(The author tells you about growing up in a rural community in central Alabama in the 1940s and 1950s. He relates some of the activities, the people, and their eccentricities and peculiarities)
Probably the most infamous incident, for Ms. Bixie Griffith, my 5th grade teacher, within her “big stick” area of approach to her students, was with Bobby Watkins and his firecrackers.
Bobby was in Ms. Bixie’s 6th grade class in the year in the year that I was in the 5th grade.
Firecrackers were a big no-no
To bring firecrackers on to school property was a big no-no at Red Hill School, for obvious reasons. And to be in possession of them while on the school property was a serious offense. Periodic warnings were issued regarding their dangers, and especially against the possession of them at school. Somehow, word got to Aunt Bixie,( she insisted that all her students call her “Aunt Bixie,”) that one of her students had firecrackers in his possession.
So she calls the class to order and puts on her best good cop persona. “Now children we know that one of you has brought firecrackers to school today, which you know you are not supposed to do. Now I want the person that has done this to be sweet, and do the right thing, and bring them up here to me right now. If you do not, I will have to send you to the principal and it will be much worse for you.”
Punishment for those who break the rules
I think Bobby knew that several others in the class knew that he was the culprit, so he gets up and goes forward to Aunt Bixie’s desk, puts his hands in both of his pockets, and pulls out two handfuls of cherry bombs and piles them on Aunt Bixie’s desk.
Vintage cherry bombs (Wikipedia)
“Now Bobby, make sure that is all you have in your possession.” Bobby reaches down and pulls out several more from the rolled up cuffs of his jeans. “Now Bobby, that was the right thing to do, and I am proud of you. But you know that Aunt Bixie has to punish those who break the rules. So go out side and break me off a limb of the willow tree in the back yard and bring it back to Aunt Bixie.”
Bobby dutifully turns around, walks out, and in a few minutes brings back in to Aunt Bixie a not very large switch for her. “Alright Bobby, lets go to the cloakroom. Children, remain in your desks. We’ll be right back.”
So both of them disappear behind the walls of the cloakroom. In a few seconds we hear: “Now Bobby, bend over for Aunt Bixie like you are supposed to do.”
Smoke pours out of his jeans
The next sounds are the whacks of the limb striking Bobby’s butt. But then smoke starts rolling out the cloakroom doors on each end. Out comes Aunt Bixie, screaming, “Run children, run!” as she rushes out of the cloak room, out the classroom door, and down the hallway, to the rear courtyard outside entrance.
Bobby is right behind her, running and beating on the seat of his pants with the palm of his right hand with sharp whacks, with little smoke signals rising from the seat of his jeans between the whacks. Smoke is pouring from the seat of his jeans, sorta like a warplane that has had the fatal shot into the fuel tank.
The stampede, Aunt Bixie, Bobby, and the entire 5th and 6th grade of Red Hill School finally come to a halt in the court yard at the rear center of the building.
Bobby seems to have his clothing conflagration contained, with a large charred hole in the seat of his jeans. He later pulls his sweater down underneath his jeans to fill in underneath where the rear jean pocket and pant seat used to be. It turned out that Bobby had a rear jean pocket filled with strike anywhere matches. When the switch, with which Aunt Bixie was striking Bobby’s rear jean pocket, began to rub across the match heads, that they would truly strike anywhere was proved with an impressive pyrotechnical display!
Bobby was the youngest son of Mr. Odie and Ms. Ara Watkins. They had two sons, Clifton, the older and Bobby. Ms. Ara was a Griffith, and her father, Mr. Freeman Griffith, lived with them in a house on the northwest corner of what is now Red Hill Road and Castaway Island Road. He was the son of a Civil War veteran and was up in years when this incident occurred.
When Mr. Freeman found out about the incident, as he sat on the front porch of their house, smoking his pipe, he is said to have remarked: “Well, I have heard folks say that ‘that kid ought to have the fire beat out of him’, but that is the first time I ever knowed of it happenin!”
Mr. Freeman died in the late summer of 1949 at the age of 81.