I thought I’d tell you a story about how I won a partial scholarship to Texas A&M, and how it really started with an
argument I had with a Home Economics teacher in Buckholts, Texas my very first day at this new school. Most of the stories that include me losing my temper end rather badly for me, but this one had a good result.
As I may have mentioned, my stepfather was (and still, is) a high school sports coach by profession, and growing up, he moved us upwards of 36 times. Sometimes we returned to towns we’d lived in before, but for the most part, I’ve gone to a ton of different schools, and rarely stayed long enough at any of them to put down real roots or to even bother remembering the teacher’s names. The two exceptions to this rule was Harlingen, Texas, where I would always return to the Christian private school, and Buckholts, Texas, a tiny town with a tiny public school. I went to my first day of high school in Buckholts, and unusual for us, I actually stayed at this same school for two whole school years. Buckholts was the keeper of a lot of my “Firsts” memories…first boyfriend, first kiss, first time I shaved my legs, etc. You get the idea.
Ask anyone who knew me in Buckholts back then, you’ll probably find that most people only remember me in connection to my football/basketball/track coach stepfather, and very few will have any direct memories of me. I had long figured out how to blend in the background, and added to the horror show that was going on in my family life, I was just fine with being overlooked. There are a few exceptions, of course, but I wasn’t a blabber mouth then like I tend to be these days, and I always felt self-conscious about people noticing me. So, I was pretty forgettable.
Being a tiny little school, my choice of electives my freshman year was a pretty short list– Home Economics or Agriculture. Now, as tough as you might get the impression I am, being a biker chick and all, make no mistake. I’m a girly girl. I like girl stuff like pretty clothes, fingernail polish, hair ribbons, and when I was little, playing house. I could keep up with the boys when it came to climbing trees or playing tag, but my preference was always to have tea parties and wear aprons. So, it was kind of a no-brainer which one I picked…Home Economics. Agriculture sounded like I would have to get dirty, and that wasn’t all that appealing to me.
The very first day, the Home Ec teacher, I forget her name, instructed us to write a bit about ourselves and our families and then read it in front of the class. Now, it was obvious that this was her very first teaching job, and she was youthful and exuberant about launching her chosen career. Frankly, I think she let all the new-found power she felt about locking down her first paid teaching job go to her head, and that coupled with the fact that she was probably at best, 8 years older than us, just set up the perfect storm for our first ever interaction with one another.
I wrote a generic piece about my family, choosing to not share any intimate details about my own father, or the crushing divorce that wounded my very soul, or how my mom’s remarriage had all but taken her away from me too…on and on. I, instead, wrote names, ages, where we had lived, and stuff like that. Nothing personal or detailed. My family life wasn’t a story I ever shared with anyone. Period. Just too heavy for a “What I Did This Summer” kind of assignment. That’s how I saw it, anyways. The Home Ec teacher, though, was expecting my full and unbridled participation….
The Home Ec teacher, who was a big, somewhat notorious town gossip, had already heard the scoop about the new coach and his family over the summer, and she already had in her mind what she was expecting me to say. When I didn’t go into the gory details, not mentioning the divorce at all, she called me out immediately..and very publicly.. about not telling her and the class about my real father and how Coach was just my stepfather. She grilled me about my real father, a subject that had long been forbidden to talk about at home, right in front of the whole class!! I could feel the tears and hot embarrassment climbing from the pit of my stomach up towards my face. I could feel all eyes looking at me, and the shame at the thought of breaking down crying in front of these people was intense. She accused me of being misleading and dishonest in my report and she didn’t appreciate me not being more open with her and my fellow classmates. She was trying to sound authoritative, but all I could hear was that snarky, gossipy whine in her voice, and I could feel the rage building up. Seriously. What stones…!!!!
I think you know exactly how I reacted. First, I hated attention, so getting called out by the teacher in front of a bunch of kids I didn’t know, on my very first day of high school was distressing, to say the least. Second, I don’t owe anyone an autobiography of the mess that was my family, and especially not about the dad I had installed on a pedestal in my mind, and who I had been forbidden to talk about at all, and third, if she made me cry in front of these people, I would die of humiliation..Just what exactly did any of my life history have to do with baking a damn cake or sewing together some random pieces of material into a quilt?? My mind groped for what this teacher could have possibly been thinking to get so incredibly personal with me, and in front of all these strange kids, when we didn’t know each other at all, but nothing came to mind that could explain this behavior. My mind still reels at the audacity!
I remember my temper flaring up in what can only be described as Blackout Range, and I went off! I can’t even remember exactly what I said, but I do know that I was yelling, mainly because she had embarrassed me, and I wrapped up my tirade by dramatically ripping the stupid report in half, throwing the pieces on the floor, and telling her next time, she could just keep her nose out my beep-beep business. Then, I marched out of the class room, head held high, quick as I could. Feeling the blaring red heat on my cheeks, I knew I was about to break down in tears, and not wanting the other classmates to see me cry, I beat a hasty retreat. I didn’t want to have been THAT girl… you know, the one who cried on her very first day of high school, at a brand new school. I’d never rebound after that. I’d be bully- fodder for sure if that got out….
I went straight to the gym and found my stepfather, half crying and half yelling my story out to him, in front of yet another group of kids I hadn’t met. I was making all kinds of first impressions that day. It was a gym, so there was nowhere to go that was private, and my rage was at such a level, I didn’t even care who heard me anymore. He listened, a confused look on his face, and then he escorted me to the principal’s office, the whole time not saying one word to me…As we entered the office, we came face to face with the insulted teacher, evidently pouring out her side of the tale before the new coach’s kid could cause too much damage. She sounded just as gossipy then as she had in the classroom, and I could tell from the principal and my stepdad’s faces, they were unsure how this strange incident had gone so terribly wrong in such a big way, and on the very first day of the school year, no doubt.
Now, in the entire time I’ve ever known my stepfather, I have never seen him get angry on my behalf, or even stick up for me in any kind of verbal assault. We aren’t close, and never will be. But this time, he seemed a little bit out of sorts with the nosy teacher, and he became brisk and authoritative. He politely informed the Home Ec teacher that she had overstepped her bounds, and that what we chose to share with people about our family was our business, and not something we owed to practical strangers or something we should be graded on, and he told the principal that he wanted me pulled from that class and put in to something else. Then, he abruptly left the office, leaving me standing with a confused principal and a nervous, panicky Home Ec teacher that had finally realized she’d misread the quiet new girl to a very large degree and maybe let her mouth run a bit excessively for her own good comfort… Not an auspiciousness start to the new school year for any of us, really.
The principal immediately walked me to the Ag Shop, and introduced me to my new teacher…an old man, with a missing digit on one hand. Yes, a total cliché, but completely true. And that was my first day taking Agriculture. For the two years in Buckholts, and the remaining years that I moved from high school to high school, I stayed in Agriculture programs as much as I was able. I raised chickens for FFA, and won Grand Prize, second, and third places at a major stock/rodeo shows, and earned myself a partial scholarship to Texas A&M, plus over $5000 selling the butchered chickens to Golden Fried Chicken in Cameron, Texas.
I was FFA Sweetheart, twice, and FFA Vice President one year. I used my first home computer in Ag class, and wrote a simple DOS program on a TRS-80 that helped me place in District contests for Agriculture, FFA, and UIL. Later, I would go to tech school to learn computer programming. I ended up learning how to build a table, construct a birdhouse, weld, and most of all, I learned that I am not skilled in the art of building things with my hands, welding, putting together pre-fab birdhouses, or balancing a table. But, I loved every minute of it… I wouldn’t trade those memories for all the world.
So, I can’t stay mad at the nosy, pushy, gossipy Home Ec teacher any more. I have a million wonderful memories attached to FFA, Agriculture, 4H and all those shop skills I sucked so badly at, and I can’t imagine how baking cakes and sewing clothes would ever have been able to compare. All in all, it was one time my temper actually worked in my favor.