Many of you have heard me complain lately about the paucity of column material, at least when it comes to movies. The fact that the pandemic closed the movie theaters meant that films from the first half of the year got thrown to cable for streaming, or shelved. But there’s hope on the horizon. In next week’s column, I’ll talk about books-to-film coming later in the year. Films like Emily St. John Mandel’s “Station Eleven,” or Joan Didion’s “The Last Thing He Wanted.” Yes, get excited.
However, if you’ve been paying attention, you’ve noticed that the pandemic has moved me to keep throwing things up against the wall, as it were, to see what would stick. And, actually, my column about being an Air Force brat sequestered in Morocco garnered more response than anything. So I’m giving that ‘military brat’ another go. We had three years in London after Morocco, and the return to the States found us in Montgomery, Alabama. It was 1960. That was a culture shock.
My father was assigned to the Air/War College at Maxwell AFB. I was to do junior year at Sidney Lanier High School. We lived in a quiet suburb not far from the school and close to a Methodist Church that mother decided would be a “good thing” for us to attend. (Bear in mind that prior, if we attended “church,” it was the base protestant chapel.) Her little incursions into religion never lasted that long, but there was always some minor disaster associated with it and they usually ended up being mine.
This time mother registered me to attend a youth camp that was leaving in a few days for the Alabama shore. I hadn’t unpacked. I knew no one. I was sixteen. I hated her. I went and promptly got such a bad case of hives from a “red tide” that rolled in that they had to call mother to pick me up. I started school with my whole body and face red and swollen like a blowfish. Just the impression I wanted to make in a new school. The base doctor told mother, “have her take three baths a day for a week — in oatmeal.”
I loved my year at Lanier. In fact, it turned out to be my favorite high school year. My senior year was forgettable because we were stationed at Kelly AFB in San Antonio and we didn’t move until after school had started. Lanier offered classes like Latin, Greek and English history. I thought the cafeteria had the best food of any restaurant in town. It was run by Southern cooks who knew that you fried chicken in bacon grease and used the drippings to make gravy. Huge yeast rolls were put together early so you could smell them rising on the third floor. And that was back when lunch was 35 cents.
One of my favorite memories of that year came in the middle of the spring term. Our chemistry teacher, Echo Puckett (don’t you love that name) ran off with one of the coaches at Christmas, and the administration brought in a retired teacher named Mr. Green to finish out our year. Mr. Green had to be ninety if he was a day. But you could tell he had taught chemistry in the past and was familiar with the lab. He just kept forgetting which hand held what.
He was showing us the volatile properties of sodium one day at his desk, which was in the middle of the classroom. (As you walked in, student desks were to the left, his desk was in the middle and the lab tables were parallel to each other on the right.) I was in the back row, hiding behind my algebra book, doing my homework — which turned out to be fortunate. Because Mr. Green dropped the large piece of sodium, not the little chip, into the beaker of water and it blew up. Glass and papers blew everywhere. It blew him up against the back wall, blew glass all over the first two rows and it took out three or four windows. I always wondered if Echo ever heard about that. It would have made her laugh. It was kind of a disaster then, but it makes a great story. Like my friend who writes a travel column says, never waste energy worrying about travel disasters, they usually make the best stories. God knows that’s something we all learned as military brats.