Remember Elvis and the 6th grade???
|How I Learned to Dance
It was 1956 and I was in the 6th grade.
The cafeteria at my school probably looked a lot like yours, a big rectangular room with many folding tables and chairs. Two open archways permitted entry into the food serving area, a sort of hallway with a large steamy kitchen in the back. Two tray-sliding lines converged at the middle where two cash registers rang up the tally. One line of students snaked in from the classroom hallway while the other actually formed inside the seating area. Huge windows looked out onto a parking lot with a drive-through/waiting area for the buses. The entire cafeteria was probably a metal building attached to the main school at some later period in time because if I looked up, I could see the steel beams supporting the roof. The actual school was one of those old two-story red brick monstrosities with names like Woodrow Wilson or Booker T. Washington although mine was named after the town, Harrington.
The food servers, who may have been preparers as well, always had red, sweaty faces, black hairnets, and names like Hazel. To me they were scary, trying to shove food at me and telling me what I should eat. I don't remember a lot of the cuisine, but I could always count on fish on Fridays. I don't ever remember eating it.
Just like at your school certain groups always sat together. This particular day while eating lunch someone in my group had a eureka moment.
"This would be a great place to dance if the tables were shoved back." My friend, Nancy, looked around for approval.
"I've got a portable record player I could bring in," someone else said.
Then, several of us chimed in with names of 45's we could bring. It was the beginning of the Elvis era and rock 'n roll. Hound Dog, Heartbreak Hotel, Blueberry Hill, and Long Tall Sally were making history.
All that was left to do was get permission. Somehow, I was unanimously elected for the job. I went straight to the top, Principal Feagin.
Now, Principal Feagin was not that fond of any of us, and he had a good reason. I had heard through the grapevine some practical joker in my class recently had called a funeral home in the middle of the night with the news that Mr. Feagin had died and would they please send a hearse to pick up the body. The next day someone, whose name shall remain anonymous, wished they were dead, and it wasn' t Principal Feagin.
Before the bell rang ending our lunch period, I went to the office to speak to Mrs. Burgess, Mr. Feagin's secretary. I figured I would need an appointment for something so important.
She looked up as I opened the door. "What can I do for you?"
"I need to make an appointment to see Principal Feagin," The words stumbled out rapidly as I was beginning to lose my nerve.
"And what do you need to see the Principal about?" She seemed to stare right through me as her dimples deepened and her eyes twinkled.
"Some friends and I would like to play some music in the cafeteria during the last half of our lunch period." And then I had my own eureka moment. "You know music is supposed to aid digestion." I'm not sure where that came from, but I thought it would be hard to argue against. We could sneak the dancing in on our own.
"Well, it just so happens the Principal is free right now. Come on, we'll go ask."
I gulped and followed her through to an office I, luckily, had never seen before. Mr. Feagin looked up as Mrs. Burgess opened the door. I had seen our principal throughout the school lots of times, but had never spoken directly to him. In the hallways he was this tall, thin, bald man with glasses who always wore a suit. And over the loud speaker in the morning, he never sounded like he had gotten up on the right side of the bed. This day was no different except he was sitting behind his desk and looked a little shorter. His left eyebrow raised when my tongue decided not to work. I couldn't tell whether it was a scowl or his natural demeanor.
Somehow I must have gotten the words out but for the life of me I cannot remember one syllable of that conversation. The next thing I knew Mrs. Burgess was ushering me out and congratulating me on my fine speech.
To everyone's surprise, Principal Feagin did give us his permission, and the very next day at lunch time, with each others' help, we all learned to dance to Elvis's "Blue Suede Shoes" and "You Ain't Nothin' But a Hounddog".
And now, almost 63 years later, here I am, reminiscing about the jitterbug, the twist, the stroll, the cha-cha-cha, and even old Principal Feagin.