by Jim Bulls
My friend Bruce was back from Vietnam and I was out of AIT, so we decided to go back to college. When we enrolled at Reedley College, we found that we both needed to take English A, and there was a new English teacher on staff. A little background here: English A is basic English for those with aspirations of transferring from junior college to a four-year college. There was also English 50, a class for those students going for an AA degree. If you didn’t pass the English portion of the college entrance exam, you needed to take one of these basic classes before you could take the college level English 1-A and 1-B. You also had to get at least a ‘B’ grade.
Now I had already taken both English A and English 50 numerous times throughout my college career and had never achieved the illusive ‘B.’ In one instance the class was taught by a long-time acquaintance who assigned a term paper that equaled 50% of your final grade. At the time my mother was researching the family history in Alabama where the Bullses had a plantation near Florence along the banks of the Tennessee River. I decided to base my story on this family history. Part of my story featured me lounging in a hammock, sipping a mint julep, while a servant fanned me with a palm frond.
When our papers were returned, there was a big, red ‘F’ on mine, with the note “See me after class!” When I reported to his office, he chewed me out for plagiarism and threatened me with being kicked out of school.
I went home and collected the family tree, my rough draft, plus the copy showing where I condensed the story down to the word limit and where I corrected my spelling and grammar, as well as my final copy. Back I went to the teacher’s office. Who, I asked, did I plagiarize? Reluctantly he adjusted my grade, but not to a ‘B.’ He also didn’t apologize. It was no surprise then, that both Bruce and I signed up for the new teacher’s class.
Mrs. Mullaly was in her early 60s and didn’t take any nonsense from anyone in class. She didn’t assign a term paper, but had us write short stories weekly. Some stories we made up, others she gave us the subject matter.
One story I wrote gave the impression that I was sneaking out behind the barn to check out the curvaceous farmer’s daughter. It appeared that I was in love and so infatuated that I couldn’t keep my eyes off this beautiful girl, but in reality it was a 1928 Model A Ford – the same Model A that I have owned for over 60 years.
One of our assigned topics was to write a story based on a Salvador Dali painting of an old couple approaching a fork in the road. The woman was resting by the side of the road, while her husband continued down the road. At the fork was a dead tree with a large, melted pocket watch on one of the limbs. My interpretation was that the couple was in the autumn of their years; she was now alone because he had died. As he walked down the path to eternity, he passed the watch that represented the end of his life clock. The tree held a lifetime of memories. I didn’t think the story was morbid or depressing, but the teacher thought my knowledge of death was a little odd.
At the semester’s end, she called both Bruce and me to her office. She talked with Bruce first and when he left her office he had a ‘B.’ Then it was my turn.
“Jim,” she said, “if you take my English A class again I can guarantee you a B, or maybe even an A.” She was astonished at my deadpan reaction. “Are you upset?” she queried. She evidently thought I was a freshman, not a professional student. I told her that this wasn’t my first try at English A, and that I had at least a half dozen “Cs” in either A or 50. Mrs. Mullaly thought for a moment and then asked if I had signed up for English 1-A, and who had I selected as a teacher. I replied that I signed up for her class because she made it interesting, and I had learned more in one semester than in all the previous classes put together.
I walked out of her office with an official ‘B’ grade.
I was really looking forward to English 1-A. No more spelling, diagraming sentences, or accusations of plagiarism. There were book reports, stories read by the teacher, and the major grade for the class was a term paper on an American author. I chose Edgar Allan Poe. Papers were due three weeks before semester’s end.
Two weeks before the end of class we walked into the room, and Mrs. Mullaly proceeded to blow her stack. “These papers are not even acceptable for first year high school English,” she ranted. “You have one week to take heed of the comments written on each paper and resubmit it. I am going to read you the only ‘A’ paper that was turned in.” So she did, and it was on Edgar Allan Poe.I finally got to English 1-B, where my teacher was Gus Garrigus, a family friend, Assemblyman for the thirty-first District, California’s Poet Laureate, and the man who told me the truth about Santa Claus. It was a wonderful semester filled with poetry, good books, and Mr. Garrigus reading Shakespeare.
Once you get past bonehead, English can be fun.
For more local and California history articles, including more Reedley history articles by Jim, be sure and check out our Hometown History section.