Robert, thanks for the beautiful picture you posted of Young Junior High School. I was in Miss Ferguson's home room. She was one of the all-time favourite people of my life - I can still picture her in my mind as vividly as if I had just seen her yesterday. I remember riding my bicycle to her house on Christmas Eve, 1956, to deliver my Christmas present to her - pecan pralines made by my grandmother from pecans harvested in our back yard. At the time, I don't think I was aware that Girard Junior High School existed. Perhaps it didn't, then. I also remember Coach Hughes and Miss McCallum, the librarian, although not quite as vividly as I do Miss Ferguson. Miss Jernigan, however, is another teacher who made a permanent and lasting impression on me. Although I was in some ways a math whiz (math theory for me was a cinch), I was a bit slow on multiplication and division -- until Miss Jernigan. By the time I left Miss Jernigan's class, I knew all the multiplication tables cold, backward and forward. Math was never a problem for me again. She was very demanding, but also (in her own inimitable fashion) very patient. She was determined to "leave no child behind" when it came to the rudiments of math. She left none of us behind, either. I remember one poor young girl in the class, from a broken family, living with an alcoholic mother in the low-income apartments a few blocks south from Young Junior High School. Most teachers had given up on her as a hopeless case of stupidity - but not Miss Jernigan. She drilled this girl in class as relentlessly as she drilled all the rest of us - but when it became obvious that this girl "just didn't get it," she asked her to come see her at the end of the school day. Miss Jernigan worked with this girl every afternoon for weeks. Before long, this girl was answering in class with the best of us. No longer cowering, embarrassed and hopeless, this girl held her head up proudly and answered in a clear voice when called on. Soon, this carried over into Health Class (what passed as "sexual education" back then), Social Studies, English, and the rest of her classes. No longer a failure, this girl now was able to move ahead confidently with the rest of the class, and graduated from Dothan High School on time with the rest of us. I saw her last year at our class's fortieth reunion. She told me that Miss Jernigan literally saved her life.
I remember Mr. Turk, who was Principal at Young. A classmate of mine and I one day took a short cut through the boys' bathroom at the end of the day, out the window to our bicycles, parked at the bicycle rack just below the boys' bathroom window. To our dismay, Mr. Turk was standing there waiting for us. We were held in his office for one hour until our parents responded to his telephone calls and promised him that they would see that we obeyed the rules. I was never more mortified in my life. Both my classmate and I survived (he went on to become an Alabama Supreme Court Justice), I to become an international architect. In many ways, our success was due to the teachers who formed us as scholars at Young, and to the coaches and Mr. Turk whose discipline forced us to "obey the rules." I remember a the older brother of one of my classmates referring to us as the Young Junior Baby Criminals. I remember knife fights in the school yard (interrupted by Coach Gilstrap with Severe Consequences - strong corporal punishment - for the guilty). I remember one young thug bringing a gun to school. He was taken away, never to return to Young. He was sent to a reform school. He returned to our class in high school, and in later life achieved great success. I saw him at our high school reunion, as well.
The Alamo (Young Jr. Hi) in many ways shaped my life more than any other institution I experienced - more than Sunday School, more than High School, more than Vacation Bible School. All of these were instrumental, but Young had a very special group of very capable and dedicated teachers whose lives had been dedicated to shaping young lives. For the first three months of 8th grade, I hated Miss Jernigan. That soon changed. After I "graduated" from Young Junior High School, I went back to Miss Jernigan's room to thank her for what she had done for me. She said, "William, I was only doing my job." I said, "Maybe, but if all teachers did their jobs the way you do yours, there would be no failures." She looked down at her hands, folded on her desk, and said, "William, I am thankful to God Almighty that I am able to do the job entrusted to me. I hope that, when the time comes, you will also do your job. It will not be easy to do - but if you are a teacher, and one child out of a thousand comes back to you as you have come back to me, you will know that it was all worth it." I wanted to hug her, but in those days we didn't display emotions so openly. I took her hand, shook it, and said, "Miss Jernigan, I will do my best." Well, sometimes I have done my best, and sometimes I haven't. Whenever I realize that I have not done my best, I see Miss Jernigan's face in my mind's eye - and she is not pleased.
WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH CUBA? Nothing, except, perhaps, the Spanish style architecture of Young Junior High School - and perhaps a young man in my seventh grade class named Raimondo, who was Cuban. I don't remember his last name. He spoke English well, with only a trace of accent. He disappeared after that year - friends said he had gone back to Cuba. When Castro took over, I thought of him and I still wonder what happened to him.
Again, thanks for posting the picture and note that came with it. As you can tell, it opened a floodgate of memories and emotions for me.