The year was 1958 or maybe 1959. I was in the ninth or 10th grade which means I was old enough to know better. Yes, to know better than to fall prey to the evil whims of an upperclassman.
Our morning high school classes were changing when it happened. The third-floor hall was crowded. An upperclassman sidled up to me and tugged at my arm. “Here,” he said smiling wryly, “step hard on this.” He held out what looked like a small gold-colored BB. At his urging, I placed the pellet on the tile floor, and stomped on it…HARD.
The resounding explosion lifted my foot at least a foot off the floor and echoed up and down the crowded hall. I had detonated an “atomic pearl.”
“You shouldn’t have done that,” a nearby classmate scolded me. “Ya think,” I mused silently to myself as the acrid smell of exploded gunpowder wafted around me. I “limped” down to Mr. Foster’s music class, hoping but not expecting that all the excitement was behind me. “Behind” is a word chosen carefully.
We were only a few minutes into the class when the phone on the wall by the door rang. Answering it, Mr. Foster turned his gaze towards the class and locked eyes on me. “Yes, he’s here. Yes, I’ll do that,” he said. His next words sent a chill up my teenage spine. “Snyder, you’re wanted in the office,” he said gruffly.
Murmurs among classmates gave me an ominous sendoff as I trudged out of class to face a different kind of music in Principal Stanton’s office. Needless to say, I was quickly ushered into his chambers where the paddle was already lying on the edge of his desk. I had learned to distinguish between the spelling of “principal” and “principle” because the head of the school was your “pal.” Not that day, he wasn’t.
The trial, sentencing and punishment were swift. Mr. Stanton asked me a few questions which I answered truthfully. “Now, bend over,” he ordered. I winced as I was stung three times by the firm application of the wooden paddle. “Now, go back to class,” he concluded abruptly.
When I visited the school in August 2014, some 56 years later, I told the secretary in the principal’s office my tale of woe. She simply smiled, went to the closet and pulled out the paddle.
Roger Snyder grew up in Ancramdale on his parents’ Chimney Hill dairy farm, now the site of the Cricket Hill equestrian center. Snyder and his wife, Cyndy, have lived in Manassas, Va. for the past 43 years.
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