Dammit I’m not one to poke around online and see what is going on with classmates from high school, but I was looking for an old friend and ran across a class roster that mentioned a classmate of mine was dead. Not the one I was looking for, hell, I haven’t even thought of her since high school.
It doesn’t say what happened to her, and I don’t know anyone who would know, so I Googled her name and got nothing. She might have died before there even was a Google.
Deborah J. was my first school friend, and we started first grade during the early years of desegregation in the South. Our teacher had just come back from maternity leave and asked us two girls to stay in for recess to do some makeup work. That is when Deborah and I made friends, during that recess period. When the teacher returned and caught us giggling, she accused us cheating.
I don’t even think we knew what that was, cheating, but Mrs. S pulled out a wooden paddle and called us to her desk. She looked at me and said I could go outside. She didn’t spank me. I waited just outside the door, out of sight, and I heard the three loud smacks she gave Deborah. The little girl came out of the classroom, stoic, but when she saw me waiting for her, a smile stretched her face. I didn’t understand why she got hit and I didn’t, but I had a pretty good idea it had something to do with her being black.
No one liked Deborah, not even the black kids. Everyone told me she was just too damn mean. She might have been mean to them, but to me, she always had my back. She’d also sit behind me in class and braid my hair over and over again. She was studious and didn’t like it when any of the kids misbehaved in class, so maybe a bit too straight laced and strung up too tight. But a cheater she was not.
Anyway, I hadn’t thought about the paddling since it happened. The knowledge of her death brought back that memory. I’m just realizing now that the teacher had probably been on maternity leave for a couple of years as pregnant women were not allowed to teach back in those days. I’ve read they had to take two years off for that.
So this day she returned and kept us in for recess? Her first day teaching in a desegregated school. Deborah, I think, got spanked for more than just being black. She got it for having the nerve to make friends with a white kid.
That is what happened to my friend Deborah. May her soul rest in eternal peace.