THERE ARE NO EXCUSES
In the fall of 1969, Billy Joe Royal was singing “Cherry Hill Park” on the AM radio and I had just entered my freshman year at Henry County High School, “Home of the Golden Tornadoes.”
At the time there were only three high schools in all of Henry County. In McDonough there was only one elementary school and it was located behind Henry County High School, which is now the Henry County Board of Education. If you had a classroom on the front of the school, you could see the high school and the football field clearly. We could even see the teenagers changing classes and walking to different buildings.
That year I signed up for Ag I, a shop class taught by Mr. Adair Dickerson Sr. who was also in charge of the Future Farmers of America (FFA). We still had a good many farms in Henry County and this was a good class to take. Mr. D, as we called him, took a lot of time teaching boys how to build and fix things.
I didn’t grow up on a farm but I found this class to be very interesting. Mr. D was a family friend and quite a character. He liked to nickname people that he knew well. He would call Bobby Lynch, who owned The Weekly Advertiser, Press Box Lynch. He called Mr. Andrews who owned a leather and shoe repair shop across from Planters Warehouse, Shoe Booty. And he called my mother, Martha Ann, Miss Picture Show, because she owned the theatre. He also introduced McDonough to the term “sweet drink” for any type of drink that had sugar in it.
We learned a little bit of everything in his class. We learned how to run a chain saw, the basics of electricity and lots of mechanical things. We made lamps out of wagon wheel hubs with lights in the middle of the hubs. I still have the one I made and it still works.
His classroom was different from all of the other ones. There were no desks in there, but instead there were two very long tables with black tops. We sat in alphabetical order and when he called your name every morning on roll call you had better be in the right chair or you would be in trouble. Mr. D did not have any disciplinary problems in his class period! He would give out homework and you better know the answer the next day or else.
If you could not answer the question he would ask you why and when you started to give a reason he would stop you in the middle of a sentence. I can see him right now, with his bow tie, plaid jacket and bi-focals on the end of his nose, he would look at you and say, “What does the sign above the blackboard read.” This sign had capital black letters that clearly read: THERE ARE NO EXCUSES.
The boys would not repeat the sign very loudly and Mr. D would say, “We can’t hear you, speak louder.” This would go on two or three more times until the boy would make sure you could hear him and Mr. D would say, “Be sure to know the answer tomorrow.” Well, he would give you another chance the next day but if you messed that up you would have to choose between writing definitions or getting licks. You never knew how many he would assign of either. I saw him give anywhere from 1-20 licks or as many as 10-500 definitions. You just took a chance. But whatever you were supposed to know, next time you made sure that you did. Just ask Warren Holder of Locust Grove, he was one of Mr. D’s scholars.
Other “scholars,” as Mr. D referred to his students, that are friends of mine that I remember being in his class were Jep Pullium, Ray Rainer, Jackie Mercer, Ronnie Henley, Bob Strickland, Carter Hudson, Kerry Floyd and Harry Phillips.
When a new boy came to Mr. D’s class he would have no idea what he had signed up for. Mr. D. would instruct the boy to go to another teacher’s class and ask for things he said he had loaned and needed back. I remember him asking for two gallons of striped paint, a left handed monkey wrench and he needed his skyhook back to move the goal post a few inches.
Now of course there was no such thing as striped paint, a left handed monkey wrench or a skyhook but the new boy did not know that yet.
When you did answer a question right he replied with the word “magnanimous.” This was the first time I had ever heard this word.
One of his requirements was to be prepared daily and on the first day of class, he instructed us to have ready every morning, two #2 pencils, sharpened and ready to write. It was required as a must so when he would call roll each morning he would call you by your last name and he would ask if you had two #2 pencils ready to write and sometimes he would ask you to hold them up so he could see them.
One morning I only had one pencil and I just prayed he would not ask to see them. I tried to borrow one but nobody had an extra pencil. Of course he started with the A’s and I knew it would take a while until he got to the R’s. So as it got closer to me I had the idea that I would break my pencil in two and just show the sharpened pencil on one side of my fist and the eraser on the other side in case he asked to see them. Well with my luck, that day, he called out “Reeves” and I replied “Yes sir.” He said, “have you got two pencils” and I said “Yes sir!” He said, “let’s see them,” so I held them up and he said, “Ok.” You don’t know what a relief that was. Now Mr. D was a very smart person and it was very difficult to pull something over on him. I still to this day don’t know if I did pull it off or he just gave me a break. You have to agree, I should get an E for effort. I stayed in touch with Mr. D after I got out of school. It was always fun and entertaining to be in his company and he is one teacher that really changed a lot of boys’ lives in Henry County.
Mr. Dickerson, you were a gentleman and a scholar and we thank you for that.
Editor’s Note: You can view the original sign that reads “THERE ARE NO EXCUSES” located inside the Henry County Board of Education Central Office in the 1938 Classroom and Museum.