Those Were the Days: ‘Our hearts were young and gay’ pt. 1


She was a feisty, petite ball of energy ... it was her first teaching job out of college, and you could definitely sense that she was “a-rearing” to go! Her name was Helen Schafer. She stood 5’2”, but her demeanor made her 10’ tall. .. You didn’t mess with Miss Schafer, or so it seemed that first day attending her speech and drama class.

E Jay, my best friend, and I decided to enroll in speech class our junior year at Pampa High. We had two reasons: to learn to speak before an audience and, more importantly, to get an “A,” in a comfy class. But, boy, were we in for a surprise. That first week, our assignment was writing a speech, memorizing it, then presenting it to the class in a relaxed manner, with facial expressions, eye contact, and finishing within your time limit .... Oh yeah, and voice projection ... that meant everyone could hear you, even those slackers on the back row. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Well, let me tell you, it’s not. Especially when it’s your turn at the podium, and you see MISS SCHAFER sitting on the back-row writing down stuff about YOU! But l must admit, I wasn’t half bad when you compared me to guys like my close friend Bill “Cro” Culpepper.

Cro was a burly football player standing 6’4”, 230 pounds, and had the body of a gorilla. But when he stood in front of that class, he would get so uptight that his voice took on a tone of its own. It would sometimes start in a base tone and then, without warning, instantly jump to this squeaky high pitch, then drop to a whisper before he got through his introduction. He kept us all in stitches laughing at him and with him. Bill reminded me of the famous comedian of the ‘50s, nervous Don Knotts, in his portrayal of the “Cotton Pickin Chicken Plucker.”

One of the things I remember most about Miss Schafer was a saying she would quote at least once a week. It was by Shakespeare, and went like this, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players: They have their exits and entrances, and one man in his time plays many parts.” So, according to Miss Schafer, the world and everything that happens in it is like an ongoing play in which we have a choice. We can either become the main character, have a supporting role, become an audience member, or refuse to take part in any of what is going on.

Now, that statement is profound ... very profound! But, hey, it made sense to me, and I made up my mind then and there to be a “player.” So, naturally, when the opportunity arrived, I jumped at the chance of becoming a “Thespian” member, and so did E Jay and Cro. The Thespians did three plays, and they were performed before the student body and the Junior play before the town folks. We packed the auditorium out for two nights in a row each time.