Commentary

The day I got kicked out for playing noisy chess

Forty years ago this week the Rockdale School Board did something remarkable.

It accepted the resignations/ retirements of four teachers.

What’s remarkable about that, don’t school boards deal with those routine personnel matters every month?

Not like this. Here are the four teachers and their lengths of service, most of it in Rockdale:

Ida Jo Marshall, 52 years; Vashti Smith, 45 years; Frankie McDonald, 45 years; Gertrude Green, 30 years.

That’s a total of 172 years service for the four teachers.

It was a different era, back then, in more ways than one. Young women, fresh out of college, would often teach at one of Milam’s many rural schools, sometimes in remote areas.

Then they’d move into the “big city,” like Rockdale or Cameron or Thorndale, where many of them found a niche and some became legendary, like these four. Frankie McDonald was one of the Aycock teachers who moved into the Rockdale ISD and ended long and distinguished careers in education there.

Gertrude “Tot” Green lived to be 96, passing away a little more than a decade ago. She spent many years in a variety of rural Milam schools before coming to Rockdale.

Vashti Smith taught history. I think my love for maps can be traced to the set of brightly-colored pull-down maps she used at the front of her room in the basement of the long-gone old junior-high building.

That room seemed to be bigger than all the other rooms, as I recall. There was space between the last row of desks and the back wall and it was dark back there.

There were book shelves and supplies piled high at odd angles but I don’t recall us ever going to the back quarter of the room.

It was sort of like something out of Stephen King. But, of course, he hadn’t been born yet.

It was to that room, and Miss Smith, we went, as eighth-graders, on that terrible 1963 day when President Kennedy was shot, just up the road in Dallas.

One of my burned-into-brain memories of that day was of Miss Smith standing there, furious, just fuming that such a thing had happened.

“Ignorance, just ignorance!” she sputtered to herself, over and over, long before anyone knew any details of the shooting.

Even then, I think I realized that would be the expected reaction of a teacher. Ignorance had to be the cause of this, whoever did it obviously hadn’t been educated properly, couldn’t have been.

Ida Jo Marshall was the high school librarian. Wait, that understates it, she was the high school library itself!

Ask anyone who went to RHS during that period and they’ll tell you it’s impossible to think of our library and not think of Mrs. Marshall.

She would not have required all the, shall we say, “due process” involved in the education and municipal systems of today. Mrs. Marshall was perfectly capable of creating, enacting and enforcing library rules on the spot.

We all have our Mrs. Marshall stories. Here’s one of mine.

A buddy of mine—he passed away a couple of years ago, *sigh*—had a portable chess set and we’d take it out and play a game at study halls or when we got free time.

(I can hear you snickering out there. It’s a well-known fact that chess players got the girls in RHS in the 1960s. The football guys were so jealous of us.)

During one particularly loud session after a math class, we c ou ld n’t c onc ent r ate so we asked teacher Ruth Kirk for, and received, permission to move our chess game to the library, where we knew it would be quieter.

Which we did. Deep in concentration on how to defend my queen from an attack by my buddy’s knight and bishop I was suddenly roused from thought by a thundering, familiar, voice from the other side of the library.

“WHAT ARE YOU BOYS DOING OVER THERE?”

Who, us? We looked over at the north wall—we were at the south wall, the entire length of the packed library between us and the voice—and weren’t real sure how to respond.

Finally my friend, was able to croak out our reply—“uhmm, uh, playing chess?”

‘ YOU CA N’ T DO THAT IN HERE! YOU’RE DISTURBING EVERYONE IN THE LIBRARY.”

We looked around. Sure enough, everyone from wall to wall certainly appeared to have been disturbed.

They looked up from their books—libraries once contained books, trust me—at her, then for the first time noticed us, wondering what the racket was about.

“YOU TAKE THAT OUT OF HERE RIGHT NOW, SO THIS LIBRARY CAN GET BACK TO NORMAL!”

We complied, as I recall, gingerly carrying the board between us so as not to disturb the position of the game, stepping over swooning girls at our feet until we could get out the door.

Many years later, in my job for The Reporter, I would be called to the school for pictures of the winners of the RHS Chess Club’s tourney.

Guess where it was held? Yep, the library. This was pre-2009 (new school) and it was the same library from my era.

I took the pictures but I must admit to looking nervously over my shoulder the whole time.

Somewhere I knew someone was watching. And I wasn’t sure how she felt about it!

mike@rockdalereporter.com


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2012-06-21 digital edition



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