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v v CHAPTER 7 Back to School I attended summer school and worked on my reading, writing, and mathematics, but I was still struggling with my grades. More Fs on my report card would mean more lickings and more restriction time. I had no interest in either of those. Despite my efforts, the staff and teachers were still trying to decide if I should be placed in special education classes. That all changed in my second year of school. Mrs. Gertrude Boatright was the most popular teacher at Boys Ranch. She was Bobby’s teacher the year before, and he told me that I would love her. She was an amazing teacher and became one of the most influential people in my life. She was older and was always smiling. When she realized how far behind I was in reading, she asked me to meet her after class, with Mr. Peggram’s permission. The first time we met after school, she told me to bring my notebook and follow her outside. We sat on the steps, and she pointed at objects and asked me to write the item in my notebook. I learned to write ant, insect, tree, sky, leaf, grass, and dirt—­ very simple words. Using phonics, she slowly taught me to read. Mrs. Boatright often read classics like The Yearling to us after lunch. But my favorite book was Big Mutt, about a family dog that was left behind in a South Dakota blizzard yet somehow survived. I could relate to that dog. I wrote Honey telling her how much I loved that book. Mrs. Boatright let Mr. Peggram know I was improving and asked him to be patient with me even though I was still getting Fs. I still got spanked each time my report card came out, but I had learned to Back to School • 43 wear two pairs of pants to absorb the impact of the spankings. And Mr. ­ Peggram seemed to be slowing down on the belt licks. When Christmas came, we decorated our dorm. We had a Christmas party in the dining hall, and Mr. Farley had the event broadcast live on TV, yet another example of what a great promoter Cal Farley was. The chapel choir sang Christmas carols, and Santa passed out gifts. Each boy got a shirt and a winter coat. For many of the boys, this was the very first gift they had ever received. After the Christmas party, boys could go home for ten days. My brothers and I were going to Jackson, Mississippi, to stay with our grandparents. Honey would meet us there. The next morning, we boarded a Greyhound bus in Amarillo at 6:00 a.m. It stopped at every town on the way to Dallas, where we changed buses. The next day we finally arrived in Jackson. I was so excited about seeing my family, I didn’t sleep all night long. My grandmother had baked brownies and made chocolate fudge candy. We walked around the backyard while my grandfather told us all his stories about his days on the railroad. Christmas Eve was very special. Honey gave me my present from both herself and my grandparents. I opened it and grinned from ear to ear when I saw a copy of Big Mutt. It was the first book I ever read. They could never have topped that gift. When it came time to get back on the bus, Grandmother gave us each a round tin container full of her homemade brownies. We all cried. I wanted to stay with my family so badly. The ride back to the ranch on the bus was long. I opened the tin of brownies and smelled them, but I never ate one. They reminded me of my grandmother, and I was determined to save them for as long as I could. When my brothers and I got back to the ranch, the staff searched our suitcases. They searched every boy’s suitcase, as they always do. They didn’t take our brownies, though, so I hid mine in my closet so the older boys wouldn’t take them. That night after we were in bed and lights went out, the big boys made their rounds, telling the younger boys to give them what they had received for Christmas. I didn’t tell them about the brownies. For the next several nights, I got up in the early hours, went to my closet, shut the door, took a...


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