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THE RING OF PROGRESS/Kris Lackey IN THE SPRING OF 1968 a dozen progressive parents leagued up to drive out the principal of our county school. His name was Reilly. He was a choleric, paunchy man of sixty with a sneak's gait who stank of liquor and often smoked two cigarettes at once. Not a single child in the school—not the most innocent first grader—had been spared Reilly's thirty-Inch cedar paddle, which he called Skipper. The angry parents—not my own, but mine knew them and sided with them— were not college graduates but had seen enough of the world to know that a stupid, brutal cracker, even if he had a degree, even if he was a nominal Baptist, ought not be running their children's school. They exercised sober judgment, for none of them drank. Two of them sat on the school board. They persuaded two more board members, gained a majority, and the principal was fired. Before the term ended, Old Man Reilly died of a stroke at a cockfight. His rooster won. Over the summer between my junior and senior years, the school board collected applications for principal of Arkite School, a native sandstone redoubt built in 1905 on a ridge above the Cimarron River near Guthrie, the territorial capital of Oklahoma. Of the three applicants the board members had to choose from, they offered thejob to Ed Frisch. According to my father, Frisch won them over with his robust good looks and his devotion to clean living, athletics and the New Math. Dad said no one he knew on the board had ever heard of the New Math, but it had the ring of progress. My father owned the sole white grocery store Ui Arkite, which had been passed down father-to-eldest-son since the Run. And looked it. Think Walker Evans. (Arkite's Negro citizens favored a small concern nearer Langston, though my father had quietly broken his father's policy by welcoming black patrons.) I had worked there part time during school and full time every summer since I was twelve. Because we (my father) did not seU 3.2 beer or cigarettes or snuff, we did notprosper but drew a tiving from the homebound and the virtuous, m the years when the whole state was stül dry, the store had buUt my grandfather a sprawling brick ranch house on the original land claim. Toward the end ofJuly I was dusting the fruit-cocktaU stock In aisle three when Mrs. LyIe Tarro, the mayor's wife, came at a trot from Meats without her cart. She was red Ui the face and held her hands aloft as she descended on two other ladies parked Ui my aisle. When she reached 156 · The Missouri Review them, she laid one hand on each lady's shoulder. They huddled, and Mrs. Tatro stage-whispered, "He's here. The new principal. He looks just Uke Kirk Douglas!" She cocked herhead to direct the troops, thenwalked slowly back toward Meats. The other ladies pretended to appraise canned peaches and dried prunes before drifting toward the prize. I wanted to see a principal who looked like a movie star. Dusting furiously down the aisle, I emerged at the butcher's cooler and poked my head around the corner. The back aisle was empty. I threw caution to the wind, stuck the handle of my feather duster Ui my apron pocket and, risking my father's disapproval, ranged the whole store. But Ed Frisch had checked out. Mrs. Tatro and her friends had regrouped at Produce. I paused near them, took out the duster and went to work on canned meats for the second time that day. "He didn't buy any meat," one said. "He does look Uke KUk Douglas." "He doesn't wear a wedding ring." "Is he single?" "Did you see aU those raw vegetables?" "Who cooks for him?" Weighty questions. They would never have occurred to me, but when they were raised, I wanted answers myself. What kind of man lived on raw vegetables? Even Old Man Reilly, before he died, had a wife to cook his meals. If...


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