My teacher was the wonderful Miss Nellie Herringdine. She has many places in my memory. Most of all I remember that she taught me cursive writing. We would draw those circles until we were blue in the face and somehow that applied to writing words. Before that, the only word recognition I remember learning was in the dreaded first grade. I can distinctly remember looking at the black board and having the teacher point to the words “Jane” and “dog”. I think I was more afraid of the stick she was pointing with that anything else.
But Miss Nellie was always sweet to me in the third grade. I just don’t have any bad memories of that time. Maybe I’ve blocked them out. I still see her these days. She left the Baptist Church when she moved to Athens to be near her son, William. She joined the Anglican Catholic Church (there’s another story!). But I am getting ahead of myself.
The Herringdines lived down the street from us, though I never went into their house. Never was invited. I later learned that they had an alcohol problem just as we had and that made me feel somehow closer to them in later times. Funny how shared bad times come up in your memory quicker than the good times. Good times? What are those?
Anyway, years later when I had returned home to direct a musical, I was at the library and there was Miss Nellie sitting behind a desk just as she had so long ago in the third grade. I was writing something on a piece of paper and the thought suddenly came to me that I was doing what she had taught me to do – write.
So I asked her, “Don’t you think it’s amazing that I’m doing something here that you taught me to many years ago?” And her reply was a droll, “Not especially.” Funny how I was taken aback by that. So I continued by asking a loaded question, “Miss Nellie, have I changed much since the third grade?” “Not one bit,” she said quickly! and continued, “We always kept a dot by your name, Ricky.” (God how I hated that name! Funny, now I like it.) “A dot?” I asked. “Yes, you were always up to something. And we never let you and Lyn Padgett be in the same classroom, either!”
The Padgetts are another tale I will tell one day, and Lyn was my best friend during those times. She was the girl down the street. She and Ray South. The Padgetts were like the Ewing family on "Dallas", but the Souths were my idea of the perfect 50's family. "Ozzie and Harriet" or "Father Knows Best." I was later proved right in both cases. Lyn and I were considered devious for the things we would think up and then express out loud. I can easily now see why they kept us separated! In the seventh grade Lyn and I campaigned out loud to have the teacher removed or for us to be transferred to the other teacher’s classroom. It didn’t work and only served to make our teacher dissolve in tears. Remember, we were seventh graders and hellions for sure.
I don’t see Lyn much these days but when I do she is still the exact same person she was in 1953. And Miss Nellie, while slowed by deafness and infirmities, was still the lovely lady I so vividly remember in that third grade. She's gone now. R.I.P. and Thank you, Miss Nellie. I love you.