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Tacoma, Washington, United States

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Bona School part 6: Scandouls behavior or a cry for help?

I have wrestled with the inclusion of this story.  It is disturbing to me as a woman and a daughter.  I do not fault my eleven-year-old father for not interpreting the scenario (although a modern day boy might), but I am grieved that fifty years later the same misogynistic views of 1933 colored his re-telling of it.  If it serves no other purpose, perhaps like the story of Black George earlier, it may spark conversation and assessment of how far we have or have not come.

Mr. Hardesty, who preceded Mr. Mitchell as principal of Bona School, was not the same caliber teacher as Mr. Mitchell and very firmly believed in corporal punishment.  He kept a long paddle, perforated with holes on the business end so that it would sting more, propped in a corner behind his desk but plainly visible.  It was no idle threat—he could wield it mightily when it was justified.

I recall one case that Hardesty had to deal with.  In 1933 a thirteen or fourteen-year-old girl came from a city somewhere to stay in the area with her aunt.  Her name was Blanche Irene Mitchell (no relation to Mitchell the teacher who came to Bona later on).  Blanche was a husky, nubile girl with carrot-red hair and—as it turned out—an obsession with sex.  She had a kind of obnoxious personality and none of the boys were very strongly attracted to her.  I do not believe that she had any real girlfriends wither.  On Valentine’s Day she got more nasty comic valentines than anyone else.

The rocky, dusty country road that ran through Bona and past the schoolhouse was upgraded to a “farm-to-market” road in 1933 or 1934 and there were quite deep ditches bordering the gravelled road along the school grounds.  One recess one of the teachers walked out to the road and caught Blanch Irene in the ditch “nursing” one of the kids from the Little Room.  That, of course, was scandalous and intolerable conduct and Blanche was informed that she was to stay after school and see the principal.

That afternoon Mr. Hardesty procured a new limber slat of wood from the coal shed and sat all afternoon at his desk whittling a new paddle.  It was about three feet long, two inches wide, and was quite thin.  He finished drilling some holes at the end just before school let out.

Of course word had quickly gotten around and everyone was curious to know if Hardesty would whip Blanche Irene.  To our knowledge no girl had ever gotten a whipping.  Blanch had sat in fear and trembling all afternoon watching Hardesty whittle on that paddle.  It was my brother Richard that found out what went on.  On the pretext of cleaning erasers and blackboards, Richard tarried after school and managed to hide in the Middle Room behind the moveable partition so he could hear what went on.

Richard reported that Mr. Hardesty simply said, “Well, Blanche Irene, you know that what you were doing was dead wrong.  I am going to give you a choice—you can either take a proper whipping that you deserve or, if you don’t, you will be expelled from Bona School.  It is up to you.”

Between sobs, Blanche said miserably, “I can’t take a whipping, Mister Hardesty, so I guess I am expelled.”

We learned later that Blanche Irene had come to Bona to stay with her aunt and go to school because she had been expelled from a city school when she got caught in the furnace room having sex with the janitor.  I have no idea where they sent Blanch Irene next but that was the last we saw of her in Bona.

I have sometimes wondered what Mr. Hardesty would have done had he known about the times Blanch let some of us boys look down the neck of her dress to see if her boobs were real (they were) or, especially, if he knew about the times on the way home from school that Blanche Irene sneaked into an old corncrib about half a mile from school with Keith Carnes or one of the other older boys.  The ones she had done that with were relieved when she left town because she was always being sweetly coquettish around them and they were afraid she would wind up pregnant.  None of them wanted to be Blanche’s beau and they sure did not want to be trapped into marrying her because she got herself knocked up.

I have so many problems with this episode of my father’s memoir that it’s hard to know where to begin.  Although he seems to reflect on what if Mr. Hardesty had whipped Blanche and what if Blanche “had gotten herself knocked up” as though she alone would have been responsible, even writing fifty years later, he does not reflect on what might have caused Blanche’s behavior.  Promiscuous children, almost without fail, have been sexually molested by a trusted adult.  We don’t know Blanche’s back story except that she had been expelled from a city school for her behavior.  Had a father or a step-father or an uncle or friend robbed her innocence?  My father writes that Blanche had no real friends and was finding “love” and validation in all the wrong places.  Fifty or seventy years later, a school councilor would have gotten Blanche so help.  We can only speculate on what went on to happen to her, but my heart aches for that girl as I cannot imagine a good outcome for her.