When my Papa, your great-grandfather, was 13 years old, he went to junior high school in a small town in Oklahoma. His daddy was pretty well known in the town because he had been in charge of building all the roads. That year, the year that Papa was 13, the old principal of the junior high school retired and a new man, George Pierce, became the principal. Principal Pierce was a big man who walked with a little limp, and he didn’t like Papa’s daddy because he disagreed with him about how the town should be run. The principal knew who Papa’s daddy was, so he watched Papa and waited for a chance to make trouble. That chance came one day when Papa’s teacher asked him to run down to the corner drug store to pick up some medicine for her. Papa went down, got what the teacher needed and came straight back to school. Just as he came inside, though, Principal Pierce saw him and accused him of skipping school. Papa tried to explain that he’d just been down to pick something up for Miss Lawrence, but Principal Pierce wouldn’t accept that. He said that he was going to give Papa a whipping for skipping school. At first Papa didn’t think too much of it. Spankings were pretty common then, and a little whack wouldn’t hurt a strong boy like him. But Principal Pierce had something else in mind. He went down to the shop teacher and had him make up a special paddle, a big one with holes drilled in it.
When he came back, Papa said, “You aren’t going to touch me with that paddle.”
“I certainly am,” said Principal Pierce.
“If you touch me with that paddle, I’ll tell my daddy and my brother, and you know what they’ll do to you,” said Papa.
“I am the principal of this school, and I’m telling you that I am either going to paddle you with this or you can go home suspended for three days.”
“Oh, I’ll go home,” said Papa, “but not for any three days.” And with that, he walked out, cleaned out his locker and marched straight down the street to where the Catholic school was. Protestant kids could enroll there by paying one dollar a week, so Papa signed himself right up. He had a job at nights, and he knew he could pay for it.
And he never even told his Mama and Daddy. He paid that dollar a week all by himself, and every morning he left for school with his twin sister, and then she went to the public school and he went on down the street. That was the last year that Papa went to school, and the beginning of his independence.