Hooter was remembering his very first knife, a bone-handled Queen steel, with two blades and a hole-punch, new in the box that his grandpa gave him with a twinkle in his eye. He'd carried that knife through high school. It came up missing some time after that. He didn't remember when or how, but he still carried the hole of regret inside.
He thought about that as he sped down the highway, thought about his friend, Bobby Lee Montgomery, who was more like family, thought about Bobby Lee's daughter and the reason for this trip, and he got mad: The first day of Kindergarten and Josie Montgomery was already facing her first suspension.
Some parent had packed their boy one of those sealed store-bought lunches that comes in one of those plastic packages that require a jackhammer and Divine intervention to open. Josie happened to be sitting beside the young man, who was close to tears because he couldn't pry the package open. She simply pulled out her pocketknife and sliced the plastic for him.
“How's she supposed to sharpen a pencil? Or whittle a slingshot, or play mumblety peg? How's she supposed to do her chores!” raged Bobby Lee as he related the story to Hooter the previous night. “No questions, they just took her knife and sent her home. How can they do that?”
“You got me, pard,” said Hooter. “I've heard about that kind of idiocy in those city schools, but I thought you might be far enough out that common sense still meant something.” Bobby Lee and his family lived about four zip codes west of Fort Worth.
Hooter and Bobby Lee weren't actually related, but they should have been. Bobby Lee was just a younger version of Hooter, complete with patience that ran slimmer than a gnat's toothpick. Hooter was the closest thing Bobbie Lee had to kin. Hooter was the one Bobby Lee wanted at the hospital when Josie was born, and Hooter was there, of course.
The two had met years ago when Bobby Lee was beginning to go down the road hard riding barebacks, and Hooter was beginning his exit from it. Since the birth of their daughter, Bobby Lee spent most of his time running stockers and serving as a livestock appraiser.
“I'm meeting with the principal in the morning,” said Bobby Lee.
“I'll be there,” said Hooter. “Just one thing, was it you or Liz that talked with them on the phone?”
“Liz. I wasn't here. You know that.”
“Just making sure,” chuckled Hooter. That meant their slate was clean. Liz was as sweet as they came, even when she was mad.
Making the Case
There are times in life, like doctoring a particular calf, when you just know you're going through the motions, that no matter how much you wish it otherwise or work to make it so the outcome will be the same. That's what Hooter was thinking when he first spied the principal, Victoria Duncelton.
Every tooth and hair manicured and in place. The artificial smile, the look of emptiness in those shining eyes, albeit eyes peeking from behind glasses that seemed thicker than a Skoal can.
“Mr. Montgomery?” said Mrs. Duncelton, unsure who to offer her hand to.
“I'm him,” said Bobby Lee, placing his hands on his hips.
“And I'm Hooter McCormick, Josie's uncle,” said Hooter sticking out his hand.
“I see. Well, this is most irregular.”
“Not where we come from,” smiled Hooter.
The principal motioned to the chairs in front of her desk, smoothed her dress, straightened the suspension documents in front of her and sat down all in one motion.
“You understand why we suspended your daughter. We're here to discuss how we might re-instate her,” began Mrs. Duncelton.
“I don't understand at all,” said Bobby Lee, back on his feet, leaning across the desk. “What we're here to talk about is the fact that you have no right to suspend her to begin with.”
“Mr. Montgomery, I must ask you to keep your voice down and to take your seat, or I will have to call security.”
Hooter put his hand on Bobby Lee's arm and the younger man sat down.
“Ma'am, with all due respect, Bobby Lee here has a valid point, which we'll get to in a minute. As far as security goes, if you're talking about that round mound in the uniform stumbling around out there, he was pretty busy with a box of donuts when we came in,” said Hooter with a smile.
“Now see here.”
“Unfortunately, we do see,” said Hooter. “And I have to tell you it saddens us.”
Mrs. Duncelton was unsure of the conversation she thought she was having.
“As I was saying, Mr. Montgomery, there are no weapons allowed on this campus. Not only was your daughter in possession of one, she brandished it amid a crowd of students.”
“Brandished it?” shouted Bobby Lee, raising back up. “She helped a kid open up his lunch!”
Hooter interjected before the simmering principal could call for help. “I believe what my little brother is having a hard time understanding is why a young lady who knows how to use a knife safely…”
“Now, see here…”
“…knows how to use a knife safely, and simply was helping a classmate would be suspended, no questions asked, no opportunity to hear her side of the story.”
Mrs. Duncelton slammed her open hand on the desk. “Gentlemen. I do not have the time to sit here and argue over what are black and white, cut and dried rules. The rules are the rules. I don't make them, I merely enforce them.”
“That's what a whole lot of Yankees and Nazis said at different times, too,” seethed Bobby Lee.
Mrs. Duncelton looked crossly at both of them: “Knives, all knives, are considered weapons and are prohibited here under any circumstances. It's a matter of safety for all of our students. Suppose, just suppose we allowed students to possess these pocket
knives as you call them, and there was an altercation, and someone were to use it to inflict bodily harm, what would you say then?”
“First, I'd ask if the one getting stuck had it coming to him,” growled Bobby Lee.
“You seem to be missing the point,” said Duncelton.
“And you seem to be missing the whole point of why folks like mine and I hope yours fought and died for this country,” shouted Bobby Lee, slamming his fist down on the desk so hard that the principal's name plate bounced from its holder. “It's so we could have freedom, not a bunch of rules to try to turn everybody into a reflection of the lowest common denominator in society. Freedom and responsibility go hand-in-hand. Why would you take either of them away from somebody without just cause? Why would you teach kids that's OK?”
“Amen.” said Hooter.
“That does it,” said the principal, reaching for the phone.
Quicker than a roadrunner's wink, Hooter reached across the desk and pulled Mrs. Duncelton's eyeglasses from her head.
“Hey!” The principal was reaching for her eyes with one hand and flailing for what must surely have appeared fuzzy with the other. “What do you think you're, doing. Well I never. I'm calling security.”
But in a second wink Hooter had scooted the phone over so the near-sighted, and far-sighted (in name only) principal was grasping at air.
Even Bobby Lee was shocked.
“Hush!” growled Hooter. “Right about now I expect you're feeling angry, violated and humiliated because someone took something away from you that you need to get through your day, and they did so without any obvious reason or explanation.”
“When I find this phone…”
“Hush!,” said Hooter firmly enough that the principle finally stopped to listen. “Like I said, you're madder than a rabid dog right now because I took your glasses without warning or provocation, and that's exactly how you should feel. So, why would Bobby Lee's daughter feel any different? Why would Bobby Lee feel any different?”
“I'm having a hard time equating the confiscation of a weapon with the rude theft of eyeglasses that I need to see.”
“Every morning Bobby Lee and his girl are up and out the door by 5 o'clock to go check stock and feed. One of her chores is feeding the horses. I don't reckon you ever tried to pull the twine off a solid-packed 70-pound bale of hay, or tried to lift one when you were five-years-old. Josie uses that knife to cut the strings.”
“She also uses that knife to cut, screw and pry anything else she needs to in order to care for the stock that are her responsibility. It's a tool, just like these eye glasses are a tool you use to do the things that are your responsibilities,” finished Hooter. He returned the glasses to the teacher's nose and ears as quickly as he'd snatched them.
“Rather than suspend that girl, you should be giving her a gold star for having the consideration and common sense to help a fellow classmate in need without running to ask for help.”
“Don't bother calling for your Deputy Dog, either. We're fixing to leave. Bobby Lee here has already decided his daughter is in need of education, not harassment. Josie will be attending Apache Flats, where we will welcome her with open arms, weapons and all. By the way, be expecting a call from your superintendent, too.”
Hooter snatched up the suspension papers and quickly shredded them with his own trusty knife.
“You know, these are awful handy gadgets.”