Able Tucker was born in much the same way that all babies are born. He had a one year old birthday party, and a two-year old birthday party, and a three-year old birthday. But when he turned four, as some folks do, he went right from being a baby sucking down milk to being a fifty year old man and sucking the joy and fun out of any room he entered. On Able Tucker’s four-year old birthday, his momma baked him a cake and invited some children that lived near his home in town over to celebrate the occasion. Young Abel pitched a fit like no one had ever seen. He let it be known in a voice that could be heard down to the end of Main Street that he did not like “snot-nosed brats“, and he did not want “pesky children” at his house or touching his toys. “I want them GONE”! He screamed at the top of his barely four year old lungs.
Mrs. Tucker didn’t have the slightest idea how to talk to or entertain children, being that she had never been a child herself either. So she quickly cut each party invitee a piece of cake and sent them on their way.
“Abel Tucker never was a child” Granddaddy would say. “As a matter of fact, I am pretty sure that Abel Tucker hated children. So what do you think that Abel Tucker grew up to be? Maybe he hated himself too, because he chose a profession that would inflict pain and torment to himself and every student that walked into his classroom. You guessed it! He was a teacher. Some people said that it was poor planning on his part since it was obvious that teaching was more a duty than a passion, but I think it was pure intentional meanness on his part…and I think that he was just pure evil. Too bad he wasn’t born a couple hundred years back, he really missed his calling. Too bad for him that by the time he became of an age to be employed, there wasn’t much need for an executioner in our town. I reckon he chose the next best thing to make use of his talents. He might as well of worn a black mask and carried an ax to class…it wouldn’t have scared us any more than he already did. If he had a “style” of teaching, I guess you could say his personal favorite had a lot to do with humiliation, and spirit mutilation… and very little to do with preparation or instruction. Students didn’t have a choice but to go to school day after day year after year… and try their best to remain anonymous.”
“Now Thomas, don’t you think you might just be exaggerating a little?”
Grandma asked, giving Grandpa ‘The Look’ that said, “Please don’t tell your young grandchildren this story”.
But tell it he did, from the beginning until the end, and there has never been a more attentive audience for a tale about a teacher and his students. My Granddaddy could talk about life lessons, preach a sermon and tell a story like nobody’s business… and the story that Granddaddy told us that day about Abel Tucker just happened to be true too!
“The way it came about that Abel Tucker became my mortal enemy is this…It started all the way back on my very first day of school. My two older brothers, Chester and Wayne and two older sisters, Claire and Carrie already were students at the schoolhouse. They did not care for Mr. Tucker, but they had learned through watching and observation what happened to other children who played the fool or who tried to stand out. My brothers and sisters were smart children and decided the prudent thing was to make themselves as small and as invisible as possible. My parents, May and Ben, being kind-hearted, couldn’t believe the worst of Mr. Tucker or anybody, so all of us children knew not to come home and tattle on our teacher. It wasn’t that our parent’s wouldn’t believe us, but they liked to give everybody the benefit of the doubt. They would make all kinds of excuses to explain away Mr. Abel Tucker’s bad behavior. They would ask, ‘Did you see exactly what the child did to deserve his punishment? Maybe there was more to it than you know.’ Or, ‘Maybe Mr. Tucker is having a bad day. It happens to the best of us.’ Or, ‘Having that many children for that length of time is bound to try a person’s patience.If Mr. Tucker did not run a tight ship then you children wouldn’t understand your boundaries.’
“All of us children at Creek Side School knew that no adult was going to come to our aid, and just like it is for you children now, if we got punished at school then we got punished at home too. Only problem was that most of the time a child didn’t deserve the first beating he had gotten from Mr. Tucker, so the second one was really an injustice. Five paddles or rulers or lashings at school got the same, or sometimes even worse from a disappointed Daddy or Momma or both when the child got home.
“Well, it was my very first day , and I was all nervous about getting to go to big school with my brothers and sisters. I had heard their stories about Mr. Tucker, but I had also heard my momma’s and daddy’s explanations for why Mr. Tucker might have done what he had been accused of doing. I believed then what I still believe today, and that is that you can’t judge somebody on what other people say. The only fair way to judge a person is by first hand experience… and I was just about to get mine. I was nervous about going to school, but I was excited too because Momma had made such a big to do about my big day. She had made me a brand new little white outfit, and I was all cleaned up. I was white from the top of my head to the tips of my little white shoes. The only color was in my little pink scrubbed-to-a-shine face.
“So I left my house, but fell quite a bit behind my brothers and sisters. We all had our little lunch pails that momma had packed us with ham biscuits, an apple and a slice of pie each. I felt so big walking to school in my new outfit carrying my lunch pail. But my legs were short and the walk was long. The result was that I was the absolute last person through the school-house door.”
Grandma interrupted the story, “I want to say right here that your Great Grandmother May told me that before your Granddaddy went off and got influenced by other children that there was wasn’t a child more sweet, polite or shy than your Granddaddy.” Grandma’s interjections, no doubt, were caused by her feeling that it was her duty to make certain that our precious Granddaddy was seen in the best light as possible by us impressionable grandchildren.
“Now Rose, that might be somewhat true, but nobody at school influenced my behavior other than Mr. Tucker. Mammy might have thought I was sweet, but she also knew I could be hell-on -wheels.” All of us grandchildren laughed at the thought of a young Granddaddy zooming around, wildly rolling through life.
“Thomas! Such language!” Grandma scolded. She sounded mortified that Granddaddy would use profanity in our presence.
“I am not meaning to curse, Rose. But I’m not going to try to gloss over the truth. My grandchildren have a right to know history accurately. I will not be censoring my life. I was no doubt adorable, polite and shy with everyone who I would meet. But with my own family, where I was most comfortable, I was a hand full. I know that my older sisters who thought I was a doll-baby would have never believed it, but I don’t really think that I became who I am today because of Able Tucker. I didn’t adapt my nature to survive… I survived because it is my nature. I am a survivor.”
Grandma dropped her eyes in apology and agreement, and because she wasn’t one to argue. Nobody wanted to disagree with Granddaddy when he felt strongly, especially since this story was about his own history, and he should certainly know his story better than anyone else.
“Here is what happened, and you can judge for yourselves whether what I did was right or wrong. On the first day of school, my little tow-headed self all dressed in white, walked cautiously through the school-house door. Remember I was the fifth Shelton in that school room now, and Mr. Abel Tucker certainly knew all about my family considering he had been teaching part of us for six or seven years already.
“ ‘Well I do declare!’ Mr. Tucker shouted out in a high-pitched nasal voice loud enough for all inside of the school, and anyone in the yard to hear, ‘I do believe that another one of the Shelton’s Baby Piglets has managed to escape. Either he has freed himself from his sad little hovel, or he got caught by Mr. Shelton trying to escape and got slaughtered and this is his little piggy ghost come to haunt us! Is it a flesh and blood boy? I’m not certain because whatever it is looks ghastly!’”
It was a mean and hurtful thing to say to my Granddaddy. It hurt me just to hear it! All of the children at Granddaddy’s school should have known what it felt like to be picked on and taunted by Mr. Tucker. But being mere children, they were torn whether to laugh along with Mr. Tucker at the innocent little boy in the doorway… or not laugh at the joke and have Mr. Tucker’s wrath turned on them. So most of them chose to laugh. Some would have laughed anyway, because some children are just mean and enjoy other people’s misery. But most of the children probably just felt sorry for the poor little pink-faced creature who had just wet himself and his brand new school outfit.
“I just wasn’t used to being around mean-spirited folks. I was so embarrassed and upset… and then when I tee-teed all over myself, of course that just started a whole new round of pointing and laughter. I had no idea what to do, and there was no use in trying to stand and fight, so my only other option was flight. I turned around and ran out of that front school room door as fast as my wet little legs would carry me.
“My big sister Claire had watched the whole horrible event with tears in her eyes and fists clenched. She stood right up out of her seat, walked out of the same door she had just seen me exit, and walked through the school yard and into the woods until she saw the back of my little white outfit hiding behind a nearby tree. She didn’t walk me home, because she didn’t think that would solve the problem. She knew that Momma and Daddy would listen, but she was in no mood to let anyone who had not seen the humiliation make excuses and explanations for the monster Mr. Tucker‘s inexcusable behavior.
“We went down to the creek where she rinsed out my britches and laid them on a sunny rock to dry. It was right then and there when I was six and Claire was eleven that we agreed that our joint efforts from that day on were going to be about teaching our no-good teacher a lesson. A flood had been let loose in more ways than one. From that day on Claire and I shared an immense dislike for Mr. Tucker, so immense that hatred was too mild a word.”
“Now Thomas, really! You simply cannot teach these children that it is alright to hate any body.” Grandma interrupted in protest again.
“Rose, my Love, Mr. Tucker was not anybody. He had been entrusted to care for and educate the community’s children. He had not only hurt children by whipping them with a rod, he had done far worse damage to their sensitive spirit with his evil tongue. Whoever said, ‘sticks and stones can break your bones, but words can never hurt you’ obviously never had Mr. Tucker for a teacher. A child’s Momma and Daddy could see the big red whelps that Mr. Tucker inflicted, but they had no idea what kind of damage that man was doing to their children’s hearts.”
“Alright, Thomas. But we have to forgive people. Even the ones who do wrong to us. Jesus tells us to turn the other cheek.” Grandma preached and did her customary head bob when she wanted to emphasize a point.
“That’s right Rose. But we are also supposed to show sinners their evil ways and try to help them turn from them. That is all Claire and I were trying to do. So, in ways both big and small, Claire and I made plans to teach Mr. Tucker a thing or two. Somebody needed to do something, and it might as well be us. Nobody knew for certain that it was Claire and I making all of the plans and plots to give Mr. Tucker his comeuppance, but some suspected it. Mr. Tucker himself I think even suspected that we were behind the pranks, but he never could catch us at it. The adults who had never had the misfortune of having Mr. Tucker as a teacher were appalled that such things could happen to such a fine upstanding citizen of the community. All the others who had to withstand even one minute of Mr. Tucker’s torturous ways waited with unbridled secret joy to see what would happen next.”
“Thomas, really. You are so mellow-dramatic! We are not at a story-telling festival where you have to exaggerate so!” We could all tell that Grandma was going to interject a lot during this tale.
“Rose, I assure you that everything I am saying is true and accurate and if there is any exaggeration it is unintentional. Things do sometimes seem larger than life when a person is young, and I was young… but all of this story is true and it did happen just this way…”
“What happened, Granddaddy? What happened?” All of us grandchildren were laying on the floor at his feet as he sat in his upholstered straight back chair near the fireplace. We were gathered around him with our chins propped up on our hands and our eye balls big and expectant. Me and Tommy were biting our fingernails down to the nub we were so excited to hear about Granddaddy’s plans to get revenge on his evil teacher.
“Claire and I didn’t start doing anything right away. We started keeping a journal of all of the ways that Mr. Tucker had been cruel. We weren’t trying to get Mr. Tucker back or be mean just for meanness sake…”
“Well, that’s good to hear” Grandma huffed, crossed her arms across her chest and turned her face toward the fire.
“We had a plan… we wanted to teach Mr. Tucker several lessons. Of course Mr. Tucker’s humiliation of me and my subsequent wetting myself was on the list, but as the year and then years went on, and Mr. Tucker continued to be our teacher, more and more items were added to our “teaching points” list. Claire and I knew that we had to be careful. We had to make our plans perfect to ensure that we didn’t get caught, and we had to spread out the time we performed our private lessons so that there was no way to predict when or where the next one would happen. Sometimes Claire and I would enlist the aid of my big brothers when we needed some extra manpower, and they were only too happy to assist whenever asked.