Barefoot Barred

One of the most favorite things about summer to many is the chance to go barefoot. In other areas of the
country, we Tennesseans are believed to be shoeless all the time. The fact is that I’ve never been crazy about going without shoes. Doing so has always caused nothing but troubles.
Oh, I too once loved the freedom of feet not bound by leather or canvas. In summer, Mother always took a pair of scissors to our old Keds to cut the toes from them. That gave enough room for our growing feet to wear them just a little longer. Yet, my toes longed to touch the ground unhampered. Without shoes, I enjoyed going out in the side yard, turning on the hose, and playing in the water to cool down. Jim and I made the ground squishy from our activities.
However, on too many occasions I suffered for going without something covering my feet. Our yard was filled with clover. That meant thousands of flowers from the plant filled the area. With that many blooms always came bunches of bees. It took little time before I’d step on one of them and suffer a sting that sent me howling to the housed for relief. Mother would do her best to calm me while she made paste of baking soda and water. The rest of the summer I wore shoes outside. The joy of “barefooting” disappeared.
As a small child, our family visited grandparents who lived on Louisiana Avenue in Lonsdale. Papaw Rector sat on the front porch like a king. He would drink from a glass and then toss the ice onto the lawn. I wanted to prove how grown up I was by doing the same thing. When I tossed the ice, my grip slipped and the glass went flying and crashed in the yard. Shards of glass lay hidden. Later in the evening, I played in the yard and rammed one of those shards into the middle of my foot. I squalled as Mother used a pair of tweezers to extract the glass from the gash in my foot I just knew would need hundreds of stitches. A band aid sufficed, but from that day I made sure to always wear shoes at my grandparents’ house.
I quickly learned the importance of shoes for vacations activities in the mountains. We kids would set out on treks to the river and our favorite swimming hole. Going barefooted resulted in bruised soles and mashed toe as we walked on rocks that lined the dry creek bed that led there. One of our favorite things was riding the rapids on our bottoms. We’d sit down feet-first in the river and allow the current to carry us along until unprotected feet rammed into rocks in our paths. When the water became too shallow, we had to walk, and when mossy rocks proved slippery, our feet bashed against them with painful results.
Perhaps I was a slow learner because I continued to go barefooted into my early adult years. Amy and I had been married only a couple of years when we bought a house in south Knoxville. The living room was spacious enough to place a couch, as well as a large, comfortable chair and ottoman. I plopped on that chair to watch the NCAA basketball final four game featuring UNC Charlotte. When a commercial aired, I jumped from the chair to make a bathroom run. On returning, I managed to kick one of the wheels on the ottoman, and when I grabbed my throbbing foot, I discovered that my broken little toe sat at a right angle to my foot. A trip to the ER ended with the toe being taped to its next-door neighbor. For a couple of weeks, the only thing I could wear on the foot was a bedroom slipper.

Since that time, almost 40 years ago, “I don’t do barefooted.” People make fun of me for always having a pair of shoes or slippers on my feet. It makes no difference to me. I’ve lived long enough and experienced too much misfortune with my “piggies” to let the comments of others change my mind about shedding the shoes. I’d rather be safe than sorry. My feet will never risk another sting or cut or fracture because they’ve been left uncovered. 

Blind Obedience

Believe it or not, Americans can be a rather nice people. Oh, we have our weaknesses and often display less than model behavior, but at the same time, we are quick to come to the aid of others or to perform acts of kindness. Our “good” sides are often taken advantage of by businesses for their profit.
One place is fast food restaurant. Places like McDonalds have trained us like pets. We stand in slow-moving line or pull our cars into ones where we sit forever to order our food; then we place our orders and again wait an eternity for them to be filled. With trays in hand, we settle at tables that might have been cleaned or might still be covered in crumbs, ketchup, or some other unidentifiable “smutz.”
After we finish our food, like good children, we gather our empty wrappers, cups, and containers and carry them to a garbage can, where we dump them and neatly stack our trays. It’s almost as if we were once again in elementary school and were being taught correct cafeteria behavior. What I’m curious about is the benefit to us to clean tables and haul trash. I’ve never done such a thing at a “sit-down” restaurant. I keep the table as neat as possible, but after paying the bill, I simply rise and walk toward the exit. Has anyone noticed a cut in prices of fast food that results from customers’ policing eating areas? What might be more noticeable is the rise in prices for smaller Big Macs and Egg McMuffins.

The same kind of behavior occurs at grocery stores. Not long ago, I shopped at the Ingles store near holiday. I finished finding the items on my list and headed for the checkout area. To my dismay, other shoppers were lined up at the one register that was opened. Frustrated shoppers headed to self-checkout lines to scan items in loaded shopping carts. The anger levels rose with each passing second. I told the cashier that I realized he was working as fast as he could, but that I was pretty sure the building was a good one to locate a real grocery store. He confided that employees failed to show up and the management was too cheap to hire enough workers. My wife likes Ingles, but I don’t plan a return visit any time soon.
The store was bustling with customers, most of whom were buying foods for the upcoming July 4
Of course, all the grocery stores have instructed us that we can check ourselves out and finish more quickly. We do it with no hesitation. However, I don’t think the companies are slashing prices to reward shoppers for their efforts to get out of the store in a timely fashion.
We customers have also been well trained at convenient stores. We pull up, get out of our cars, and pump our own gas. After dark, we have to go inside if our payment is to be made in cash because of others’ acts of theft. We used to have equipment for cleaning wind shields… squeegees, paper towels, and cleaner. Alas, the crashing economy must have put an end to such extravagances. Now, we can save a dime on each gallon if we get a membership card and buy enough stuff from these stores. My question is this: if these convenient stores can cut the price of gas with some gimmick, is it possible that they are overcharging for the fuel in the first place?
Some might call me a cranky ol’ coot. Maybe I am, but the point here is that customers are blindly obedient to companies. Why should I clean a table to keep up profits for the golden arches or the king’s restaurant? What happened to staffing a grocery stores with enough employees so that customers don’t stand four or five deep and wait for while their frozen foods thaw in the carts? Finally, when did we buy into pumping our own gas while prices skyrocket and companies make fortunes off our efforts?

It might do us all some good if we demanded a little something for our extra efforts. No, it doesn’t haven’t be a fortune. Just a little goodwill from businesses that have trained us to be blindly obedient would be nice if a cut in prices is out of the question.

Musical Chair Principals

It’s hard to believe that July 4th marked the middle of summer for school kids. I still reel with the knowledge that schools open their doors the first part of August or the last of July in some places. What happened to the policy that school began the day after Labor Day? As the doors open, thousands of Knox County children and hundreds of teachers and staff members will begin the year with new principals at the helm.
No one has explained to my satisfaction why so many Knox County principals are reassigned each year. In the paper, ten individuals were named to new positions. That didn’t include principals who had already been moved. This shake-up began in earnest during the reign of former appointed Superintendent Lindsey, and it continues with vigor under the guidance of Superintendent McIntyre.
I was educated in Knox County Schools. At Ball Camp, D.T. Strange occupied the principal’s office throughout my eight years there. The community knew the man and felt comfortable dealing with him during good and bad times. He survived a fire that destroyed the older part of the school and managed a school where several students attended classes in a small building across the road during the rebuilding of the school.
During my first years at Karns High School, Bill Orr was named as principal. Orr putted to school each morning on his scooter and seemed to look upon students, parents, and community with cool detachment. Before long, Mildred Doyle removed him from Karns and placed him in a less visible job at the central office, where he remained for the rest of his career.
Billy K. Nicely replaced Orr, and he was the perfect fit. Nicely had been an assistant principal, and he was known for his fair and tough approach. He’d whistle while he walked the halls to check on classrooms and what went on in them. Billy K. loved to talk with students. He could cut up and laugh with the kids he’d disciplined with the paddle the day before. What was important was his understanding of the community and his efforts to make sure the school met its needs.
These days, principals don’t have the opportunity to get familiar with the communities where they work. Too many schools no longer serve as the central points for communities, and part of the reason is that principals don’t stay long enough to become vested in a school or its people. A year or two isn’t enough time to establish a rapport with folks and to define the vision a principal has for a school.
 I don’t know what the musical chair game with Knox County principals achieves…other than upheaval. Sure, some individuals prove to be poor choices for leadership roles, and they should be removed. However, wholesale moves in our schools might be ways for the head of schools to show his power and to squelch any dissent. “Keep ‘em guessing” might be Mr. McIntyre’s
At the same time, I firmly believe that many qualified persons for principal positions are already teaching in the Knox County system. So, the practice of hiring individuals from Massachusetts or Nashville or any other area further brings in people who aren’t familiar with the history or customs of a community. In many cases, doing so is a waste of money and, more than likely, an exercise in futility. The same holds true for spending grant money to hire a company in “Boston” to study resource allocation. The superintendent will ask the school board to kick in a 30% matching fund to hire the firm. Isn’t there a local company capable of the task? Too, how is spending $1.56 million a smart allocation of resources? What would that money buy for the students and teachers of Knox County?
Most Knox County residents don’t understand the rationale behind moving principals each year. Of course, most folks in Knoxville don’t understand why they aren’t allowed to elect the superintendent for their systems. They figure if their property taxes go toward financing the schools that they should have a say in who sits at the helm of the system level or the building level.

Maybe it’s time to swap the central office leadership. This time it can be filled with someone who has lived in the area and understands the culture of the area and who places emphasis on stability and permanency. That person might subscribe to the belief that “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.!”