Joe Buck and the Fly Killing Contest
Our new teacher, Miss Sarah Jane Whitney, looked over our grade school class with approval until she spotted Joe Buck in the back row with his wild hair, dirty face, and insolent look. Joe’s appearance would stop anybody in their tracks. Rumor had it that he lived on an island in the Missouri River, but true or not nobody ever asked him.
We kept our distance from Joe, who once while in a lower grade, out of the blue, left our classroom via a window and an overhanging tree limb. He was the subject of some punishment for that, behind the principal’s door.
One morning, Miss Whitney asked our class if we wanted to improve the environment by getting rid of pests, mostly houseflies. We volunteered enthusiastically.
Dividing the class into two teams, A and B, she announced a two-week fly killing contest. We were to receive one point for each bug killed and team totals would be taken each day.
Most of it was fun, but like all such affairs there were downsides. Parents objected to fly swatters at the supper tables and there were too many surprise whacks to necks and heads by gung-ho pupils.
When our team was sadly behind, Doris Jones told Miss Whitney that the cause was Joe Buck’s lack of participation and that Team B was marking their scores with fake kills. Miss Whitney sobered us up with an explanation of the Code of Honor, which meant telling the truth and trusting our classmates. Our team was truthful, but still behind.
On the last day of the contest, just before the winner was announced, Joe Buck went up to Miss Whitney’s desk. He spoke so low that we had to strain to hear their conversation.
“Are flies the only pests?” he asked.
“No, Joe,” she answered.
“Do bigger ones count?” he wanted to know.
Miss Whitney’s voice quavered as she asked, “Bigger ones like spiders?”
“Bigger than skeeters and spiders,” Joe confirmed.
“Yes, of course, but how big?”
Joe produced a crumpled brown bag and said, “I kilt two rats and to prove it I got their tails in this here sack. I guess they’re worth 25 points.”
Miss Whitney leapt from her chair and announced in a strange voice. “We all stand by our Code of Honor, truth and trust, don’t we children? If you say you killed those things then your team gets 25 points and is the winner. No need to show any evidence.”
Joe went back to his seat smiling. Team A got a prize and we never did learn for sure what Joe carried up to the teacher’s desk that day.
Mary Elizabeth Mruzik