A whimsical look at life growing up in the small town of Waldron, Arkansas in the 1960s and 1970s, plus occasional observations from the present. Want to start at the very beginning? Click HERE.

Monday, August 29, 2011

The Littlest Man I Was Ever Terrified Of

It's been an incredibly busy week for me, so our blog entry today is somewhat short. But short is really just a state of mind, because short can still be pretty powerful. Which brings us to our subject today: Mr. Raymond Rackley, Principal of Waldron Junior High.

He would have to be described as diminutive. Small in stature, not much taller than the junior high students he supervised, and yet anyone who said they were not intimidated by Mr. Rackley would unquestionably be a teller of untruths.

Fear, respect, whatever it was exactly, came naturally. It was a hallmark of a very effective principal, which is what Mr. Rackley was. One sensed that even the teachers had at least a small measure of fear for their boss. After I became a teacher myself, I heard the story of a time when one of Mr. Harlan Hawkins' students had been seriously ill and had missed a considerable number of days. Tragically, the student later died, so Harlan quit counting the student absent. After a few days, Mr. Rackley showed up at Harlan's classroom door, questioning why the student was not being counted absent. Harlan explained that he had seen the student's obituary in the Waldron News, so he assumed that his name would be dropped from the roll. Nope. The student was counted absent until Mr. Rackley gave the word otherwise.

When I entered junior high in the late 1960's, Mr. Rackley was nearing the end of his career. But he was definitely not past his game. I guess it must have been something about the way he carried himself, or the way he spoke, but we knew from the beginning that he was in charge and that we didn't want to cross him. There was not a lot of interaction between him and the students; I guess that contributed to our fear of being sent to the office.

I remember one time when I was in probably ninth grade, some of were pulled out of study hall to work in the office for a week. When my week came, I sat in a student desk in the outer office, and would run errands and things like that. When not busy, I would sit at my desk and read or work on homework. One day, while I was sitting quietly reading, Mr. Rackley walked by my desk. Suddenly and without warning, he slammed his hand down on my desk and said, "Settle down!" I was so startled I nearly jumped out of my skin. For the one and only time in my three years with the man, I heard him chuckle as he walked away.

After he retired, I would often see him as he walked from his little house near school over to the post office. He would always smile and say hello, and I watched over the years as his steps became more and more deliberate, as the journey became more and more a challenge. Then, I quit seeing him, and kind of lost track of him. I don't remember when he passed away.

I always recognized Mr. Rackley as a man of character. I wish I could have known him as an individual, rather than as just the feared authority figure that he was. But he played a large role in molding a lot of rowdy teenagers into productive members of society, and undoubtedly kept a few mean boys out of prison. So, thanks Mr. Rackley. You had a difficult job to do, and you did it well.

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