Okay...again, minding my own business...trying to get on with important matters.
BAM! Get an e-mail at 6:30 a.m. from a friend who should have learned by now..."Be careful what you ask for!" Actually, she didn't ask for anything, but...
She reminded me of another story...one I almost used on her at the retirement ceremony last year, but I thought it might be considered "tacky". Well, Penny Farris had no qualms about revealing far more startling and embarrassing matters to the fully assembled employees of Cairo School District Number One that day...in an ode entitled "Hippie, Dippy, and the Nun". She be the hippie! So without feeling a need for further permission...and the worst part of the story is about me, anyway, let's talk about...
Ya'll probably thought that Ruth was a friend of Ron and Julie...and you'd be right. But...it wasn't always so. For Ruth Bailey had sinned...
This story is set at the beginning of the 1980s. The new Cairo High School had been built. R. Leo Verble had been principal at the old CHS, and though he had fallen out of favor with both teachers and administration, he was a force with whom to be reckoned. Leo had been instrumental in planning and supervising the construction of the new building, so he was bound and determined to be its first principal. Even though he had been stripped of any control over the certified staff (who had been placed under the supervision of a Curriculum Coordinator named Bill Thomas), Leo managed to get his wish and presided over CHS that opening year. The next year, he was "kicked upstairs" to the Central Office.
The summer after Leo left, the Cairo Junior High Principal, John Hunt, was named the new CHS principal. Well, it seems that Mr. Hunt insisted that he bring part of his staff with him.
Enter Ruth Bailey, math teacher extraordinaire!
There was one small problem...CHS had no vacancies for math teachers. So...let the bumping begin. Ruth was given my position, which really didn't upset me. I got to keep Geometry and my other assigned classes were Government and Economics...which I truly loved. BUT...in order for Ruth to come to the high school, somebody had to go...and that somebody was Debbie Hammel, longtime friend of Ron and Julie. As you know, Ron and Julie do not like folks messing with their friends. Hell, Ron and Julie do not like folks messing with strangers! Needless to say, Ron and Julie were upset with MISS RUTH BAILEY!
Now, Debbie is a good Christian...believes in turning the other cheek. Debbie marched off to Cairo Junior High like a good soldier and even befriended the person who had caused her transfer. Well, let me tell you, Ruth was lucky to have Debbie...because she sure as hell wasn't going to have Ron and Julie as friends!
Have you ever heard of the "silent treatment"?
Ron and Julie can flat hold a grudge! We made it known to anyone who would listen that we did not take kindly to our friend being "kicked to the curb". Of course, it did not help Ruth one bit that John Hunt resigned after two weeks...left for greener pastures...after messing up our happy home! Silent treatment...Julie and I and those who didn't want to feel our wrath did not talk to Ruth Bailey...did not acknowledge Ruth Bailey...for at least two years! Yep...that's right...TWO YEARS!
Then came a fateful Halloween...
Again...Julie was the party animal. She loved Halloween...the dressing up...passing out candy. All I could think of was the little monsters who would be encouraged to roam the streets and create all kinds of mayhem. But...Julie was not to be denied. I went out and bought an unhealthy supply of candy for Julie to distribute to the little mercenaries. Lo and behold, Julie announces that she has to go someplace on trick-or-treat night...that I get to stay home and pass out the candy! "Ronnie" was not happy.
Did I mention that "back in the day", many of us school folks actually had a life after 3:15 p.m.? We would actually go out to restaurants in Cairo (okay, bars!) and unwind...talking about learning standards, write up a few lesson plans, grade a few papers...you get the idea. Well, just so happens, after Julie leaves the house and I am waiting for the first of the ravenous hoard to descend upon me...Debbie and Steve Dain call and invite me to go to the Levee Restaurant...which is now the empty building that sits on the corner at 8th and Ohio. Hey, it had great atmosphere, served food, and more importantly served drinks.
As I said before, Debbie had "forgiven" Ruth and would go out with her. Steve...well, as you know, Steve went out with anyone...no stranger did he ever meet. BUT...they BOTH knew that if they invited Ron out...they didn't dare invite Ruth along.
So Debbie, Steve, and I spent time having a few drinks...sitting near the rear exit. Me...I keep saying that I need to go home and pass out candy...that Julie thinks that's what I am doing. Debbie and Steve keep saying..."Have another beer, Ron." Considering the alternative, I keep agreeing. In fact, I probably had a few more than I should have.
Then, lo and behold, who comes wandering up to our table than the infamous Ruth Bailey. Ruth says hello to her friends, Debbie and Steve. Then, I guess, realizing that ignoring me would be rude, Ruth said something to me. I don't remember what she said and I can't really pass it off to old age. I don't think I would have remembered the next morning! But...I don't think it was anything ugly or nasty...Ruth was just trying to be polite. And, that's when I did something that I had never done before...and have never done since. I responded to Ruth's statement, paused, and added one word..."Bitch!"
Well, hell...that was so out of character that Debbie and Steve burst out laughing and Ruth...well, Ruth, just made a spectacle of herself...laughing loudly and falling to the floor. (I think Ruth had had a couple of drinks also. Yes, she used to drink!) Ruth finally picked herself up off the floor, but couldn't stop laughing...I guess because it was the first time I had ever spoken a word to her. Ruth said her goodbyes to Debbie and Steve and left. By then, I was so embarrassed and mortified that I don't know if we said goodbye to each other or not.
After Ruth left, Debbie and Steve kept kidding me...how they were going to tell Julie on me! As I thought about that, I began sobering up in a hurry. As I have indicated before...Julie had been known to be jealous. Call me p-whipped if you will...I did NOT want to incur the wrath of Julie Newell. So I go home...wondering what I am going to do...how I am going to explain the candy still sitting unopened, but more importantly what she might hear from Debbie or Steve.
About an hour later, Julie arrives home. She gives a casual greeting, but immediately senses that something is wrong. I'm so damned nervous, I can't look her in the eye. Julie says "What's the matter?" I finally look at her, take a deep breath, and blurt out..."Debbie and Steve are probably going to tell you tomorrow that I had Ruth Bailey down on the floor at the Levee Restaurant tonight. Honey...it's not what it seems!"
Postscript: Yes...I survived that night...actually, I think Julie believed me and started laughing about it too, although knowing her, she probably confirmed my story the next day...one of those trust but verify deals!
And...yes...Julie and I went on to accept Ruth Bailey into the school family...and our personal lives. And...what a blessing that proved to be!
Most of you don't know this, because Ruth is not the type to talk about it...NEVER seeks recognition. But...if I'm going to blurt out my inner secrets and feelings in the aftermath of Julie's passing, well, Ruth is just going to have bear with me.
When Julie had her major lupus flare in October, 1997, I was literally afraid that I would go off to school one day and come home and find her dead...possibly something that could have been avoided if someone had been with her at the time. I would come home on my 4th hour planning period and spend the lunch hour with her, but there was a 3-hour period in the morning when she was alone. Ruth took it upon herself, without me asking, to come to our house during her 2nd hour planning period...to check up on Julie. If Julie was awake, they would visit for a few minutes. If Julie was not awake, Ruth would do as I did on, oh, so many occasions. She would watch to see if Julie's chest were rising and falling...whether she was breathing. Folks, THAT is friendship beyond compare...to put yourself through daily stress for someone that is not an immediate relative...the stress of a life or death situation. As the cliche goes, a friend in need...
Ruth...and Debbie...also sat through a couple of "waiting periods"...waiting for surgery to be completed, to see how Julie had done. Ruth and Debbie were with me on Saturday night, September 22nd, at 10 p.m. when Dr. Clutts came out of surgery and delivered the devastating news that Julie's long struggle was coming to an end.
Folks...I hope when you find yourself in a time of need that you will be able to draw upon the support of friends like these.
Ruth, I don't think I ever actually said it...I'm sorry I called you a bitch.
And...to the rest of you out there...be careful who you go calling names! You may not be as lucky as Julie and I...