By Ralphine Major
I topped Black Oak Ridge in my Chevrolet Malibu. Just ahead lay a beautiful valley of church steeples, businesses, towering trees, and ridges. My destination was Halls High School, my mother’s alma mater. There was a freedom in leaving my world of college classes in the spring of 1976. It was a sense of freedom much like I had experienced four years before.
For many years, the school calendar designated June, July, and August for summer vacation so students could help plant and harvest cash crops in this agricultural area. With that same calendar in place, our ninety-nine Gibbs High School seniors gathered on June 5, 1972 at Central Baptist Church of Fountain City. Diplomas were handed out by Roy Mullins, a Gibbs graduate and Gibbs High School Assistant Principal. But, he was not the first Mullins I knew. It was Joyce, his wife.
Mrs. Mullins came to Gibbs as a first-grade teacher–my brother’s. I was a rising fourth grader and Sue Cardwell, one of the twins, was my teacher. She was the first young teacher I had. That is what I noticed about Mrs. Mullins. She was young, and I thought she was pretty. Through my fourth-grader eyes, she looked like a life-size Barbie doll. I learned that her husband was a teacher in the high school at the other end of the building. They were the first couple I knew who were both teachers.
Six years later I was in Mr. Mullins’ chemistry class, a sophomore among juniors and seniors. By the time I was finishing college, Mullins had become principal at Halls High School. I needed to find a school nearby for my student teaching because gas was thirty-something cents a gallon! My father’s advice to me: “Call Mullins.” That came as no surprise. Our parents always held our teachers in high esteem, and the Mullins name was special. I remember a time at the K-Mart on Broadway, our father noticed Mr. Mullins loading bicycles for their young sons. He was eager to help him, and Mr. Mullins was too kind to refuse the offer.
I heeded my father’s advice, called Mullins, and was soon headed to Halls. The Vocational Office Education (VOE) teachers, Jean Chappell and Wanda Fowler, treated me like one of them; and that is the best feeling in the world. I met long-time office employee Ruth Haynes, who my mother knew from her school days.
Today, most graduations are held at Thompson-Boling Arena, streamed online, captured by smart phones and digital cameras, and shared through the internet. These terms would have seemed like foreign language in 1972. It is daunting how fast time flies. At my 40th reunion last year, we were—in an instant—classmates again. Yet, our class has lived out most of our working years, many have become parents, and some—grandparents. Dreams may be fulfilled and some may be dashed. But, wherever we go and whatever we do, may we always know that there is Joy in Jesus; and He is the greatest teacher of all time.