Fold-Down Ink-Well Desks. And Sweater Fuzz

school desks old fashioned

This was the first Story Challenge I put up on my high school’s 50th reunion page. It got no love. So I put it up here–again–for a few blog passersby. Turns out I had told this tale on the blog in 2009. I repost it with the near certainty that nobody who reads it this time will remember. 

The Challenge:

Tell your best WHS teacher tale. It should be mostly true. Relate a time you got away with something, didn’t get away with something or were profoundly educated or severely instructed in the moment by something  a teacher said or did. 


This wrought iron and maple classroom desk pictured above was pretty much standard issue at my high school, but for some reason from all the classes where I parked it behind such a desk, what this picture makes me remember in particular is Ms. Looney’s AP English class.

My desk was the first one in front and hard against the teacher’s desk. Ms. Looney (who to our amazement went on later to become a Mrs.) was fond of holding up a newspaper to read while we worked on classroom assignments.

One day for reasons I will never know, in a moment of ennui (a word we learned in her class) I took the notion to pick fuzz from a thick green mohair sweater and launch it from my cupped hands with a mighty puff. The fuzzy tuft would lift above the top of the newspaper and settle somewhere beyond the page in the vicinity of the teacher’s nose.

I repeated this several times that day, incited by a growing audience behind me. Ms Looney never noticed. But when she finally lowered her newspaper, her teacher’s bun was festooned with a kind of Spanish Moss. This visage was the source of snickers for some and a combined dread and pride for the perp.

How is it that we survive, any of us, with such stupid notions of the hilarious that put us at such risk for retribution. Thankfully we don’t often get what’s coming to us. And besides, these things make for such indelible memories, don’t they?

And I have to think that somewhere—in an antique store in Idaho maybe—there’s a fold down desk of hard maple and ornate black iron that bears my initials, tiny and etched in pencil– not pocketknife. I was mildly mischievous but these two confessions pretty much sum up my WHS walk on the wild side. You?

NOTE: There will be a lump or two of my Juicy Fruit under the left side of the fold-up seat.

Share this with your friends!

Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

Articles: 3013


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  1. My school district had replaced those old desks with blonde wood ones of similar design. No fancy ironwork. Your previous story of refusing to take the math final gave the impression that you were more trouble than this story shows!

  2. Nope. I was not rebellious or malicious. I just did not jump through hoops because I was told to when there was no point–as in last-day-of-class math problem that nobody could work. It was just busywork that made it look like that teacher was actually popping the whip to the very end. She could have said, like other teachers there at the end of our last week in high school, just enjoy your time together but keep it at a mild roar.

  3. I haven’t seen a picture of those desks for years. Brought back a lot of memories.Who ever got the job of moving them to sweep underneath? By the way, you do know why your desk was right there in front, next to the teachers’? I think the clue is in the green fuzz.