Gene Deloach was disciplined by his teacher, Mrs. Myrtle Peavy, every day in third grade at Pinehurst Elementary. Those who know him well won’t be too surprised by that. She mostly popped his open palm with a ruler. He says he doesn’t remember why he was constantly in trouble. I have some theories, but we’ll save those for perhaps another column.
Gene is almost 77 now, 12 years older than me. The Deloaches were our neighbors, friends, and fellow church members when I was growing up in rural Dooly County. It’s always been obvious that Gene was inoculated with an overdose of mischief. Miss Myrtle probably did not find that amusing.
The next school term he was back in Miss Myrtle’s third-grade class. She was a good teacher, and I’m sure was not enthusiastic about their spending another year together. Gene, meanwhile, felt the humiliation of failure, of being singled out from his peers. It was a low point in his young life.
Mrs. Sara Horne walked by. She asked Gene what he was doing there, inquiring why he wasn’t in her fourth-grade class. He told her, with embarrassment, that he was being held back. She said, “Gene, get your things and go to my room. Take the second seat on the left-hand side.”
Gene told her that he couldn’t do that, but Miss Sara didn’t give him a choice. She sent him on his way and told her friend, Myrtle, that she was promoting Gene. She told her she would give him whatever attention he needed to get back on track, and that’s what she did. Seven decades later Gene still fondly recounts that day: “That woman saved my life. I won’t ever forget what she did for me.”
Gene was exceptionally well behaved in the fourth grade. He loved Miss Sara for giving him a chance, for boldly casting her vote of confidence. The last thing he wanted to do was disappoint her.
He waited until the fifth grade to renew his membership in The Spanking Club. He helped some classmates hold Juanita Parnell so Henry Stane could kiss her. Henry could roll his eyes up in his head and make girls squeamish. There were no volunteers in line to kiss Henry Stane.
Fifth-grade teacher Mrs. Undean Bowen was not amused by this poorly conceived recess game. She gave those boys a choice of a paddling or either writing 500 times, “I will not hold girls for Henry Stane to kiss.” They began writing, but Gene changed his mind well before his pencil needed sharpening.
He didn’t know that Miss Undean was just outside the door. “I ain’t writing no more,” said Gene, “I’ll just take the whipping!” Then he confidently added, “And she ain’t gonna make me cry!”
I don’t know if she made him cry or not, but she made him wish he had kept writing. Juanita laughed for several days. She asked Gene if he wanted to hold her so Henry could kiss her again.
Gene went through the eighth grade in Pinehurst, then rode Mr. Smith Dennard’s 1946 school bus to Unadilla for the ninth. He graduated from Unadilla in 1958 and joined the Navy, mostly because he was tired of hoeing cotton. He envisioned how good the farm would look in his rear-view mirror.
Gene, Ware Peavy, and some other fellows went to Atlanta to take the required Navy tests. Later that night he was on a plane to San Diego, then boarded a truck that looked like it was made for hauling cattle. Bouncing along in the back of that big truck, he realized there might be things worse than chopping cotton. He served three years in the Navy and got out just before he turned 21.
Gene farmed a long time with his brother, Johnny Paul, then owned and operated R&D Heating and Cooling. Health issues have slowed him down a bit, but had little effect on his mischievous spirit.
Nothing that Gene learned in fourth grade was more valuable than that first day’s lesson. You don’t have to look far to find someone he has helped. In 1964, when I was 11, Daddy was in a bad car wreck. Gene and Johnny Paul planted our peanuts. They didn’t ask Daddy. They just told him it would be taken care of. It reminds me of Miss Sara’s approach to helping that Gene had seen years before.
Miss Sara went the second mile to help Gene. He’s gone the second mile for a lot of folks since then. Gene says he won’t ever forget what Mrs. Sara Horne did for him. Our family won’ t ever forget what Gene Deloach did for us. His mind is filled to the brim with mischief, but his heart is solid gold.