopter pilot. He did not remember our 'conversation', but accepted my thanks with his natural grace and dignity. I absolutely believed what he taught me and still do today. It was a lesson I worked to instill in my own son when the time came. Mr. Whatley is now gone, but never forgotten.
Submitted by Anonymous
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