When I was attending third grade in the Alabama cotton mill-village where I grew up, our teacher, Miss Braswell, was a young, pretty woman just starting her career.
Once when the chubby principal, Mr. Hooten, a dour, moon-faced, preacher-looking fellow who wore vests and wire-rimmed glasses sat in on Miss Braswell’s class, she was more than eager to show how well we had been taught.
Stepping briskly to the blackboard, she wrote “ever” and underlined it with three firm chalk marks–Dash! Dash! Dash!
After telling us to get out a sheet of our Montag Blue Horse notebook paper, she said we should write a sentence using that word. She gave us two minutes.
When time was up, Miss Braswell, started with the row on the left and asked the first boy, Tommy, to stand and read his sentence. (There were all boys in that row.)
Tommy, bashful to the bone, slowly rose and glanced apprehensively at Miss Braswell, and then Mr. Hooten, who was seated on a folding chair at the back of the room.
Then, nervously clearing his throat, grasping the notebook paper with both hands, Tommy thusly spake these immortal words: “Ever did the cows come home?”
Miss Braswell wouldn’t have been more shocked if Tommy had read his sentence in Latin. Now it was the young teacher’s turn to glance anxiously at Mr. Hooten.
Taken aback, she said, “Tommy, that doesn’t make sense. Try again. You know better than that.” Then she told the boy behind Tommy to read his sentence.
Again, another red-faced boy shuffled to his feet and, after a long pause, in an usually loud voice, hurriedly blurted out, “Ever did the cows come home?” Miss Braswell, blushing a bright crimson, was gobsmacked.
When she finally regained her senses, she, in a shrill voice, said, “Are you all copying each other’s paper? I’ll have none of that!”
Nobody said a word. As stated before, Miss Braswell was pretty, but she was also redheaded, with a sprinkle of freckles that her face-powder couldn’t hide.
And, while usually nice and pleasant, she had a temper that sometimes got the better of her. (Mill-village folk described such high-strung, excitable people as being “fractious.”)
She quickly ordered the third boy to read his sentence. Her tone had sharpened a tad. Well, maybe more than a tad. She kept casting sidelong glances at Mr. Hooten, who while impassively silent, was as hard to ignore as a grizzly bear. (Or a 900-pound gorilla who seemed to be gaining weight by the second.)
The third boy slowly got up and, after shifting his weight back and forth like he was getting ready to ‘rassle, looked down at his paper. But before he could read his sentence, Miss Braswell snapped, “And it better not be ‘Ever did the cows come home?'”
As he intently studied what he had written, a noticeable shiver ran down the lad’s body — like he was undergoing an ice-water enema.
Without reading a word, he let out a weary sigh and sat down, a perfect picture of defeat.
Miss Braswell flew to the boy’s desk and snatched the paper from his hand. She didn’t read his sentence aloud — it wasn’t necessary.
Judging from the banshee wail that sprang from the depths of her very soul, it was obvious the third boy too, had written, “Ever did the cows come home?”
Miss Braswell might have possessed a peppery temper, but she was sensitive as well. She stood there fighting back tears as she studied the third boy’s sentence, avoiding Mr. Hooten’s stern glare.
It was at this very moment, as tension filled the room and something horrible seemed about to happen, that Douglas, one of the country kids who rode the bus to school, felt it necessary to speak up.
Douglas announced to the room at large, “A fool knows ‘Ever did the cows come home,’ ain’t right. A durn cow ain’t got no home — they stay in the barn when they ain’t in the pasture.”
Miss Braswell, long legs pumping, fled from the room like an Olympic sprinter. With Mr. Hooten waddling right behind her.
I don’t remember how long she was gone. Some of the girls, all of whom adored Miss Braswell, ran to the door and peeked out the window at our distraught teacher pitifully sobbing in the hall, as Mr. Hooten gently consoled her.
However, most of the boys, quickly taking advantage of the teacher’s absence, immediately began whooping and hollering and practicing our spitball marksmanship.
Not that we needed much practice.
After she finally returned to the classroom, eyes red and swollen, I do recall her keeping her head down on her desk for what seemed like a really long time.
But, from that day on, in my heart of hearts, I wanted to be a writer. Especially after witnessing first-hand the power words can have on people. Even the wrong words.
To those harboring doubts that even wrong words have power, I would suggest they consider the unfathomable popularity our President has with some misguided people.
Author's Note: Ever Did The Cows Come Home, JL Strickland's collection of essays, wisdom, and random lunacy is available as an Amazon Kindle eBook. At a price, amazingly, cheaper than a cold beer and a pickled egg in a backwoods' shot-house.
Image Credit: The feature image of "ever" underlined on a chalkboard was created by LikeTheDew.com for this story (creative commons); the Boy looking through the fence from the cover of Ever Did The Cows Come Home by JL Strickland (fair use).