I did not always want to be an educated person, and upon reflection, I’m not so sure that I am now. Back in the 1950s when I was in high school, I could only think about two things, driving a great car and having a good looking girlfriend. I had absolutely no intention of going to college; I hated high school and loved working. I had very colorful report cards because the grades below passing were written in red ink; my report cards were liberally sprinkled with red. My plan was to get the minimal number of credits required for graduating and then head out into the world.
My junior and senior year I attended classes for about four hours in the morning and then went to work around 1 p.m. I usually worked until 9 p.m. I was working full time, at my father’s company for minimum wage. Two dollars per hour seemed like a lot of cash to me in 1959, and I got a bunch of overtime in the spring. The entire time I worked for my father’s company, I never once made more money than anyone else at my pay grade. He made it abundantly clear that I would receive no special favors.
My senior English teacher, Miss Stevenson, didn’t much care whether I wanted to be in her class or not, she was going to teach me as much as she could, even if I wasn’t trying to learn. She had us read a lot of good literature, some of which I didn’t like. But, a lot of those assignments included me choosing something from her book list that I actually wanted to read. Because I love to read, I read a lot of books and if they were on Miss Stevenson’s “read list” they had to be great literature. Toward the end of that year, we had to read one book from her list and write a comprehensive report about that book. My grades on the grammar portion of the class were just below passing, because I almost never did the homework assignments. This assignment was my chance to get my grade back up to passing.
I do not remember the name of the book that I read for my report, but I loved it and worked harder than I had ever worked on any homework assignment. I wrote and re-wrote that report until it was perfect. I proudly turned it in to Miss Stevenson. The next day she asked me to stay after class for a “conference.” I was sure she was going to compliment me on writing a great report. Wow — was I ever wrong! She started that “conference” by asking who had written my report. She said, “You have never done work of this quality and I know you didn’t write it.” No amount of explanation on my part could convince her otherwise. Finally she offered a compromise, she said, “Rewrite this report, without any help and bring it back to me.”
I rewrote my report, intentionally misspelling several words, using no commas, taking out a few sentences, rewriting them and adding all but one back. I turned in my revised report and two days later she handed it back with a letter grade of C — and I was thrilled! But then she said, “After school you and I have a conference with the principal.” I was concerned she was going to tell him I had cheated on that report. Thankfully, I was wrong again; the conference was short and to the point. They told me my year-end grade average was 68, not passing.
I replied, “I’ll go to summer school and take senior English again.” Almost in unison they said loudly (not quite yelling) “No! We want you gone from this school, so we’re giving you a conditional passing grade. That condition is, you will never get a recommendation to go to college. Your transcript will show that we believe you are not college material and shouldn’t be admitted.” That was fine with me; I hated school and was happy to get out any way I could.
My dad was in a conspiracy with Miss Stevenson even though he never met the woman, and she didn’t know he existed. But they conspired to get me educated without having a single conversation. They were both sneakily pushing me to become at least a little more educated, against my hardened determination to never go to school again. Here’s the story.
I’m sure she didn’t mean to, but Miss Stevenson by refusing my report because I couldn’t possibly have written it showed me that I was capable of more than minimal academic achievement. Heck, I had never tried before that report, I really didn’t think I could do college-level work until that incident. But by not giving me the “A” I deserved on that report, she enlightened me just a little. That combined with $2 per hour that my father knew would never be enough was a conspiracy; a sneaky conspiracy for which I am thankful for almost every day of my life.
My dad, recognizing that I would soon tire of working for $2 per hour, told me that if I ever decided to go to college, he’d help me. He also had a friend that was academic dean at a small junior college about 50 miles away. Well, after about six months of seeing all my buddies come home from college, and hearing about all the fun they were having, and the many attractive females they could date, and, that $2 per hour soon wasn’t enough to pay for my new car and have money for fun, I suddenly had a lot of motivation to go to college. I told my dad I wanted to go and we visited his friend, the dean at Mitchell College. That man looked at my transcript and said, “You will probably need to take remedial English for no college credit before you can actually take college-level courses; unless of course you can do well on our remedial English entrance exam.”
A month later I was registered at Mitchell Junior College. The third day I took that remedial entrance English exam. Thanks to Miss Stevenson’s excellent English class, I killed that exam. I didn’t need to take remedial English. However, I will admit I do continue to struggle with grammar. And, that first year at Mitchell College, my English professor jokingly asked me if English was a second language for me.
Rod Hunter lives in East Bend and is an avid hiker, biker, photographer and nature lover. He is the past state chairman of the Sierra Club of NC. He volunteers as a court-appointed children’s advocate for children in foster care and with Cancer Services Inc. He is a two-time cancer survivor. He has backpacked in Alaska, Arizona, California, Utah, Oregon, New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Georgia, Virginia, and of course North Carolina.