Monday, December 20, 2010

K.A.C. - T - 5 Days ...

Miss Ethelyn P. Hill, Teacher Extraordinaire
     Today I'm going off on a personal journey, with an entry I've been meaning to write since the K.A.C. started - join me, won't you?

     Marvel Comics ran a series a number of years ago called Secret Origins, which got me to thinking: what are the Secret Origins of the K.A.C. and my silly way of looking at this holiday? Yes, there is the origin from three years ago, with the contest between myself and my work-study students for the most foolish holiday computer wallpaper. However, as with all the best tales, if you dig deeper, you'll find there's more to the story.

     The actual beginnings of this story start with my primary school education. As I've mentioned before, I went to a military school in Tennessee from first grade - ninth grade. I have found through talking to people that almost everyone has that 'one special teacher', one person who made a difference in either their education or their personal lives, sometimes both. I have been lucky to have had two such teachers in my life. Miss Ethelyn P. Hill was the first. 

Miss. Hill (center) with students in the 1940s.
     Miss Hill was already an established legend when I arrived at school in 1963. She had been a teacher at the school as long as anyone could remember, having come on board with the original founders of the school, and stayed (and stayed and stayed ...) 

     I did not actually have classes with Miss Hill until my upper years at the school (DeBerry Academy, Baxter, TN - which has since closed). Miss Hill was our foreign languages teacher and I took her hardest course, four years of Latin. The running joke among the students was she was so fluent in it because she had spoken it as a little girl in ancient Rome! :) To her credit, though, she could explain anything you got stuck on and had an unlimited reservoir of patience with her thick-headed students! :)

     My tenure with Miss Hill began long before I ever took classes with her. At our school during meals, you had assigned seating - 10 boys to a table, with one teacher at the head to watch over you. From day one, I sat at Miss Hill's table. To this day I don't know why, but she took a liking to this little geeky Boston boy, a fish out of water compared to the rough and tumble Southern boys she was used to dealing with. She always sat at the head of the table and I was always on the first chair to her left, and God help ANY boy who tried (on purpose or otherwise) to take that seat. While normally a quiet, complacent soul, if riled she could hit a screeching note that would send the feathers flying off a harpy (and according to lore, probably did just that)! 

     As with all other aspects of military school, our meal time was very strictly limited. 30 minutes to eat, from start to finish. Ten boys, no horsing around. If you did, you were called out and were to stand at attention behind your seat for the remainder of the meal - and you went hungry until the next meal. If you did not like what was being served, you sat quietly in your seat until the next meal and hoped (and prayed) for something to be served that you DID like ... or you stopped being a picky eater VERY quickly.

     The only exception to this rule was Sunday dinner, which was almost always fried chicken, mashed potatoes and the like. Table behavior rules were still enforced, but the time limit was relaxed. It helped that fried chicken was Miss Hill's favorite dish, and on some Sundays, with the gentlest of questioning, she would tell me stories of her travels.

     You would never know it to look at the pictures above, but Miss Hill had been a world traveler and had all sorts of stories to tell, which I soaked up like a sponge. She had also for a while been the Dean of the school preceding our military school (which I had not known) - in addition to teaching whatever courses needed teaching, she was equally adept at busting girls who snuck off campus to meet boys ... and breaking up knife fights! The full telling of these tales can be found here: 

     Be that as it may, how does any of this relate to Christmas and the K.A.C.? Well, every year, either in late November or early December, Miss Hill would buy the Christmas edition of a seasonal magazine called Ideals. 
Published out of Nashville, Tennessee, by Guidepost Publications, Ideals was a heady mix of holiday artwork, stories, poems, recipes and pictures of the season. It was unlike anything I had seen before and I asked Miss Hill at our Sunday dinners if I could look at it. Not only did she let me see it and explain the things in it I couldn't understand, in later years she would give me a copy each year as a Christmas gift. Mind you, teachers giving students presents was Extremely Frowned Upon, but NOBODY messed with Miss Hill! :) The magazine colored my ideas of what Christmas SHOULD be like vs. what it usually WAS like in my house, and I looked forward to it every year.

     Miss Hill passed away in 1990, after a long life. Like many teachers before (and after) her, I doubt she knew just how influential she had been in so many students' lives. I never forgot her or her many kindnesses to me, and even today, my OFFICIAL Christmas season starts by going to the local Barnes and Noble around the end of November to pick up this years' edition of Christmas Ideals. I like to think that there's a gentle Christmas spirit looking over my shoulder each year, enjoying it with me as we did so many years ago.

Tomorrow: Your patience is rewarded, and we go back to the usual K.A.C. lunacy! Thanks to my readers for indulging me in this holiday wool-gathering today. Peace.


  1. We get Ideals for the library bulletin board, never thought about people actually reading it.


  2. I did sit under Ms Hill. Please visit us at Friends of JMA/DeBerry on facebook or contact me at WOnderful page you have posted.