It was quickly becoming the worst day of my life. A seventh-grader at Franklin County Middle School, I was being dragged by my shirt collar down the hallway toward the principal’s office.
I’d always been a good student. Never skipped a class. Never teased a bully (I’d have received an ass-whoopin’ if I had). Never talked back to a teacher. But the times, as they say, were a-changin’. I’d been receiving more privileges at home. I had a few whisps of “peach fuzz” above my upper lip. I was beginning to notice the fairer gender. It was time to rebel a little.
The “bad boys” at our school in 1977 would visit the boy’s room not only to drain the main vein, but also to fill up their airways with tobacco smoke—thrilling in the forbidden taste and aroma of cigarettes. One student—no doubt an upperclassman (in eighth grade)—would light up a cig he’d likely stolen from his dad, and then pass it down a line of anxiously waiting young rebel-wannabes.
My buddy Jeffrey Naff and I were in that line that day. Innocent and curious, we were anxiously awaiting our first inhalations of “adulthood.” My friend took a puff and then passed the forbidden object on to me.
That’s when the bathroom door suddenly swung open and in walked Assistant Principal Jesse Goode.
I remember Mr. Goode being a gigantic African-American man with an angry look on his face that afternoon, as he quickly grabbed my friend Jeffrey and I by our collars for our long walk of shame to his office.
At this point, I need to fill the reader in on a little bit of a backstory:
When my parents and I had moved down to Virginia from my home state of New Jersey a decade earlier, my dad was the principal of Henry Elementary School.
And one of my dad’s first hires as an elementary school principal was—you guessed it—Mr. Jesse Goode.
And the older sister of my friend Jeffrey had as her principal at Henry Elementary—you guessed it—my father Jerry Stiles.
For my friend and I, this was quickly becoming a “double-Jefferdy” situation. “Please don’t tell my dad, Mr. Goode, please don’t tell my dad!” I begged. “I swear I’ll never smoke a cigarette ever again!” For some reason, Mr. Goode ended up letting me off easy that day, never suspending me or revealing my one-time infraction to my strict father.
And of course, I never told my father.
And apparently Jeffrey never told his father either.
“Later that same night you and your dad showed up at Mill Creek Baptist Church for revival,” Jeffrey recently confided to me. “As far as I know that was the first time I ever saw you there, and I was scared to death that your dad was there to tell my dad. My dad would’ve tore me up!”
Yes, Jeffrey and I surely would’ve had a come-to-Jesus moment of our own at that revival, had our dads known of what happened.
But of course, it had already become a little secret between me and a giant man named Mr. Jesse Goode.