Of cow bells and old cow hands...
Back in the day...like our third year at Cairo High School...the 1971-72 school year...when our dating REALLY "heated up"...(No, I'm not going there...and YOU know it by now!), a new teacher joined the staff. Her name was Claudia. Yep, you've met her before...our "chaperone"...the one I was with when Julie was sick and the student totaled my car in front of Claudia's apartment.
Well, Claudia was into nicknames...barnyard nicknames. For whatever reason, Claudia called herself Chicken, and she brought that appellation with her to CHS. For some reason that I do not remember, she tagged Julie with the less than flattering name of "Cow". (I mean, Julie weighed in at maybe 100 pounds, and you've seen her pictures...a knockout! Cow?) My nickname was an obvious choice..."Pig". Hey, it was 1971 at the height of the Vietnam War protests...and I was in the National Guard. Remember: "Pigs off campus!"
Ever how inappropriate, the names stuck and we went about our merry way, "secretly dating". (Yeah, right! We were so naive.)
This was the year Julie and I shared our electrically-charged first kiss.
By the way, ever the history teacher - even when I was teaching math...guess the date of our first kiss! Awww...come on, humor me! Valentine's day? Nah, who wants their historic first kiss to be tied to the St. Valentine's Day Massacre? Uh, Lincoln's Birthday? Only if Julie had been "Sweet 16"...16th President, get it? And, THAT would have been some of that "illicit sex" that we never had!
Okay, okay, I'll let you off the hook. Our first kiss was December 7th, 1971...a night that will live in infamy! (If you flunked history, that was the 30th anniversary of the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor. Geez...don't you just love how "I digress"?)
Anyway...we may have been late bloomers, but we moved pretty fast once the barrier had been breached. No, don't get your hopes up...we moved pretty fast in our own repressed, sweet and innocent way.
Meaning...I just knew that I needed to buy Julie a special piece of jewelry for Christmas! I must have roamed every jewelry store in Southern Illinois and Southeast Missouri for something that would be just right.
However, my ever-present sense of humor would first land me into VERY hot water!
I think it was Christmas Eve...what better time to give "my girl" a first special gift? We parked...I think it was some God-forsaken road up near Thebes, of all places. Oh, we had been to a restaurant some place and probably a movie, but I wanted to give her THE special present somewhere where it could be "appreciated". (There you go again! Stop...get your mind out of the gutter! I simply wanted some more of those electrically-charged kisses!)
Anyway...I reached under the seat and pulled out my beautifully wrapped present. Julie's face lit up like a Christmas tree as she took the present and carefully unwrapped it.
Julie had this "thing" about unwrapping presents. First of all, presents were a new thing to Julie...she was raised a Jehovah's Witness. They don't do presents. So, unwrapping a present was a VERY special occasion for her. (Now that I think of it, wonder if this was her very first present. If so, it makes what's coming even worse...)
Finally, she got the paper off of the box, lifted the lid, reached in and pulled out the present...a miniature cow bell on a piece of string. A necklace for "the cow"...get it?
Well, I got it...the coldest look I could have ever imagined, immediately followed by an expression of such deep hurt that I could have cried right there on the spot!
Except that I did NOT really get it. "Julie, it's a joke!"
I told you in an earlier post that Julie had low self-esteem. Down deep, Julie could not accept the fact that I REALLY loved her...she didn't think that she was worthy enough. She WANTED to believe, but had heard too many stories of white men using black women for enjoyment and then immediately dropping them after they got what they wanted. Yes, illicit sex.
But...I think Julie DID start to allow herself to believe me when I said "my intentions are completely honorable", especially on and after December 7th...when I did NOT try to do the things that you all want to believe that we did! I think that Julie began to believe that her dreams might actually come true.
And, then, white boy gives her a cow bell necklace for a Christmas present!
Talk about bursting your bubble in a hurry!
Fortunately, Julie did not go into the silent treatment...I think she was too hurt to stay silent. Julie said "What is this supposed to mean?" I repeated "Julie, it's a joke...you're 'the cow'...that's a cow's necklace!" Julie replied very succinctly "I don't think that's very funny! Is this what you really think of me?"
I think I had stepped in it, to use a barnyard analogy.
Anyway, I quickly tried to reassure Julie that I loved her...that I did NOT think of her as a cow...or any other kind of "animal"...that she was the woman with whom I wanted to spend the rest of my life!
Needless to say, after the earlier incident, Julie was somewhat skeptical. Fortunately, I had something up my sleeve to convince her...well, actually, another box under the seat.
I handed her the other box. Julie held it for a long moment...searching my face to see if this was, yet, another joke. Taking even longer to unwrap the box (probably afraid it might be something even worse than a cow bell), Julie finally opened the lid...and eyed for the first time the diamond heart-shaped pendant that would always signify my commitment to her.
And let the electrically-charged kisses begin!
Two footnotes to this story...
My use above of the line "my intentions are completely honorable". I didn't really say that...not then, but soon.
Not long after that night, I was called to the office to answer the telephone right before school was to begin. (Don't you just love it when that happens? Well...this was worse!) The person on the other end of the telephone was none other than Eloise Jones...Julie's MOTHER! I had never met the woman...and here she is calling me first thing in the morning! Eloise gave me no hint of what she wanted to talk about, but she DID say she wanted to talk...THAT morning...on my planning period!
I hadn't yet seen Julie that morning...wasn't even sure she was at school. I went to her desk area, but she was not there. It was almost time for the bell to ring, so I went on to class. Somehow, I made it through first period and then it was my planning period. I went to the office to check out...and see if Julie was at her desk. She wasn't.
So...went out, got into my car, and drove over to the Jones house, which I had only seen from the outside...often decorated with tiny heads in the upstairs windows. I gingerly knocked on the door...prepared to run at a moment's notice.
Eloise answered the door and invited me in...to sit. I don't remember how the "inquisition" started...don't know how I responded...until she asked me about my intentions toward her daughter. That's when I delivered the "completely honorable" line. Yes, I knew it sounded corny when I said it...but it was the truth!
And...Eloise accepted it. In retrospect, I think when I actually showed up at her house, she knew it. I think Eloise figured that if she called this white boy at work, he would drop her daughter like a hot rock. When I showed...well, it must have been for real.
Shortly, thereafter, "guess who's coming to dinner"?
(By the way, Julie did NOT know that her mother was going to call me that morning...was mortified and mad when she found out. I told her that it didn't bother me! Hmmm, guess I COULD tell a little (white) lie...
The second footnote to this story...going back to the self-esteem thing. Julie would tell me years later that she figured I would "dump her" after a while...that I would find too many obstacles...take too much grief. However, Julie told me that she loved me so much that she had decided to settle for that...to hope for a couple or three good years.
And, THAT is why I picked "Never My Love" to be played at her funeral.
Guess I fooled her!
Well, that story got a lot longer than I anticipated...and I've still got another "cow" story to tell!
This story is set in the early 1990s and involved a CHS principal by the name of Sandra T...TOY, if you will!
Sandra T. was, shall we say, "different". Lady liked to wear leather...and it took LOTS of leather to cover her assets. Her penchant for leather and her "grumpy attitude" led her detractors - and there were many - to adorn her with the nickname "Smiling Cow in the Morning".
Well, Smiling Cow liked to pick on certain people. Being a typical bully, she like to pick on the defenseless - i.e. the nontenured teachers. Being black and seemingly not too fond of white people, Smiling Cow most liked to pick on nontenured, white teachers.
Well, Julie, always wanting to lighten the mood...to try to perk up the spirits of the downtrodden...decided that whomever Smiling Cow singled out that week or month for abuse should get recognition for their "achievement".
So, Julie found a stuffed glove (I think she bought it, but she may have made it). Using a magic marker, Julie wrote upon the glove..."The Old Cow Hand". Julie would type up a scroll to accompany the "award" and it would be presented personally to Smiling Cow's current target. That person would keep the award until another person was deemed worthy...had become the next "Old Cow Hand".
What folks won't do...what folks HAVE to do...to survive in Cairo School District Number One!