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Dancing with Lou Babe
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 by Frank Shortt
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        Thursday rolled around all too soon! This was the day of the week when all clubs met at Garden High School in Buchanan County, Virginia. This was also the day when folk dancing was required in the gymnasium. I was a pipsqueak and did not fit in with the other sophomores due to my runty size and skinniness. I barely came up to the shoulders of some of the girls.
        This was 1958, a time when Buchanan County was beginning to pull out of the doldrums. New coal fields had been discovered in the county and large coal companies were beginning to hire men for more wages than they had ever dreamed of. Poor and rich alike were thrown together at Garden High School. There was the Island Creek Keen Mountain Coal Camp, the Page Coal Company Camp, the Roseann Coal Camp, etc. These all produced kids from all over the south as men raced to get these better-paying jobs.
        Early on this particular Thursday, at the first recess, I ran headlong out to ‘Smoker’s Glory’ the area designated for those who smoked. Four-H Club had just ended. There were students and teachers alike running out there and, due to my lack of funds, I usually had to take seconds on the cigarette of someone. In those days we called them ‘ducks’. It would have been better for me if the other smokers would have refused me their mostly-smoked ducks. I remained a smoker until I was about twenty-seven years old.
       Andy Muir was out there for some reason which I was not privy to. He did not even smoke. He was on the second lineup of the basketball team and somewhat of a nerd. We had exchanged some words the day before during P.E. and had not really come to an understanding. The P.E. coach, Jan Frett, who also smoked, favored all his jocks and would sometimes allow things to be settled with fisticuffs if he figured his protege’ would come out on top.
        “I understand there was a little run-in yesterday between Andy and Frank that needs settling! This is as good a time as any.” Frett averred.
        There was a mud puddle from a recent rainstorm so Frett placed each of us on opposite sides. Andy was a head taller, appeared to be much stronger, and felt that he had the advantage. What he did not know was that someone had taught me Native American wrestling. I knew that most of the other students, as well as the adult smokers, favored Andy.
       We began circling the mud hole, watching for a chance to make a grab. Andy slashed out at me with his fists striking me on my shoulders and arms but did not upset me. Suddenly, without warning, I grabbed him by the hand, placed my right foot to the side of him and pulled him sideways, sprawling him headlong into the mud puddle. He actually screamed with embarrassment, and ran into the locker room adjacent to the smoking area. He wore an old football uniform the rest of the day. I had completely caught him off guard. Andy and I had no more run-ins after that. In fact, we became pretty good friends.
       Next thing on the agenda was choir. I had joined because every other Shortt that attended Garden Hi was considered to be a ready-made singer. We were taught how to sing at the Grassy Creek Church. Mrs. Wooldridge, the choir director, knew that if there was a Shortt in the choir, things would go along pretty smooth. She was not wrong in her judgment concerning me as I loved to sing and could whistle like a bird. In fact, she often used me for just that in her operettas whenever outside scenery was used, I would be behind the curtains doing my bird calls. The audiences never knew who did those sounds.
       The last activity on the agenda on Thursday was folk dancing. It would not matter if we ran a little overtime as this was the day that all the teachers met in the library to be lectured by Mr. B.T. Quillen. Mrs. Wooldridge was probably secretly glad to be late to the meeting as she would probably be asked to take on yet another responsibility.
        Off to the gymnasium to do the Virginia Reel, Western Square dances, the Mexican hat dance, and a host of others that we mountain kids could not even pronounce. Mrs. Wooldridge tried her best to make cultural beings out of these clodhopping hillbillies. Every person had already chosen beforehand who their partner would be. I was not in the ‘popular’ group, so I never knew who I would end up with. Nine times out of ten, I would end up with ‘Lou Babe Pritt”
        “Aw rite, choose your partners” would boom out over the portable p.a. system.
        Who else was left except the shortest boy there and the tallest girl there? Frank Shortt and Lou Babe Pritt! She was really a pretty young lady. It was just that I grew up with her up around Shortt Gap and thought of her as more like a sister. Aside from the fact that she was a head taller than me, she was probably one of the best dancers there.
At this stage of my life I was experiencing identity issues, so this was somewhat of a setback for me. I could hear the snickers of all the other boys, although some of them had to dance with, what they considered, homely girls. It is just that having to slow-dance with a girl a foot taller and with our arms extended straight out was somewhat embarrassing.
        On a side note, one of the ‘homeliest young ladies in this class was a girl named Meda Bell. It seemed that she could never take away the greenish sheen from her teeth. She had curly, long hair, she was very tall and slender, but those teeth! When I saw her at our fortieth class reunion, she was the one who stood out as one of the classiest ladies I had ever seen. She had become an executive secretary for some U.S. Senator. Talk about pre-judging!
        By the time folk-dancing was over, everyone had had their chuckle, and the record machine put away, I could not wait to rush out of that gymnasium to my only safe haven, “Smoker’s Glory”. By the next week I had regained the courage to face all the folk dancers once again.
        I actually grew a few more inches after joining the USAF and getting into their regimen.