On the c’ville net website in 2000, I ran a short poll. Visitors were to add nothing but their name and their favorite teacher of all time from Crothersville High School. Well, names aren’t the only thing I got. Almost everyone that participated wrote about WHY they picked a particular teacher, and told a short memory. Stories of inspiration that I wish I would’ve kept but still remember were many. I *think* Peg Sanders got the most mentions. But little did I know at that time, ole’ Bayou Bill Scifres was an avid reader of the website, and did he have a thing or two to share!
For those of you that don’t remember Bayou Bill or have a clue who I’m talking about — here’s what his website (http://bayoubill.com) says about him:
Born at Crothersville, Indiana, prolific Hoosier author Bill Scifres wrote thousands of newspaper and magazine articles as well as two books, Bayou Bill’s Best Stories and Indiana Outdoors. After more than 36 years as sports and outdoor writer for the Indianapolis Star, he retired in 1990 but continued to publish his outdoor-oriented Lines and Shots column there until 1999. Bill also did free-lance writing for magazines and produced the popular All Outdoors column which regularly appeared in numerous newspapers throughout the state. At the time of his death in October 2009 he had nearly completed a third book and was also cooking up a fourth (the latter a cookbook he planned to title Just Add Heat: Bayou Bill’s Simple Little Cook Book).
He received many awards for his writing and conservation work, among them Hanover College’s Lifetime Achievement Award, Sagamore of the Wabash from Purdue University, the Conservation Communications Award from the National Wildlife Federation, Conservationist of the Year from the Indiana Wildlife Federation, and was elected to the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame.
Bayou Bill Scifres died on Monday, October 12, 2009. He was the son of an outdoorsman and began his hunting and fishing lessons on the Muscatatuck River at the age of four, had his first rifle at age seven and his first bait-casting rod and reel at age eight. When ten, he began to hunt and fish alone or with some older men of the area.
Like most writers. I guess, a simple question for Bayou Bill would most always result in a long answer (sort of like me telling my favorite brother on the planet I need one short paragraph and instead I end up with 3 detailed pages of verbiage).
(Of course it’s long — still, it’s really worth the read and will make you think how much times have REALLY changed.)
They were Eugene “Gene” Butler, principal, for several years in 1930s and ’40s, and Alva “Al” Havens, English and shop teacher when I was a freshman _ must have been 1940. I tell you about both Mr. Butler and Al because the stories are somewhat intertwined. Both are deceased.
Gene Butler, known to most of us as “Mr. Butler,” was a stern disciplinarian, but he also was very fair and considerate of situations in which kids found themselves.
On the day before the bird (quail) season opened in 1941 (I think it was), I was sitting on the liar’s bench under the porch overhang of the grocery store located on the northwest corner of the stoplight intersection. I was talking with Jack Cain, one of my older outdoor mentors, and he wanted me to go bird hunting with him the next day (a Monday).
Jack explained that he would like me to go hunting with him on that day because he was scheduled to take his physical examination for induction into the Army on Thursday of that week. The army, in view of the world situation was girding to defend America, (bad times in Europe with Hitler et al).
Jack, who had started me bird-hunting career at age 11, as best we could figure it, said it might be the last time we would get to hunt together, explaining that if he passed the physical examination, they could take him on into training that very day.
I told him I was certain my dad would not allow me to take a day off from school _ even for bird hunting _ and I didn’t want to pursue it (as much as I liked the idea.) That was the end of that conversation, but when the sun came up over the frosty town the next morning, I was having breakfast in the kitchen with my mother. Suddenly someone was knocking at the kitchen door.
When my mother opened the door, there stood Jack Cain, clad in knee, lace boots (like most hunters wore in those days), hunting coat and etc.
“Laurie,” I heard him say. “I would like to take Bill bird hunting today . . . ” Then he unfolded the story about his physical exam and the fact that it might be our last chance to hunt together.
My mother poured Jack a cup of coffee and he joined me at the table while I was having breakfast. My mother explained that my dad already had left for work and that she would not approve the plan.
Jack, countering in a true Dan’s Webster style, said that if I put on my hunting togs and the two of us stopped by the school, we could ask Mr. Butler if I could go bird hunting instead of school. He ended his spiel with the idea that if Mr. Butler nixed the plan, I still would have time to return home, change clothing and be on time for school.
Well, my mother opined, that might be all right. In a matter of seconds I had gulped the last bites of breakfast and soon was lacing my Red Ball boots.
When Jack and I hove into the schoolyard with Old Duke, the dropper, tugging at his chain and shotguns in the crooks of our arms, Mr. Butler was just entering the back door of the school. Jack remained outside to tend Duke, while I went to pop the question.
Mr. Butler met me at the door of his office, and he looked to me like a cross between Attila The Hun (with a bad case of indigestion) and a buzz saw.
Shifting from one foot to the other, I told the story every bit as well as Jack had told it, but I felt as though I was losing because Mr. Butler’s face took on varying shades of red. I was certain that he not only was going to veto the plan and that he might even whomp me on the spot. But when I got to the part about this being the last chance Jack and I would get to hunt together, a huge smile split his face and he simply said: “Sing (my nickname), I can’t tell you it is all right for you to stay out of school to go bird hunting. But if you are not here today, I will know where you are.”
I took the downward flight of stairs three at a time. And minutes later Duke had found the first covey in the ragweed patch at the edge of the honeysuckle patch in the apple orchard.
We didn’t shoot those birds – we never did, except to thin them out a little toward the end of the season. But this beautiful November day turned into one of my most memorable hunts as we found covey after covey of birds in the Muscatatuck River bottomlands two miles to the east. At mid-afternoon we were both out of shells and were both very close to limit bags of birds.
But as good as the day was, the best part of the episode came the next morning when I entered the side door of the school and zipped up the stairway to find Mr. Butler greeting students as they arrived.
With the trace of a smile on his face he handed me a neatly-folded slip of paper and instructed me to show it to teachers that day. The note, for which I would trade almost anything I own today, simply said that my absence of the day before was “excused,” and that I should be allowed to make up any school work I had missed.
The year before (the year I was a freshman, 1940, I think), a school had burned in nearby Jennings County (I believe it was named Marion, probably Marion Township). As a result, the kids of that school (including a goodly number of pretty girls) were sent to our school. That meant more kids and consequently more teachers.
One of the new teachers was Al “Mr. Havens” Havens, a swashbuckling young buck fresh out of Ball State University. He taught English and shop, all of his class meetings were in the Annex building, which sat for many years just south of the old two-story brick school.
I was in one of Al’s English classes, which met the first period each day in a music room.
As it were, Al could cord a bit on the piano and there was an old upright piano in the room. Each morning Al, obviously a fun-loving, young, rah-rah Joe-college man with much college blood still running through his veins, would march to the piano first thing each morning and hammer out the popular song of the day, “There’s A Tavern In The Town” _ especially the boys _ would sing the words and our English class would be off to a rousing start. Although our musical talents were being developed, Al’s real claim to fame, at least in my view, revolved around his unusual program. We _ his students _ certainly had the opportunity to collide with the English language from the standpoint of a grammarian. But he also introduced us to another important aspect of speaking and writing English. That was words. Pure, simple words. Vocabulary.
Early on he told us we (as individuals) would be required to learn one new word for each day of school _ five words each week. We had to learn how to pronounce, spell and use in a sentence each of our words each week. It seemed a little silly to me at the time, but I did it and eventually I developed an interest in words.
Even today, when I encounter a word with which I am not familiar (and that is often), I stop the wheels of progress to look up the word..
Al, who eventually would spend the greater portion of his life in Michigan, taught me that the dictionary is one of the most important books in my life.
Alas, all of this fun we were having in English class started getting around. After all, singing a rollicking song was not the accepted way of opening an English class. There was talk that Mr. Butler would put a stop to this folly. And surely enough, Mr. Butler strode into the room one morning when our class was about to convene. He said nothing, just stood inside the door looking very official.
Facing the front of the room, I knew I could not look back, and I wondered what scenario might unfold. The questions raced through my mind: Would Al play? Would we all sing?
The answers were not long in coming.
Al strode to the piano, sat down as any maestro would, and started tickling the ivories to the “Tavern” tune.
We all started singing _ just as we always had _ and I fancied (although I could not visually confirm it) that there was an extra- rich and new baritone voice that could be heard above all others on the final retrain: “Fare-the-well for I must leave thee, do not let my parting grieve the . . .”
As Al opened the English class proceedings, out the window I could see Mr. Butler, whose only words apparently had been uttered in song, walking back to the main building of the school.