Friday, May 30, 2008

This Is A Sub Story ...

We moved back to Beaumont in 1983 so that I could serve as Minster of Youth with the Ridgewood Church of Christ. One area of the ministry called for me to become a substitute teacher for high schools in the area. This way I could meet teenagers that I would not otherwise meet. Since I was a Youth Minister and teenagers are “Youth,” the substitute teacher approach worked quite well.

Anyway, as you may know, substitute teachers have a hard row to hoe. When a regular teacher is out due to sickness or whatever, the students really can get on a substitute teacher’s case. Or to use an old saying, “When the cat’s away, the mice will play.” Let me share with you a couple of “tricks” the students loved to pull on subs.

When I substituted in public high schools the classes were very large. At least they were large compared to private schools. In public schools I had as many as 35 students in one classroom for as long as one hour at a time.

Sometimes the students traded names. Since I did not know anyone, this could be confusing. Tom and John might trade names. Then if I gave the class a “pop-quiz” Tom would receive John’s grade and John, Tom’s. Really I never knew for sure just who was who. Other times, when I called the roll to check attendance someone in the back of the room would answer “here” for someone who was absent. I used to wonder how I had more students present in the roll book than were present in the classroom. Actually I realized what they were doing but still found difficulty in determining who was present or absent.

One day I received a call from John Davis who was Senior Minister for the Ridgewood Church of Christ (In fact, John has been with the Ridgewood Church for 50 years). He was going out of town for a week and he asked me to teach his Home and Family class at French High, a public high school located on Concord Road. This proved to be a fascinating class. Our textbook for the class was the Holy Bible, a neat concept. I told John that I would teach while he was away.

The school at that time had a predominantly minority student population. While I had been a substitute teacher in several schools in the area I had never taught at French High. I well knew the pranks that students played on subs and quite honestly I thought this class would, “eat my lunch.”

But let me share with you a most remarkable thing. Those students were the most respectful students I ever met. I taught that class for an entire week and never had even one moment of misconduct from any of them.

I made friends with several of those students. When John Davis returned from his out-of-town trip I made it a point to compliment the outstanding conduct of the students. Also, I asked John to call on me anytime he needed a substitute teacher for that class.

John Davis did call on me to sub several mores times that year. In fact I became his regular substitute teacher for several years. I enjoyed thoroughly going into the classroom with those students at French High. Even now at age 72, I continue to marvel at the high level of respect they showed to this old substitute teacher. And you know what? I’d do it again at the drop of a hat.

Now for this note to those French High School students. Thank you for ministering to this minister in such an exemplary Christian manner.

Winston Hamby

Friday, May 16, 2008

You Can Bank On Good Singing Anytime

I searched through every box in our garage and did not find it. Then I pulled everything out of the hall closet but still failed to locate it. Then I asked my wife if she knew where it might be. She said, “Oh that is in a file under my sewing machine.” I looked and sure enough, there it was. But I am getting ahead of the story.

In 1963, I left my dad’s accounting firm in Beaumont and joined First Security National Bank. Thus began another exciting chapter in life. I had just married the love of my life in June of that year and now was launching out into a new career. From accounting to banking was not a difficult transition but there were some challenges. But this story is not about my job descriptions but rather something that occurred as a sideline of working at First Security Bank.

One day Jack Darling who was our Vice-President of Human Resources approached me and asked if I would be interested in organizing a singing group made up of bank employees. The idea fascinated me so I agreed to try. I had been directing a wedding chorus for years at the South Park Church of Christ in Beaumont. That group was made up mostly of teenagers. We sang for more than one hundred weddings over a period of five years. This proved to be a great activity for the teens. In fact, as time went on the chorus began to inter-marry. Yes, the sopranos married the basses. For example Rex married Mary, P. D. married Joyce, Chuck married Frances, Joe married Jackie, George married Margaret, etc. That chorus did more to match make than any counseling service ever dreamed of doing.

Anyway, Jack Darling wanted to have a bank chorus and he knew that I was experienced with choral activities. His idea was to have a group that would sing in the bank lobby at noon each day during Christmas season. The bank erected a tall Christmas tree in the lobby. In fact the tree touched the ceiling, which was a very high one. The chorus gathered in the center of the lobby to sing carols. Some of the singers were Mary Jane Boyette, Mardell Hamby, Jack Darling, Elmer Engman, John Geis, Bob Glazener, and yours truly. I sang while I directed.

Bob Glazener was not a bank employee but was a bank customer with a rich bass voice. He sang solos with the chorus. I still can hear Bob’s beautiful rendition of “O Come All Ye Faithful.” And of course my wife, Mardell Hamby was not a bank employee. She inherited a slot in the alto section by virtue of being married to the director. Bank employees served gingerbread and wassail punch. The public seemed to like this activity and I know the chorus enjoyed singing. We did this every Christmas for several years.

One highlight standing out in my memory was the Christmas of 1964. The bank threw a party for bank employees out at the Harvest Club, located on the South Texas State Fairgrounds. There were several hundred in attendance. Our bank chorus was the official program of the evening.

Everyone had a good time. A photographer took pictures of the chorus in action. One of those is the picture accompanying this column. I kept the picture for years but did not know where it was.

Now you know what I was looking for in my garage and in our hall closet. I’ll never know how that picture ended up in a file under my wife’s sewing machine. But when a fellow has a wife keeping track of stuff, he doesn’t have to know everything.

Winston Hamby

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Uncle Phil Takes A Spill And Gets His Fill ...

If even a few of the stories were true that my uncle Phil Harris told when I was a young boy, they would be proclaimed as confirmed miracles. On the other hand, Uncle Phil was such a character that I never doubted for one second the accounts he shared. But I should start at the beginning.

Grandpa and Grandma Hamby lived in the country just outside of Jackson, Mississippi, near the Pearl River.

Every summer my family visited the older Hambys. My dad drove us in our 1938 Plymouth sedan. We lived on Pipkin Street in Beaumont and it took ten hours one way to drive that old car to Jackson. We never made the trip without having at least one flat tire. Dad had a kit of inner tube patches and a hand tire pump. He could pump up a flat tire in no time. All of our inner tubes had several patches indicating how many flats each tire had experienced.

Anyway, every time we visited my grandparents, Uncle Phil dropped by to see how we were doing. Uncle Phil was married to one of Dad’s sisters. Her name was Willie. She was an accountant and had a good job that paid their bills. And that was a good thing because Uncle Phil was more of the adventuresome type. He enjoyed camping out in the Pearl River swamplands and hunting alligators. He trapped them and sold their hides. He made pretty good money doing this but evidently did not lead much of a home life.

Uncle Phil had a small boat that he used to navigate around the swamp lakes. One night he was out hunting alligators and had for his only light a small carbide lamp strapped to his forehead. He told me he could spot alligators at night because their eyes reflected like little red lights when he aimed his lamp in their direction.
First he would go to the inlet of the swamp lake and string a net. This method called for stringing the net so that a dead alligator would drift toward the river and snag in the net. Then the following morning Uncle Phil could go gather in his catch.

On this particular night, Uncle Phil was drifting around in the swamp and he spotted a huge alligator. He knew the gator was big because the eyes were so far apart. He aimed his rifle between the two little red lights and squeezed the trigger.

There commenced (Uncle Phil loved to use the word, “commenced”) a thrashing and crashing of wounded alligator. The next thing Uncle Phil knew was that he was in the water. The gator had flipped that huge tail once too often and capsized the boat. Uncle Phil knew he was in trouble because it was midnight and his carbide lamp had been extinguished when he hit the water.

So there was Uncle Phil waist deep in swamp water. Also there was this huge thrashing wounded alligator in the same swamp water. Uncle Phil felt around and found a tree stump that rose up above the water level by two feet. He climbed onto that stump and squatted. He was afraid to dangle his feet in the water. Uncle Phil squatted on that stump all night.
When dawn began to break and Uncle Phil could see just a little bit, he saw his boat a few feet away. He righted the boat and paddled to the inlet to check his net. Sure enough there was his gator … all twelve feet of him.

I believe Uncle Phil was telling the truth. He wouldn’t fib to his own nephew. Or would he?

Winston Hamby