In A Logger’s Daughter: Growing Up in Washington’s Woods, I wrote about our elementary school principal, Mr. R. We students were confused by his joviality one moment, his fierce reactions to minor misbehaviors the next. He ruled through fear of his inconsistency, and I have to admit that students pretty much toed the line at Granite Falls grade school.
After Elsie, the older sister of one of my classmates, read the book, she offered some background about Mr. R. that helped me understand him a little better.
In Granite Falls, as in other communities across the USA, male teachers and principals had been called to fight in WWII. Without a principal at the helm, near-anarchy reigned in the grade school.
An older female teacher came out of retirement to “do her part for the war effort.” Not only did she take over one of the upper grades, but she also tried to fill in as principal. She wore her thinning hair teased and puffed–a perfect target for the boys in her class who made a game out of shooting spitballs when her back was turned. They competed to see how many they could make stick in the beehive of that hairdo. The lady soon quit in frustration.
The school board then hired Mr. R. to take over. Balding, short, and middle-aged, he arrived determined to run a tight ship. Elsie said he called an assembly his first morning on duty. He strode to the stage before the massed students, a big wooden paddle sticking out of his back pocket.
“You can call me ‘Paddle-packing Papa,” he proclaimed with a scowl. Next, he recited a long list of misbehaviors and the number of swats each would earn. “Any questions?”
No one dared to say a word. A quiet group of students filed back to their classrooms.
Mr. R. carried that paddle in his pocket for the remainder of the school year. Elsie didn’t know how much he actually used it, but no one doubted he would follow through on his proclamation. Mr. R. did bring order to Granite Falls Grade School.
Perhaps that was his contribution to the war effort.