by Randy Reynolds

When I was in First Grade my dad decided to submit one of his sermons for publication someplace or other and since not even God Almighty could read Dad's handwriting, he rented a typewriter.

I came home from school and found it on the table and my heart skipped a few beats as Elvis' heart must have done when he touched his first guitar, or Richard Petty's when he drove his first car, or Hugh Hefner's when he... well, never mind. I was thrilled to have something that modern, that miraculous, in our little parsonage and after watching my daddy hunt and peck on it for awhile, I talked him into giving me a turn.

When he asked what I wanted to type, I told him matter-of-factly, "A letter to Miss Lokey." (My first grade teacher.)

The letter itself has since been lost to history, but as I recall, I wrote something along the lines of: “Dear Miss Lokey, I think you are a very good teacher. And you are very beautiful. I wrote this on a typewriter. Your student, Randy Reynolds.”

My dad was amazed. (Of course, my family's amazement level was fairly low: When I wrote my name on scraps of wood left over after Papa Bonnell sawed some planks, Mama Maude showed it to all her neighbors and told them it just went to prove how smart I was and that I was going to start to school in Fourth Grade. I was disappointed that I ended up starting in First Grade like the other kids my age, but I loved Miss Lokey and that made up for it.)

Dad said, “Come here, Violet, and look at this.”

And mmom came in and ooh’ed and ahh’ed and told me how smart I was. She suggested I take it to school and show Miss Lokey, but Dad had a better idea: “Let’s call her and read it to her on the phone.”

Now THAT was exciting.

Daddy told the operator to call Miss Lokey for us (we didn't have rotary dials yet) and when Miss Lokey came on the line I read my letter. At the end of the call, the lady said, “That was very nice, little boy, but I'm afraid you’ve got the wrong Miss Lokey.”

My face burned, my heart pounded and I dropped that telephone receiver like it was something hot. I puckered up to cry and Dad said, “What’s wrong?”

“It’s the wrong Miss Lokey,” I sobbed.

My mother hugged me and told me it was all right and my daddy wanted to find the right Miss Lokey and let me try again, but I was so ashamed of reading that mushy letter to a stranger that I refused to risk it again and no one could talk me into it. I just wanted to forget what a fool I’d made of myself reading to the wrong Miss Lokey.

That was the first letter I wrote to a woman, but certainly not the last. I wrote six letters a day to Sherry from September, 1966, till June, 1967, which is when we got married. I later asked her where the letters were and she said, “Oh, I left them at Mama’s house, under the mattress in my room.”

I just about blew a gasket, but she said, “Oh, don’t worry. My mama wouldn’t read your letters. She knows they’re private.” (My mother-in-law couldn’t look at me without blushing for many years after that.)

A few days ago while rummaging through a box of my late mother’s things, I came across my report card from Miss Lokey’s class. I was surprised to learn that I was writing stories for myself even then.

McDuffie County Public Schools School Year 1955-1956 GRADE: 1-A
Teacher: Allene Lokey

1st 6 Weeks---Randy is a fine little fellow ... He made the adjustment to school routine much better than you would expect.

2nd 6 Weeks —Randy... likes to read and he does understand what he reads. He is getting the sounds of the letters, and before too long he will be able to get most any new words for himself. He does not depend upon the others for any information. … We are glad that you came to see us, Mr. Reynolds, during American Education Week.

3rd 6 Weeks --- Randy is writing unusually well. He will try writing stories for himself.

4th 6 Weeks —Randy has continued to make his same rapid progress. His mumps leave did not seem to bother him...

5th 6 Weeks —Randy... reads real good, and puts lots of expression in his reading. He writes well. He is writing some little stories of his own and he has good thoughts in them

6th 6 Weeks ---It has really been a pleasure to have had Randy in my room. You as parents have been most cooperative, too. I appreciate you working with me, and I assure that without your help, I could not have accomplished as much as I did. Randy will forget so much of what he has learned, but to help him, I’d like for you to insist that he does some reading this summer. I shall always remember Randy as a mighty fine fellow.

And Miss Lokey was a mighty fine teacher, even though she believed in dancing:

by Randy Reynolds

I was terrified when Miss Lokey called me to the front of the class with a group of my fellow first-graders (in Thomson, Georgia) and announced that we were going to do a new dance: the Hokey-Pokey.

I raised my hand and said, "No, ma'am, I can't dance."

"I'll teach you," said Miss Lokey.

I can still remember how violently my heart throbbed as I protested, "I don't want to because dancing is a sin."

"This kind of dancing is okay," she said. "God allows the Hokey-Pokey."

I learned the Hokey-Pokey that day, trembling all the way, more than half expecting Hell to open up and swallow me. That evening I confessed to Mom and Dad that I had danced the Hokey-Pokey, quickly adding that God had told Miss Lokey that it was all right. (My first experience with God sending messages through someone other than my dad, the preacher.)

My mom said, "It's all right, honey. I don't think God really objects to the Hokey-Pokey."

Dad said, "It's not like doing the Shimmy-She-Wobble with another man's wife."

My first-grade heart had no designs on anybody's wife, but I never forgot how exotic that Shimmy-She-Wobble sounded and I always wanted to see some woman do it. (I've never even seen a reference to it in an encyclopedia or in the newspapers of that era although the papers covered and condemned everything related to rock'n'roll.)

Finding out that one dance wasn't as bad as another in God's eyes was the first time I realized that the teachings of our church were subject to change.

Next came movies.

Miss Lokey said, "All right, boys and go-wee-ulls"--(this was South Georgia and she turned girls into a three-syllable word)--"...boys and go-wee-ulls, we are going to see a movie about polio."

My hand shot up.

"Yes, Randy?"

"I can't watch movies."

"Why not?"

"Because it's a sin."

"Polio movies are okay," said Miss Lokey. "God said it's all right to watch polio movies. He wants you to know why we have to take those old polio shots."

I was nothing if not gullible. If God had told Miss Lokey that polio movies were okay, I would go ahead and watch this one with the rest of the class. But it confused me a little. My church said No Dancing, but the Hokey-Pokey was okay with God? The church said No Movies, but polio movies were fine with God?

What next?  Was I going to learn that it was okay with God for married women to wear wedding rings?  Did He even care about women cutting their hair and wearing  pants and sleeveless blouses?  What about the woman we turned out of church for wearing lipstick--was that really God's doing or would He rather we send someone to find her and invite her back?  The possibilities were mind-boggling!

These and other changes eventually came to our insular little world, but not as fast as I had feared.  When I was in my teens it was still a sin for people to go to worldly places of amusement like ballgames, bowling alleys, skating rinks, concerts, school events where there'd be dancing and restaurants where beer was served. The only thing left for teenage couples to do on a date night, other than go to church or sit in the living room with her parents, was to go park by the river and "watch the submarine races."

That was a sin, too, but I figured it would get overturned someday and I wanted to be ahead of the curve.

BACK TO INDEX: http://reynoldswriter.blogspot.com/2011/07/i-hope-you-dance.html