A Southern Writer – Diane Story in Georgia

Mr. Turpin

“Diane Story report to Miss Jones in the Home Economics Building! This is an emergency.” His voice rang out in every classroom at Tucker High. The last thing I ever wanted to hear as an eighth grader; my name blaring over the P-A system by Mr. Turpin.

This was my first year at THS. My sister, Patricia, was two years ahead of me and a model student on the Drill Team. I was recovering from a long illness and was not interested in anything much but socializing. I had a few years of conversing to make up, and I enjoyed every moment of it. I loved talking and was smart enough to avoid Mr. Turpin.

Mr. Turpin was known for his no nonsense attitude. He refused to accept anything less than the best from his students. When Mr. Turpin walked down the halls, disguised male voices from seemingly out of nowhere announced his approach, “Chief, chief, the chief!” Everyone knew to straighten up and walk a bit taller.

Harold Turpin met Mildred Newton at Hiltonia where she was a teacher and he a principal/coach. They married and moved to Tucker Georgia where they were well accepted as educators. Mrs. Turpin taught fourth grade at Tucker Elementary, while Mr. Turpin took charge of Tucker High.

The truth be known, as I learned years later, Mr. Turpin did everything he could for a student – including breaking the rules – if it bettered a student’s education or station in life. He was all about improvement and moving upward and onward.

But here today in the eighth grade, I was facing the very situation I hoped to avoid. I was being summoned by Mr. Turpin over the P-A System.

As I left class and headed for the Home Ec Building, I recalled my first encounter with Mr. Turpin back in the fall. Coach Terry Sparks, my Georgia Civics teacher, sent me to the front office to “help out.” When I learned to stop talking so much, I could stop “helping out” and return to class.

My job in the front office was to take permission slips into Mr. Turpin for his approval. One by one, the football players of THS filed in. It was like they had a schedule going. One jock would come in and say, “Hey, get Mr. Turpin to sign this,” as he handed me a note.

“Okay, I’ll ask him,” I said after I read the note and asked a few questions.

I really didn’t want to disturb such a busy man, but I swallowed hard and tapped on his door. I did my job.

“Mr. Turpin, could you sign this for…?”
“What is it now?”

“He forgot to shave his legs for the big game tonight, and he needs his legs shaved so the tape will stick to his legs. He needs to check out of school and go home to shave his legs — sir.”

“What?” barked Mr. Turpin as he leapt from his desk downing an antacid on the way to the front-office, barreling toward the hunk of an athlete like a freight train.

“Let me take a look at that ankle. Weren’t you in here just last week? Asking to go home to shave your legs?”

“Yes sir, but the hair’s grown back out. If I play ball tonight, I need to go now to be ready. Coach Hodges sent me over.”

Mr. Turpin grimaced, then lectured. He finally agreed and hastily signed the permission slip. Not five minutes later, another football player came in with the same story. Each time Mr. Turpin jumped from his desk, went through the same routine. Each time acting as though he was going to eat the humble ballplayer alive, but always Mr. Turpin signed the slip. And each time, he turned suddenly to return to his office, downing an antacid shaking his head in disbelief.

I thought it strange; it was almost like Mr. Turpin was hiding his face with his hand when he downed the antacid. This went on for the entire hour that I was on duty, with one jock after another approaching Mr. Turpin with the same story. I just knew at any moment, Mr. Turpin would blow up like a volcano, but he never did.

As I left my class and very slowly walked down the hall toward the Home Economics building, I hoped Mr. Turpin would have the same forgiveness in his heart for me, but who was I?

I certainly was not a football player, nor a cheerleader, nor was I on the drill team. I was not even in a club, couldn’t play a musical instrument if my life depended on it. I was just an eighth grader finding my way through the halls of the renowned Tucker High School. My heart pounded a little harder with each step closer to the Home Ec Building. This was my third audience with Mr. Turpin.

The second time I was summoned, he tracked me down in my art class. I especially enjoyed my art class, because it put me in the same class with upper classmen – even seniors. What fun that was; especially when the class was asked to decorate the halls to market the Junior-Senior Prom. The theme was Hawaii.

I created a sensual Hawaiian girl dancing the hula. Her grass skirt was made of long yellow strips of crepe paper that hung loose about her voluptuous body. She was attached to the poster by a spring that allowed her to wiggle as students passed her. She was a hit, especially with the upper classmen. I wowed them with my talent.

But our smiles left us the day Mr. Turpin knocked on the art classroom door. He stuck his head in as he cracked open the door. Everyone froze as his gaze circled the room. His intense eyes landed on me. He nodded at me and pointed – silently demanding me to follow him.

I took a deep breath as the art students stared in horror. I stood and did the only thing I could, I followed Mr. Turpin. He did not speak all the way to the front office. I told them not to hang her next to that door, but the upper classmen insisted. And there she was – wiggling all over herself.

Mr. Turpin stopped and stared at the hula girl as he downed another antacid. “What do you think she needs, Diane?”

“Uhhhhh, nothing sir.”
“Nothing sir? Look again.”
“Where sir?”

Mr. Turpin paced the floor for a moment and then approached me again. “Do you have any more of that red paint?”

I looked closely at the red paint on the hula girl and realized Mr. Turpin was speaking of the hula girl’s halter top. “I don’t think so…”

“You don’t think so!”

Realizing that was the wrong answer, I tried to make amends, “Well, I suppose I could mix up some more, but sir – it’s supposed to be a bikini and a bikini…”

“I know what a bikini is Diane!” He turned suddenly as I had seen him do when he really comes down on someone, almost like he was hiding his face.

“I’ll do it. I’ll mix some more red paint sir, but I can’t cover her up too much, it’ll ruin the whole…”

“A little will do,” he snapped.
The bell rang for classes to change.
“I’ll do it tomorrow…”
“No ma’am, you’ll do it now.”
“But sir, I’ll be late for my next class.”
“I’ll take care of that. Let’s go.”

Mr. Turpin escorted me back to art class. It was quite an ordeal. As the students flooded the halls, all eyes were on me and the “Chief” – as the disguised voices of the male students announced our approach. When we got to the art class, Mr. Turpin walked in and went straight to the paint.

“Red? Where is it?”
“I’ll mix it, sir, here it is.”

Mr. Turpin carried the red paint back to the hula girl. As I painted over her cleavage, he nodded with approval and then walked me to my next class. He did not speak as we walked. His silence was worse than his bark.

I promised myself to steer clear of Mr. Turpin. And now, here I was being summoned to the Home Economics Building. What in the world could be wrong? And why the PA system? Before, he found me in class. Could it be that he could not find me since I changed my schedule while working in Mr. Turpin’s office that day? My locker was too far away from my classes. I just could not carry so many books at one time, so I took full advantage of the front office files while there. Mr. Turpin is going to kill me today; I just know it!

I left the Home Ec building this morning after first period. I was the captain of the cooking team; eight of us including me in my group. We spent the whole class cooking a carrot cake. The class time was up and Miss Ina Mae Jones, our teacher, told us to leave the cake in the oven and she would remove it when done. I gave her the time to remove the three layers of cake. We had the frosting mixed together and would frost the carrot cake first thing tomorrow morning. We were to serve the cake at a tea for an invited teacher. Our teatime guest was Coach Terry Hodges.

Even though I needed to make quick tracks to get to the Home Economics Building, I made a mad dash for the girl’s restroom. I had to get some of this make-up off my face.   Miss Ina Mae Jones did not approve of the “over done look,” and I did not want to disappoint her. Miss Jones was my mother’s Home Economics teacher and Mama told me – repeatedly – to listen to Miss Jones and obey her. Mama said she never wanted to hear of me being anything but “the perfect young lady” in the presence of Miss Ina Mae Jones. So, you see, I had no choice but to delay my summons. Some of this mascara and eye shadow had to go.  I had recently recovered from rheumatic fever and found myself five foot seven and weighed only ninety pounds. My saving grace was to fix myself up to look as much like the skinny London high fashion model, Twiggy, as possible. Of course, I made up my face quickly after Miss Jones’ first period class. And I washed my face before going home. As I washed my face clean, my sister, Patricia, Rena Jones and Sheila Kirkman found me in the restroom.

“I figured I’d find you here. Do you know Mr. Turpin is looking for you?” asked Sister. But before I could answer she said, “Oh my, let me help you get those eye lashes off. You can’t go to the Home Ec Building looking like this. Miss Jones might call Mom.”

“Jimmy (Cofer) said Mr. Turpin is already at the Home Ec Building waiting for you,” said Rena. “Diane, what happened to the cake?”

“Mr. Turpin just came on the speaker again, and said that you needed to get to the Home Ec Building, because you blew up a cake,” added Sheila. “How in the world did that happen?”

“Oh no,” I said, not believing my ears.|

“Hurry Diane, you poor baby,” said Sheila, “You’ve got to get over there now.”

“I’d go with you if you want,” added Sister.

“No, I’ll go. I’ll go now and get this over with,” I said as I wiped my face with a paper towel.

“Be brave,” said Rena.

“Yes, be brave,” encouraged Sister and Sheila.
Blew up a cake! Not the carrot cake! I hurried. A knot balled up my stomach as I approached the building. And, then there it was – just what I had dreaded most, the steep steps to the front door of the Home Economics Building, and there stood holding the door open – Mr. Turpin.

“Captain Story, so nice of you to join us,” said Mr. Turpin, “Come on in.”
I followed him to the kitchen area and there stood Miss Jones with a concerned look on her face. “Diane, look at this. What do you think happened? You may need to form an investigative team to analyze this one.”

I looked into the oven and could not believe my eyes. The three cake layers had exploded! And the cake batter had dried on the top, sides, door, and racks of the oven. Not to mention what little was left in the pans. I didn’t know what to think or say.

I would later form an investigative committee and realize that there were nine ingredients for the carrot cake recipe. Each girl on the team would add her assigned ingredient. Since one ingredient was not assigned, I took care of that one; so, did all seven of the other girls. The ninth and unassigned ingredient was baking powder. So, you see, baking powder was added eight times to the carrot cake batter. But today, right now, I did not have a clue. I just knew that tomorrow Coach Hodges would not have any cake with his tea.

I stood there looking at the mess without an answer. I turned and looked at both of them. They looked at me. Miss Jones handed me a bucket and a sponge.

Mr. Turpin placed his hand on his face and turned quickly – just as I had seen him do when the football players wanted to go home to shave their legs, just as I had seen him do as he helped me paint the hula girl’s bosom. And today, I saw it – without a doubt – I saw what he tried so hard to hide – a smile!