I have been reviewing some old writings about my days at Williston 9th Grade Center. Click here to read an earlier story about Ms. Gooden.
I always dreaded going back to school after a long break, but the morning of January 2, 1972 was the worst. Heading to the bus stop, I shuffled my feet like a man going to the gallows. A pall had hung over the entire break. I boarded bus #23 and sat silently in the back as we traveled up South College Road to Roland Grice. Everyone got off. The seventh and eighth graders headed out to play while those of us who were ninth graders climbed into another bus for the shuttle downtown to Williston. This was the first year of cross-town (actually cross-county) busing, which for me meant that the first hour and a half of each school day was devoted to riding in or waiting on buses. The same was true for the afternoon, another hour and a half of waiting and riding. This was the price we paid to be a part of a court-ordered social experience. On January 2nd, the ride took even longer.
I don’t remember who made the first dare. Right before the fourth period bell, standing in the back of Ms. Gooden’s room, Abraham, Mike and I dared and doubled-dared each other to toss out the window some of the old outdated books stored in the shelves along the back wall. As it was with the first bite into Eve’s apple, after the first book flew out the window, the rest became easier. We each tossed a couple out into the bushes below by the time the bell rang. Ms. Gooden came in from the hall and began to teach. It was the last day of school before the Christmas break.
Our indiscretions should have ended then. But it didn’t. As fate would have it, Ms. Gooden left the room for a few minutes during the class. We came up with another dare. In the back of the room was a filing cabinet where the former teacher, now an assistant principal, had stored years of test papers. I don’t remember which one of us was the natural litterer, but soon a file folder of papers sailed across the front yard. Someone joked about snow. We all got into the act. Wilmington hadn’t had a white Christmas in a hundred years and we were out to change that. A brief snow flurry ensued, blanketing Williston’s front lawn. The flurries died down as soon as we heard Ms. Gooden’s high-heels clicking down the hall. We jumped in our seats, covered our smirks with our hands, and tried to act like nothing had happened. A few moments later, the principal, Mr. Howie, stormed into the room. He didn’t bother to knock or ask permission. I’d never seen a black man so red.
“Who threw those papers out the windows?” he shouted.
Our smirks retreated in the face of his anger. The three of us, an unholy trinity, sat there praying that no one would rat us out.
“You’d better have their names in my office by the end of the period,” he warned his young teacher before stomping out the door.
Ms. Gooden walked back to our corner, her heels clicking with each step. Then she just stood there. There’s nothing worst than having a gorgeous woman look at you with big, sad, disappointed eyes. We immediately forgot that she was on the other side, a teacher, and confessed to our misdemeanors. After class we headed to lunch while Ms. Gooden went down to the principal’s office.
Our final two classes of the day were dreadfully long. The three of us walked around, looking rejected, kind of like the Pakistani soldiers who’d just been defeated in by the Indians in what is now Bangladesh. We kept waiting for that dreaded speaker above the chalkboard to call out our names and tell us to report to the office. Our prayers must have been effective or, more likely, Mr. Howie and company were looking forward to their holiday every bit as much as us. The summons never came.
Having safely made it through the last day of school, I assumed our actions would catch up with us the first day back after the holidays. I headed back to school, fully expecting to be sent back home, suspended for at least a week. But to my surprise, nothing more was said about the strange snowfall that December day. I often wondered what kind of conversation had gone on between Ms. Gooden and Mr. Howie, but I never inquired. It was best to let that sleeping dog lie.