by Jim Bulls
This saga starts in the old Lincoln School back in 1949. Mr. Hank Rasmussen, the bank manager at Bank of America, had set up a teller’s booth in the hallway of Lincoln and Washington schools, offering savings accounts to the students in order to teach them responsibility and good banking habits. Remember this was an era when credit cards were in their infancy and an ATM was unheard of.
Each class chose a “teller” to take weekly deposits and give out receipts. When Queenie, undisputedly the most popular girl in our class was chosen, the boys pushed and shoved their way into the head of the line so they could show her how much money they had saved in a week. However, trying to get her attention was a moot point, since Queenie and Johnny B. Good had been a “couple” since second grade.
As the boys approached junior high age, they started being a little bit more interested in girls, and the popular girls like Queenie were put up on a pedestal and worshiped. Of course, there were a lot of other girls running around that weren’t up on a pedestal. Our parents, teachers or clergy tried to decide who should teach us about the birds and the bees, but most of us learned over the back yard fence — not the best I dare say.
By junior high school another love started entering the minds of a lot of boys — cars. I bought my first car in the seventh grade, a $12 Model “A” Ford. This was also the year that the Baumbachs moved in across the street. Their son Leo had a motorcycle, a brand new Ford Thunderbird, and a pet monkey. He also practiced martial arts and played the drums. The drums drove my father up the wall since he always went to bed with the chickens. Leo would drop me off at school every morning, either on the motorcycle or the T-Bird, so I thought I was “Joe Kool.”
The first day of school of the eighth grade was so exciting. I got the motor in the Model “A” rebuilt over the summer, and she purred like a kitten. I couldn’t wait to tell my friends. Queenie and Johnny started off the year as usual, together. The boys hung out with Johnny to be close to Queenie. The girls liked being friends with Queenie because there was always a chance one of the other boys would get tired of worshiping her and put them up on a pedestal.
School was just like it used to be, at least until the next day — that’s when the Rebel showed up. The rumor was that he had been kicked out of every junior high around, and Grant was his last chance before reform school.
Of stocky build and more muscular than most, he stood almost six feet high and was quite a sight. He wore black leather motorcycle boots with a buckle on the side. His pants were either 501 Levis or black denim truck driver pants by Can’t Bust-em. The pants were never washed and could probably stand up by themselves if they were not being worn. A simple white or black t-shirt topped off the ensemble, one sleeve being stretched out of shape due to the package of cigarettes rolled up there. During school hours, the cigarettes rested under a wood pile behind the church next door to the school — possession of tobacco products on the school grounds was grounds for expulsion.
There was a small, self-made tattoo on one of his hands. He had a broad smile and dark, mischievous eyes; a slight stubble on his chin indicated that he had begun to shave. His hair would have made Elvis jealous! The Rebel took the basic flat-top and let the sides grow so they could be combed back to meet at the middle of the back of his head, and then the top of his hair was combed forward into a ringlet that cascaded down his forehead. This style was achieved with a liberal application of Dixie Peach Pomade. Excess pomade on his comb added to the patina of wear on the back pocket of his jeans. Being a product of an interracial marriage, somewhat uncommon in Reedley back then, gave him a somewhat exotic aura.
Before long the Rebel was the leader of a loose knit gang of misfits. Queenie, from her pedestal, had a great view of all the action and was infatuated with the Rebel. As soon as they made eye contact, she leaped from the pedestal into Rebel’s arms and Johnny B. Good was history.
Oueenie’s father wasn’t too excited about the situation, however. Rebel was ‘86ed’ from his property, both home and store. His displeasure even reached the school board and the superintendent.
The Rebel and I became friends after a fashion. Since I could have been a candidate for the ‘before’ photo in the Mr. Atlas commercials, I wasn’t any threat to him. Queenie and I had known each other for years, and I often used to walk home with both of them after school and then just tagged along with Rebel after the two of them said their goodbyes.
One day our coach and woodshop teacher, one who was a role model and mentor to many young men, abruptly shocked the class and especially the Rebel. For no apparent reason, Coach chastised, belittled, and challenged the Rebel in front of everyone. In those days teachers practiced corporal punishment, and it was apparent to all that Coach was doing everything possible to goad Rebel into a physical confrontation.
The Rebel stood humiliated, with tears in his eyes as Coach finally turned to walk away. Almost before anyone could react, Rebel picked up a 2×4 and aimed it at Coach’s retreating head, but he was stopped by one of his gang. Rebel left the classroom and beat his knuckles to a pulp on the stucco wall outside the door.
One Monday not too long after this incident, the students were met by the principal as they arrived at school. Everyone was ushered into an impromptu assembly where the principal announced that our beautiful new school had been violated over the weekend and was trashed. We were then marched single file through the carnage before heading to class. Most of the damage was done in the principal’s office where it appeared the culprits had tried to crack the safe. Unsuccessful at opening it, they proceeded to beat it into a piece of junk suitable for the scrap yard. It was pretty much a no brainer as to who did the damage and why.
Now the police cars in Reedley had a unique silhouette. Because of the way the red lights were mounted on the roof, the cars resembled giant Mouseketeer hats like those worn by the kids on the Mickey Mouse Club TV show. We called them the Mickey Mouse Patrol.
It was Thursday when Mickey Mouse showed up at school and to make the situation even more dramatic, it was during U.S. Constitution class. The teacher refused to let the police remove Rebel and his side kick. She said, in no uncertain terms, that the students were where they were supposed to be legally, and since they did not have a parent present or legal counsel, the police did not have the right to remove them from class.
The principal was furious. This was the first teacher to stand up for the boys, not to mention standing up against the school district as far as protecting their civil rights. The police left empty handed.
Rebel and his side kick did miss the next day of school, but they were back on Monday. I never knew what punishment if any was meted out, but I do know that no formal charges were ever filed. The two boys graduated with the rest of us that June, but many of us had a bet as to whether or not they would finish high school, quit, or get kicked out.
The Rebel did make it through Reedley High and graduated with the rest of us in 1961. I never considered the Rebel to be a pedestal worshiper, but he was. He and Queenie broke up in our sophomore year. He confessed to me one time that he respected her so much that he just had to let her go.
He joined the Army after high school. He had finally found a mentor in Major Arvi Nurmi and made quite a name for himself in high school ROTC. He made the Army his career. I haven’t seen him since graduation.
Queenie left Reedley soon after graduation and got married. She raised a family and now spends time with her grandchildren. I saw her a few years ago. She had turned into the spitting image of her mother. I guess I never noticed how beautiful her mother was until then.
I am still here in Reedley, which is not such a bad place to be. I haven’t provided many photos for this article because, even after all these years, people just should remain anonymous. I will say that there is mostly fact, some fiction, and a little fantasy, but you will have to figure out which is what.
By the way, I am reassembling that $12 Model “A” Ford that my family has never ridden in.
For more local and California history articles, including more Reedley history articles by Jim, be sure and check out our Hometown History section.