Friday, January 26, 2007

Progress Report Report ...

Do you have any of your old report cards from your early days in school? Likely you do. My sister sent me one of mine. The top of it reads, “SOUTH PARK PUBLIC SCHOOLS of Beaumont Texas.” It goes on to read, “Winston Hamby, Giles School, Grade 1, 1941-1942. The bottom portion is signed, “Mrs. J. Kirby Hill, Home Room Teacher.” Back then they didn’t call them, “report cards,” but rather, “Progress Reports.”
Ms. Hill was everyone’s favorite teacher. All the big 6th graders loved her even though she taught 1st grade. She had a kind of motherly bearing about her. I knew from the first day we met that she loved me and wanted the best for me. Of course she felt that way about all her kids. I’m very thankful that I had her for 1st grade. It started me off with a good taste in my mouth about school.
On the reverse side of my Progress Report is the following statement to parents: “This report is an estimate of the progress and needs of your child. Please examine each page carefully and acknowledge its receipt by signing below. Signing this report will not necessarily mean an approval but will show you have examined it. If the report is not clear or if there is anything you wish to discuss with the teacher, you will be welcomed at the school.” This statement is signed by, C. W. BINGMAN, Superintendent.
I have fond memories of “Skipper” Bingman. He used to visit Giles School periodically. He stopped by each classroom to see how everyone was doing. He called each student by their first name and he knew all their brothers and sisters as well as their parents. I didn’t think much of it at the time but now I muse over how he was able to learn and keep up with all of that information. Anyway, Skipper had a kind face and comforting smile. All the kids adored him.
Down near the bottom of the reverse side of the card is a statement headed up, “PROMOTION.” The statement reads, “We recommend that Winston be placed in the 3rd grade level at the beginning of next semester.” Notice I jumped from the 1st grade to the 3rd grade. This was because the 12th grade system was initiated that following school year. Prior to this time, school ended with the 11th grade. My sister, being older than I am, skipped the 5th grade. So, in reality we went to school only 11 years but actually finished the 12th grade.
The inside of the card contains my grades for that school year. There were six grading periods each consisting of 6 weeks. I made an “S” in every subject, those being, Arithmetic, Reading, Spelling, and Writing. The marks and their meanings are as follows: “The letter ‘S’ indicates that the pupil is progressing satisfactorily for a pupil of his maturity. The letter ‘N’ indicates that the pupil needs to improve. The letter ‘C’ (Caution) indicates that the pupil is doing very poor work and if no improvement is made promotion will be endangered.” The card also shows that I missed 26 days of school that first year. I don’t remember being out that much although I did have my tonsils removed.
The remaining marks have to do with the following elements: “Behavior on Grounds, Behavior in Building, Co-operative, Courteous, Promptness, Thoroughness, Neatness, Self-Reliance, Carefulness, Dependableness, Follows Instructions, and Effort.”
Now, remember that this report card was for the first grade back in 1941-1942. You would think we were taking a college entrance exam. And now that I think about it, perhaps we were.

Winston Hamby --
The Beaumont Enterprise
January 27, 2007

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Good Genes for Gene ...

I do not know if Eugene T. Corder ever knew that he was one of my heroes. But he was. “Gene” started work with the Beaumont Police Department in 1955. For several years, he drove a white traffic patrol car. There were three white traffic cars being used in the city at that time. Primarily these cars worked traffic and the black “Prowl Cars” worked criminal calls.
Gene married Ruby Alexander. They were members at the South Park Church of Christ located on Highland Ave. at Threadneedle Street. Ruby’s dad and my dad were two of the Elders in that church. Gene was a few years older than me, which made him closer to my sister’s age (my sister is older than I am). Anyway through all of this Gene and I became acquainted. When I found out he was a police officer, I placed him on a pedestal as my hero.
During that period of time, the city of Beaumont had a program in which older teenagers could ride on patrol with the white traffic cars. I rode with Gene on Friday nights as schedules permitted.
He would drive to my house in his white police cruiser to pick me up. At first I was a little self-conscious of the neighbors seeing a police car picking me up. Probably they wondered what I had done to get into trouble. Actually I didn’t mind as long as he brought me home at the end of his shift.
One night Gene and I were cruising in South Park. We were on the Port Arthur highway headed toward Lamar College. We were on a call to go check out Spindletop Park. The speed limit was 35 miles per hour in that area. Gene was driving about 45 miles per hour. He looked over at me and said, “Winston, how does it feel to speed without having to worry about a cop pulling you over?” I grunted. Did he know that there were those occasions where I might speed just a little bit? I had learned to grunt and not admit anything.
Anyway we drove out to Spindletop Park. The park was near Twin Lakes, between the highway and the Neches River. There were always some cars parked out there at night. It was a lovers’ lane if ever I saw one. Gene told me that it was not safe for couples to park out there so it was his job to get them back to a more lighted area.
We cruised the park. I was not allowed to get out of the police car but Gene would let me shine his 5-cell flashlight at the parked cars. If they did not move on he would get out and walk up to their window and tell them to get going. Gene told me he realized that the people thought he was just being a killjoy. They didn’t understand that it was for their safety.
Later Gene was promoted to Sergeant, and then to Lieutenant, and then to Captain. He served as Administrative Assistant to Chief Willie Bauer for sixteen years. Finally, Gene retired with 34 years experience on the force. He told me that he had been beat up, spit on, knocked unconscious, run over by a car and everything but getting shot.
But above all, what impressed me the most about Gene was that he remained a faithful Christian. He had a tough job and many experiences that will stay in the port folio of his memory for the remainder of his life. And his gentle Christian spirit and his leadership will stay in my memory for the remainder of my life.
It’s great to have a hero like Eugene T. Corder.

Winston Hamby
The Beaumont Enterprise
January 20, 2007

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Time Marches On ...

That clock situated on top of the San Jacinto Building in downtown Beaumont is a humongous thing. I’ve always been intrigued with that gigantic 4-sided timekeeper.

When my family moved to Beaumont in 1940, I was 5-years old. Occasionally we drove in our 1938 Plymouth to the downtown area. We went north on Park Street to get there. I remember looking at the Beaumont skyline. The big clock on the San Jacinto Building always stood out. It still stands out today in my memory.

One summer day in 1952, Jimmy Cassady and I were downtown just goofing off. We didn’t have anything to do so we went looking for something. Somehow we came up with the idea that we ought to go to the roof of the San Jacinto Building and take a good look at that clock. Since we were just about to be big seniors at South Park High School, we felt that any challenge was ours for the taking.

We figured that we could ride the elevator to the top floor of the building but assumed the door to the roof would be locked. We boarded the elevator and rode as high as we could go. Then we ventured out into the hallway and searched for a way to the roof. We saw an exit sign on a door. That turned out to be a staircase leading down. But also there was a staircase going up. There was a chain strung across that set of stairs with a sign reading, “Authorized personnel only. Do not go beyond this point.” Jimmy and I must have interpreted the sign to mean that only “Authorized Personnel” should not proceed. There was nothing there telling unauthorized people to stay out. We looked at each other and just sort of eased under the chain and found ourselves on the stairway leading up. We ascended. Soon we came to some of the biggest cogs and wheels and stuff that I had ever seen. It was so fascinating to watch all of those wheels turn.

We ventured on up the staircase to a door. The door was unlocked and soon we found ourselves easing through that doorway. We were now on the roof of the San Jacinto Building. We looked around. That clock was huge. From that vantage point you could see the minute hand moving. We just loved watching that clock operate. Also, we could look over the railing of the roof and see tiny people walking on the sidewalk below. And did you know that the scenery surrounding Beaumont is beautiful when viewed from atop the San Jacinto Building? Jimmy and I searched and searched but could find no way go any higher into the clock area. We figured there were more “clockworks” to see.

Finally we lost interest in our newly-found wonderland and proceeded to head back down into the hallway. When the elevator doors opened for us to board, a man got off. He was wearing khaki pants and a green shirt. His name tag read, “Knight.” Mr. Knight asked us what we were doing there on the top floor. We explained how that we were trying to get a good look at the big clock. Mr. Knight said, “I’m sorry. You boys can’t go up there. It’s off limits to you.”

We shrugged our shoulders and replied with something like, “Oh, OK, thank you sir.” As Jimmy and I were descending on the elevator, we had that accomplished feeling. I guess we felt like we had gotten away with something.

But you know what? Everything was all right because we knew that we had just had the “time” of our lives.

Winston Hamby
The Beaumont Enterprise,
January 13, 2007

Friday, January 05, 2007

For Better Or For Best ...

Have I ever told you about my wife? Probably not. I mean why would I? Wait, I mean some secrets are better off kept secret than shared. Hold everything … Stop the presses. I’ve really messed up. Let’s start over.

Allow me to share with you some information concerning my wonderful wife. Her name is Mardell. We’ve been married for more than 43 years. Mardell is part German and part Cherokee Indian. Much of her early schooling was in the country of Panama and she speaks Spanish very fluently. She only speaks Spanish to me when she gets mad. Let me say this. If you have a German and an Indian heading toward you speaking in Spanish, it’s time to take a stroll around the block. For more than 43 years I’ve been a man of the open air. But Mardell has taught me numerous valuable lessons about life. Lessons I would not have learned otherwise.

First, you should know that I am ten years older than she is. That means that I was a half-grown boy when Mardell was yet an unborn fetus. I know. You’re most likely thinking that I “Robbed the Cradle.” Maybe so but I’ll tell you this. A cradle is not all that bad if you find the right cradle. Yep, I was 27 and she was 18 when we got married. “When you find true love, you will love the truth.” Pretty neat quote isn’t it? I made it up.

One of the first lessons I learned from Mardell had to do with my driving habits. I had driven cars for twelve years prior to our getting married. But once we were married I learned that I drove too fast, rushed up to stop signs, and did not use my turn signals and had several other qualities lacking in the delicate skills of driving.

Especially am I prolific in missing turns when driving someplace. Mardell asks questions like, “Did you know you missed your turn?” or “Why are we going in this direction?” or “Do you know where you are going?”

Seemingly I do have a problem finding my way around Houston when she is with me in the car. When she is not with me I seem to do just fine. Just her presence seems to scramble my internal navigational instruments.

One night we left Jones Hall in downtown Houston after enjoying a nice symphony concert. We were driving west on Westheimer Road looking for our street, Fondren Road. Evidently I passed Fondren without seeing it. My wife started saying things like, “Seems like we should be home by now. How come it’s taking so long?” Or “I didn’t know we lived in a Vietnamese community.” When we reached the intersection of Highway 6, I realized that we were several miles west of our intended destination. I asked Mardell why she hadn’t called attention to the fact that we were off-course. She replied with a smile, “I just wanted to see where you would go.” Somehow this stunt of hers did not amuse me. It amused her greatly.

Here is why this all came about. I had started telling her one of my Beaumont stories. When I start in on one of those she just lets me talk. I don’t know if she listens or not but I think she is glad I started writing. When I write the stories out, I don’t have to talk them out. She doesn’t have to listen to them as much anymore. And I don’t seem to get lost as often.

When it’s true love, things have a way of working out OK.

Winston Hamby
The Beaumont Enterprise
January 6, 2007