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 by Frank Shortt
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From as far back as we knew in the Shortt/Short family, there had never been a male graduate high school. They were mostly farmers and drovers making a living with their own two hands. When my dad, Edward, was a young man and my mom, Stella, was a teenager, high school was out of the question as they lived about 20 miles from the nearest one. There were no buses in those times in the twenties and thirties, so they were content to pass elementary school. Mom even went through seventh grade three times cramming in all the book learning she could get from the elementary school teachers. Her handwriting was immaculate! Because of economics in my dad’s family, he dropped out of elementary school in the fourth grade. He worked as a farmer, logger, and coal miner in order to help support the large family of my grandfather, Jefferson.

In 1958, I was determined to drop out of high school and go to work in the coal mine to help support our family. We still had 7 children at home and buying clothes for 9 people was a humungous effort for my dad. My oldest brother, Raleigh, was in the U.S. Army in Germany and when he got wind that I was to quit school, he wrote to mom and said that if I did he would come home on a leave and beat the tar out of me. It is doubtful whether or not he could have gotten a leave at that time, but what he wrote was very effective in urging me to continue school. Another person who coaxed me to continue was our neighbor, Howard Pruitt. I usually went to his house to wait for the bus and try to bum a Prince Albert cigarette. We rolled our own in those days. On the morning I decided to quit school, I went to his house as usual. Pretty soon he said, “Frankie, the bus is about due, don’t you think you should go on down to the bus stop?”

“I am not going to school anymore, I replied with a downcast face, I am quitting school!”

“Why are you quitting school?” he asked with a surprised face.

“We are so poor and I don’t have decent clothes to go to high school!” I replied with great disdain.

“We are all poor in this neighborhood, he explained, and all of us just make it by the skin of our teeth!” I was taken aback by his reply.

He threatened, “Get on down to the bus stop or I’ll kick your behind!” I went.

To my great surprise, I graduated Garden High School in June of 1960. My family, especially my sisters, made a big to-do about my being the first male to graduate as far back as we could count. My two older brothers had dropped out of high school, Raleigh to join the army and Wendell to go to work in Norfolk Virginia. I suppose he and Bud Pruitt had fudged on their age in order to gain employment there.

My next great surprise came when I was in the U.S. Air Force. I had made my second stripe in pretty good time but to get a third stripe I had to have an exceptionally good record in order to make rank. Oddly enough, I went for the test and when promotion time came for the Airman First Class stripe, I was one of the ones chosen to don it. I was totally surprised when I found my name on the promotion roster! My other pals, who knew that I could not keep up with the work of being a Special Vehicle Repairman, were a little put-out at me. What they failed to do was to brush up on the books before they went for the test. I was able to gain the third stripe in just twenty-seven months, a great feat during the Cold War of the 1960’s.

I think the greatest surprise of my young life was that I met my life-long partner, Sharon, when I was 19 and was married to her when I turned 21. As a young boy growing up in Appalachia I never dreamed I would ever leave, join the Air Force, and marry a young lady all the way across the country in California. Our union was blessed with two beautiful and talented daughters. To my great surprise, God has blessed all that I have done and helped me to do more than survive , what I would have been doing had I stayed in Virginia on Shack Ridge. My life has had many more surprises, but I am sure that you get the idea!

Life is full of surprises! From the day we are born to the day of our demise, we look forward to the next great thrill, usually in the way of a surprise. Up until I was about seven or eight, I had never had a birthday cake. My oldest sister, Frances, had begun work for a family named Farmer taking care of the elder mother. She would come home on weekends and for the first time in her life she had her own money to spend. That weekend of my birthday she baked me a cake plus she bought me a gift. What a surprise that was!

As a boy growing up in the hills of Virginia, the most common apparel for any boy under 12 were the familiar bibbed overalls that most mountain people wore. I always wanted a pair of trousers that I could wear a belt with. One day when I was about 9 years old, a huge cardboard box was brought to our door by one of my uncles, Curtis by name, who lived in Elk Ridge, Maryland. All the Shortt children waited anxiously for the opening of that box. With eyes open wide we watched as mom slit the tape from the top and began taking articles of clothing out. Curtis had boys that were a slightly bit older than myself, so I just knew that there had to be, at least a shirt, that would fit me. There was a flannel shirt that would fit me. As she neared the bottom of the box, she drew out a pair of slightly faded blue jeans that required a belt. I knew by looking at them that they were just made for me. Boy, was I surprised when she finally handed them to me telling me that I needed to take care of them! Wow! Would I take care of them? You bet.