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Darrell Huckaby - 04/10/09

It was a hot evening in August. My oldest child, Jamie Leigh, was in the first grade, which would have made it about 18 years ago.

Ouch.

There was a "mandatory" first-grade parents' meeting that night, but I had been to the mandatory kindergarten meeting the year before and the grass needed cutting and I had spent my whole day at my own in-service at my own school and had quite conveniently "forgotten" about Jamie's meeting.

I knew the drill, understand.

"Read to your children. You need to read to your children every night - even if they can read themselves. And they need to see you reading, too. It models good behavior."

"You are the parent. Don't let your children tell you what they are going to do. You tell them - and mean it."

"Children can't learn if they are hungry. Make sure you don't send them to school on an empty stomach. And we can't teach them if they aren't here. We don't want them to come and spread anything, but if they aren't really sick you need to make sure they are at school."

All of these bits of worthwhile wisdom would have been delivered in a distinctive voice that is hard to describe in print from my daughter's principal at Sims Elementary School, Lowell Biddy. Mr. Biddy, while slight in stature, was a giant of a man, in my eyes, and one of the most effective educators I have ever encountered. He knew how a school should be run and wasn't afraid to run one.

I had tremendous respect for him, even 18 years ago, but I thought I knew everything he was going to say that particular night and my grass needed cutting. So as time for the parents' meeting approached, I was outside in my work shorts, sans shirt, sweating like a pig, pushing my lawn mower through the grass and weeds - mostly weeds - on my front lawn.

At two minutes until 7, Jamie came shooting out the back door shouting "Telephone, Daddy," at the top of her little 6-year-old voice.

"Tell them I'm busy and will call them back," I told her. It was true. I was busy. You should have seen the shape my yard was in.

"It's Mr. Biddy," she said, and I can still recall the awe in her voice.

I cut the mower's engine and ran to the phone.

"Mr. Huckaby," said the unmistakable voice on the other end. "It's Lowell Biddy. We are about to start the first-grade parents' meeting and you are the only one not here."

"The time must have slipped up on me, Mr. Biddy," I lied. "I'll be right there."

That second part was not a lie. I had been summoned and I wasn't about to argue. I grabbed a T-shirt, jumped in my car and raced to the school house which, luckily for me, was only half a mile away.

And am I ever glad I did. Mr. Biddy did indeed give us the same spiel as the previous year and answered the obligatory questions about why he didn't allow chocolate milk to be served in his school's cafeteria and how he got around the new-fangled "whole language" approach and sustained Sims Elementary School's very successful use of phonics to teach reading.

And then it happened. One of my very favorite Lowell Biddy moments. A lady in the back of the room stood up, identifying herself as a newcomer to the community, and in a shrill, nasal voice inquired about what she obviously believed to be the barbaric practice of corporal punishment that was sometimes employed at Sims.

"Well," Mr. Biddy told her, "we've learned that sometimes we need to give them a little spank on their bottoms to get their attention and make sure they mind."

The lady puffed up in righteous indignation and said, "Well, I'll have you know nobody's ever spanked my child."

Lowell Biddy didn't skip a beat. He just looked at the woman and replied matter-of-factly, "Well, it probably shows," and then fielded the next question about chocolate milk.

I wouldn't have missed that moment for all the tea in China. I have hundreds of other Lowell Biddy stories because over the course of the past 18 years he became my boss, my mentor, my confidant and, above all, my friend. He has served as my principal, my Bible study teacher and fellow passenger on the road of life. We have spent hours talking about educational philosophy, parenting, growing up poor, the Gospel, travel, basketball, the decline of the human race and almost every other topic under the sun. I could fill a book with Mr. Biddy stories, and perhaps someday I will.

Earlier this week, as I was peddling on my bicycle alongside the beautiful salt marshes of Glynn County, I got a text message from Jamie Leigh. "Mr. Biddy died," was all it said and my heart broke - not for him, because I know where he will spend eternity, but for those of us who will have to carry on without him.

At his retirement from education 10 years ago, former Rockdale School Superintendent Ruel Parker said of Mr. Biddy, "the little boy from Tate did good."

He certainly did, and I hope he knew how much I loved him.