CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- So now there's a regulation in West Virginia schools governing student speech and which allows any of the staff to judge and summarily punish foul language? Hmm.
Glenwood School sat on a hillcrest, halfway between Bluefield and Princeton. It was a two-story, slate-roofed red brick 1900-ish structure on a basement foundation laid of huge handcut sandstones. That basement housed the furnaces and coal that fed them, a storage area and small room with a few dinky power tools for last-period-of-the-day Boy's Shop Class. The room was too small for all 12 of the eighth grade boys at once, so while a few used it, the others played volleyball outside.
Directly over that tiny room was my home room, where the girls were taught something or other while we boys were engaged in manual edification. A return air register in the floor near the teacher's desk connected to the lower room. Right under it was the rudimentary pottery wheel at which eighth grade Danny was working one fine 1952 day. The only other present was our star baseball pitcher, 10 feet away, rolling a mudball.
While I was intently putting the finishing touches on an ashtray for my mother, who did not smoke, my head was suddenly jarred by that fist-sized mudball thrown overhand from across the room. It filled my ear and hair and hurt ferociously. My reflexive action, as the villain ran from the room guffawing, was to scream (his name) plus "you," then all those words abbreviated by G.D.S.O.B. They were the worst words I knew to call someone, learned from my father and much older brother, who, as good UMW members, always used them to preface the name of the mine superintendent at the Jenkinjones operation of Pocahontas Fuel Co. (now Consol) where they worked.
In the restroom, I had washed off as much sticky clay as I could, when the next-to-last bell rang, summoning everyone to final homeroom.
My homeroom teacher, about 35, recently married to a CPA and fellow Methodist, was the strictest in the school, with a glower that would kill roaches. She had recognized my distinctive voice (hordes have said, "You sound just like Dan Rather.") and was waiting for me at the door. All my classmates were seated, looking at her.
As my first foot crossed the threshold, she stepped dead square in front of me, flat-hand slapped my left cheek hard as she could, then backhanded the other. Both immediately turned red, as much from humiliation as pain -- I saw all my classmates laughing loud and long, that assailant among them.
Shoving her face into mine like a drill instructor, she shouted, "I have never heard such foul language in all my life. You will apologize to all these girls who heard your nasty mouth and beg their forgiveness."
Sheepishly and stutteringly, I did. Then the final bell rang. It ended there, except that my already low self-esteem was plunged to deeper depths, with it, more of my faith that God is just.