EDITOR'S NOTE: This column is adapted from Dalton Roberts' soon-to-be-published autobiography.
I was permanently expelled from the county school system when I was in the 10th grade. I think my father flexed his political muscles and got me accepted as a student at Kirkman Technical High School.
I loved Kirkman from the start. The principal was Robert A. Taylor, a big, friendly, smiling man.
My fifth cousin Farish "Monk" Franklin had come up from Alabama to live with us and to return to school after laying out a couple of years. He was a great guitar player and had traveled all over Alabama in the "house band" of Gov. Jim Folsom. Monk taught me a lot of what I can do on guitar. He also taught me mandolin, and Carl Story offered me a job on mandolin in his Rambling Mountaineers when I was only 17.
One day I said, "The principal will call me in one of these days and say. "I know what a hell raiser you were at Tyner, and you will have to shape up here at Kirkman."
Sure enough, one day a girl came from the office to summon me to the principal's office.
I was surprised to see Mr. Taylor with both feet up on his desk, and he said, "I am reading your cumulative record." I shivered. A cumulative record is a year-by-year account of your years in school. I thought, "Oh, my God! He will surely throw me out of Kirkman." I guarantee you my cumulative record was not pretty.
I sat and squirmed while he kept reading. Finally, he looked up over the cumulative record and said, "I see that you play guitar. Would you play for a school dance or a school assembly program?" I told him I would.
He asked, "Has everybody treated you good here at Kirkman?" And I told him they had. He said, "Well, you know where my office is now, and if anyone doesn't treat you well, you come see me and we will do something about it. OK?"
He arose and shook my hand and walked me to the door, and I stood outside his office stunned. I knew in my heart that I would never let Mr. Taylor down.
I didn't. I played for a school assembly program and a couple of dances, and I think I made the honor roll on every report card.
I had an A Model Ford, and one morning a man pulled out in front of me, and I hit him head on. I was so glad it was his fault because Dad was in the car. When the car went, so did my senior year at Kirkman.
I went to see Mr. Taylor and told him I would have to try to get back in Tyner. He said, "That won't be a problem. You have been a perfect student here. Just tell Mr. Burgner to call me."
When I walked in the office at Tyner, all the blood drained from Mr. Burgner's face. I told him I needed to come back to Tyner because of wrecking my car. I told him Mr. Taylor asked that he call him, and he said, "Well, I will call him, but you are NOT coming to school here."
He didn't quite close the door as he called Mr. Taylor, and all I could hear was his side of the conversation. I could hear Mr. Burgner saying, "Really? ... Really? ... That's hard to believe."
Mr. Burgner came out and slammed an enrollment card down in front of me. He said, "I am going to enroll you, but If you mess up, even on graduation day, you will never graduate from Tyner High School."
I have never forgot what I learned at Kirkman: the power of respecting someone and making them feel important; the value of finding their talents and using them. All these lessons were invaluable to me as a teacher and politician.
Mr. Taylor lives forever in my personal hall of fame.
Email Dalton Roberts at DownhomeP@aol.com.