By Karen Brode
Daddy held my hand as we walked up the steps to the junior high. I watched the boys and girls walking to their classes and wished that I was old enough to go to school. After we got inside, I looked in all the classrooms we passed. Teachers were writing things on chalkboards and students had books open on their desks. A woman asked my dad who we were looking for.
“I’m looking for Mr. Redwine, the principal.” he said in a gruff voice. I could tell he was upset by the way his chest puffed out and how he held my hand in a tighter grip. He had just found out that my brother John had failed seventh grade for the year. All along, he thought my brother was an honor student, but then suddenly he’s failing? On the way over in the car, he had railed about how unfair it was and how he wasn’t going to stand for it. By the time we walked into the principal’s office, his round face was red, his brown eyes were blazing, and he his mouth was turned down, showing lines I had never seen before.
Mr. Redwine stood up from behind his desk. He was tall and lean with a crisp suit and tie. He had a thick head of brown hair that curled a little at the top of his forehead. He shook Daddy’s hand before offering him a seat. Daddy pulled me up on his lap. On the desk was a sign that said, “Valton Redwine, Principal.” Even though I wasn’t in school yet, I could already read.
Daddy started in right away. “Mr. Redwine, I have looked at my boy’s report cards each six weeks. I know what kind of grades he’s made all year. I signed his report cards. And now he comes home at the end of the year and says that he failed. I just don’t understand.”
The principal took a file out of a cabinet nearby and glanced at it before laying it on his desk. “Mr. Hawk,” he said. “It looks as if John has taken an extended vacation this year. He has been absent for weeks and his grades reflect his lack of attendance.” He handed the file to my father.
Daddy looked at John’s grades for the year and his whole body deflated as he read each line. John had failed very class. He had missed school for most of the year. Daddy’s frown deepened. He looked sick as he handed the file back to Mr. Redwine.
“I’m sorry to have troubled you,” he said sliding me back to my feet and standing up. “I will talk to my boy about this.”
Daddy was quiet as we walked back through the halls. His chest no longer puffed out and his shoulders sagged as we stepped down the steps of the school.
When we drove up to the house, Mother was out in the front yard working in her flower bed.
“Where is that rotten son of yours?” Daddy said as he got out of the car and slammed the door.
“He’s at school, Albert,” she said, confused. “You saw him leave this morning.”
“The hell he is,” Daddy snorted. “No telling where that jughead is!”
Mother looked alarmed. “What are you talking about?”
“He hasn’t been going to school all year, Hazel! That’s what I’m talking about!”
Mother’s round eyes blinked in confusion. She had seen the report cards, too. She had said a number of times how glad she was to see his grades improving over the year.
Daddy went to the bedroom and laid down. Sometimes he read when he was in bed, but on that day he just closed his eyes. I could tell he had a headache. It was one of those times when I knew well enough to just stay in my room.
When John came home that afternoon, I watched as Daddy followed him to his room.
“How was your day, John?” he asked, his voice controlled but low.
“Oh, you know,” John said with casual flippancy. “Tomorrow is the last day of school.”
Daddy’s laugh came out like a hard bark. ”Oh yeah? How would you know since you haven’t been at school most of the year?”
John’s eyes widened and the smile he had melted from his face.
“I’ve had it,” Daddy nearly spat the words. “I can’t take anymore! You have just about finished me off!” He rubbed his temples with his thumb and third finger as if his head hurt. “How do you think I felt going to see Mr. Redwine this morning only to find out that you haven’t even been going to school?” He pulled his hand from his head and stared hard at John. “I guess you changed your grades on your report cards all year?”
At this, John’s eyes sparkled with mischief. The corners of his mouth twitched like the cat who caught the canary.
Daddy exploded. “This is all funny as hell to you! You’re gonna think it’s funny when you get out there and bust your butt trying to make a living.” He paused and rubbed his head again. Then, in a more controlled tone, he said, “I’m telling you just once. You get a job by the end of this week or I will get you a job picking cotton. Do you understand?”
John looked away. His whole body seemed to sink to the ground. He mumbled that he understood.
Mother had walked up behind Daddy and was standing silently there when he turned to go back down the hall. Her eyes were wide with pain as she stared at John in disbelief.
Karen Brode grew up in Denison, TX and graduated from Denison High School in 1972. She took courses at Southeastern Oklahoma State University and worked in a church office for 25 years. She and her husband, Gary, have been married 39 years and they have one son, Brandon. Karen’s hobbies are writing, sewing, and gardening.