JOYCE WHITIS

A celebration on April 1 was at one time, something special for the schools. The teachers and the school board at Chillicothe declared April 1 an official holiday with an all-day school picnic on the banks of Red River. They figured most of the high school kids would skip school anyway so what the heck? We’d just have a party instead and everybody was invited.

Chillicothe is just 13 miles from Red River and having an all-school picnic on its sandy banks was a real holiday for teachers and students alike.

West Texas was as dry as a dead heifer’s bones bleached white in the blazing noonday sun but just a few miles away, over the river, 3.2 beer could be had, if you had a quarter. While getting drunk on 3.2 beer is hardly possible, I have watched a few 17 year olds give it an honest try. Just the heady knowledge that across that narrow stretch of red water lay sin, was enough to send lightning bolts through hormone jumping teens looking for high adventure.

It also sent lightning bolts through Texas parents, most of who thought drinking beer and dancing were a big boost along that wide road leading straight to hell. Maybe for that reason, all our school gatherings were at some deserted spot along that sluggish stream separating the good from the bad. We were just a bunch of kids out to enjoy the day, ride horses at break neck speed up and down the river banks, fall down on the red sand, eat the fried chicken our mothers had packed for us and enjoy a day of freedom. Still, there was some excitement in knowing that just over that thin line, lay sinful ways.

April Fool’s Day remained an important day after I began teaching. One of my years as a high school teacher was at Desdemona and I remember that special day. The senior boys all slipped off from school during the first afternoon period. The senior girls and I went to find them. We drove down to Hog Creek and all we saw were naked bodies tearing through the mesquite trees and prickly pears. It seems that the boys had a great urge to go swimming just before we showed up. Our laughter set them running for cover. They showed up back at school much later, bruised and scratched, faces, red.

Huckabay and Lingleville schools have always maintained a friendly rivalry on the basketball court but during the ‘60s and ‘70s they enjoyed a special partnership on April 1. On alternate years the high school boys and girls all went over to the other school for the day. There was usually a game of baseball and lots of singing and other entertainment throughout the day. I remember a teenaged Hulen Duvall captivating the girls with his voice and his guitar. He performed much like a budding Elvis and memories of him are still fresh in the minds of seniors who graduated long ago. A few years ago Hulen and his Troublesome Three, consisting of older school mates entertained the crowd gathered in the old Tabernacle to celebrate the annual Homecoming activities at Huckabay. We sat on the wooden benches, listened and remembered another April Fools Day and for awhile there, the years rolled backward.

Today’s school schedules allow for lots of holidays for students, including spring break, Martin Luther King Day, teacher work days, showing livestock day and bad weather days. All we got was Thanksgiving Day, a week for Christmas and April Fool’s Day.

My first year to teach was in the Huckabay school system and I was surprised there was a “Fall Break” for cotton picking and peanut harvest. School let out for two weeks so the kids could help with the harvest. There was also one mother who kept her daughter home one day every couple of weeks so she could help with the washing. Several high school students that I had in class, got up early in the morning to help with the milking before coming to school and after school went to the dairy barn again without having any kind of “break.” They even had to milk twice on April Fool’s Day.

There was no “Spring Break” back then where everybody runs off to the ocean to build sand castles. Parents in our time probably never even heard of Padre Island. They were, however, aware of knee deep water in Red River and the perils to be found on the other side.