Mrs. Runyun was 4’8″ tall and walked with a limp. She had one leg shorter than the other by a good 3 inches and compensated with an elevated shoe. She liked to walk in-between the rows of desks, using a yard-stick as her cane. Mrs. Runyun taught third grade cursive writing at Harrison Lane Elementary. The first day of class she said to me, “Billhymer? Are you like the rest of them?” Six kids had come before me, not all had been in her class, but she knew the name. No, was my reply…I am different. “Good, you might do well.” I made one “B” in the six years of elementary school…she said my writing was very sloppy and she didn’t like the way I wrote my “Fs.” Do you know what you can do with that “F” Mrs. Runyun? Take that yardstick and…
I knew even in grade school that I could write. My first public notice came that same year when I was asked to write a story in English about family. My piece involved 2 Marks-a-Lots marrying…having a small box of Crayons to call all their own. A multi-colored, diverse family living happily together…in a Partridge Family lunch box. My teacher liked it so much she took it to the front office for Mr. Arnold to read it. He couldn’t believe I was the same girl who had puked herself through first grade. I remember that he taped a copy on the glass window by the front desk for all to read.
My mother told me I got my writing skills from her older brother, Uncle Herschel. Herschel, she said, got all the looks and all the talent in her family. He was an accomplished athlete having played baseball with the Fort Worth Cats in their heyday in the 1940s. He was a real Renaissance man who also enjoyed painting and working with wood. Herschel had a friend named George Dolan who for many years was a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Dolan would publish pieces written by Uncle Herschel occasionally. I remember this well, because Herschel liked to write about his younger sister and her brood of seven children.
Uncle Herschel really was different than his six siblings. He had an olive type complexion, tall and lean, there was an unspoken ease about him. It was kind of like that kid on the TV show King of the Hill, the boy everyone in the neighborhood knows is the product of his mother’s affair. My mother always suspected this about Uncle Herschel, but never had a conversation with him, it remained the elephant in the room. Herschel died in 1975 from brain cancer.
George Dolan posthumously published an article that Uncle Herschel had written. It was about my family having lots of trouble with a squirrel that was in our attic. It seems my mother had done everything to get the darn squirrel out of our house, to no avail. One night he wrote, my parents awoke to the sound of the piano being played in our den. My father remarked to my mother…I can’t believe Julie is playing at 3am, but listen, she is really getting good! My uncle went on to say that my mother sprang to her feet to go get me back to bed…only to find the squirrel galloping up and down the keyboard of the piano, mocking her in song!
My grandmother died in 1984 at the age of 93. My mother asked her shortly before her death to tell her the truth about Herschel. Ma Ada confirmed what the entire family already suspected, there had been an illicit affair in 1917…with a handsome American-Indian. Indeed, my mother had a crayon of a different color in her family.
I was so proud of my crayon story that I took it to cursive writing class for Mrs. Runyun to read. She grabbed it from my hands and went limping towards the front of the class grumbling. I blushed as she demanded silence from the class and began to read aloud. Mrs. Ida Runyun was actually smiling when she finished the last part of the story, I couldn’t believe my eyes. I went up to her at the end of the class to retrieve the paper and to receive the anticipated praise I had so longed to hear from her…”Maybe you can learn to type.”