Even though I did not know her other than to say hello in passing, there was a moment of sadness, followed by nostalgic reflection, this week when The Times-Gazette received an obituary for Judy Lynne Martelotti.
The sadness came because Mrs. Martelotti always seemed like such a nice person, and because in more recent years I always saw her at the side of her husband, Al Martelotti, a teacher during my years at Hillsboro High School.
The mention of a name or a word often sends my mind wandering, and before long I was thinking back to high school, then to those more recent years, then back again to high school.
I never had Al Martelotti as a teacher. He taught shop, and in a moment of ornery rebellion I took foods and advanced foods in high school rather than shop. Now I can cook, but I am pretty much inept at fixings around the house.
While I never had Mr. Martelotti as a teacher, everyone at Hillsboro High School was aware of him. He was unmistakable, tall and broad, a bit gruff, and had a reputation for dishing out lots of corporal punishment. For the record, I never saw him paddle anyone, and I believe his big and bad reputation was just a front to keep kids in line. Whatever it was, it worked.
Because to state it simply, I was afraid of Mr. Martelotti, and I was not alone.
As the years passed though, I saw Mr. Martelotti in a different light. I saw and wrote about his passionate presentations on the Civil War, dressed as a Union soldier. And in more recent years when I ran in to him, usually at a local restaurant, he was as pleasant as anyone can be, always with a big smile with friendly greeting, and I truly enjoyed our brief conversations.
It has been a while since I saw him. I hope he is doing well, and sincerely offer my condolences on his wife’s passing.
When I think of Mr. Martelotti though, my first thought is of those days back in school when I made sure I was walking a straight line whenever I was around him. The thing is, while he had the reputation, there were lots of teachers in those days who handed out paddelings. In fact, I’m certain some of them got a kick out of the whole process.
Not too many years ago I saw one of my junior high teachers and football coaches at a ball game. I had not saw him in decades, so I went up to say hi. I don’t think he remembered me much, but as we chanted he told me about how he enjoyed his days at Hillsboro, then chuckled about all the whackings he and others meted out.
I remember one day in his class particularly well.
He was late getting to class, and two friends and I were talking loudly, not paying attention to much of anything else. About that time the teacher walked in and ordered the three of us to shut up. I shut up. The other two did not. Then about as quick as a flash the teacher turned around, called my buddies out by name, and angrily shouted, “Jim and Henry (not their real names), last two minutes of the class, both of you out in the hall with me for two swats.”
The remaining minutes of that class were some of the most memorable of my junior high years. One of my buddies took it in stride and acted as usual. But the other one did not. He was directly in my line of vision looking toward the clock on the classroom wall. And about every minute or so he’d nervously glance up at that clock.
If you know anything about junior high boys, you can understand what a treat it was for me to watch his nervous glances.
And, when those last two minutes rolled around, out the hall my buddies went to receive their swats.
Somehow, through all my school years, I managed to avoid getting paddled until the last couple weeks of my senior year. It was after I got caught for skipping school, and I think the usual punishment was detention. But it was getting late in the year and I always thought the school administrators figured it would just be more efficient to get the punishment out of the way with a couple swats.
Thinking back as I write these words, it strikes me how some people like Mr. Martelotti could get their message across with a reputation and maybe the occasional whacking, while others could never get the same message across no matter how many kids they whacked.
Oh well, looking back again, I guess my K-12 education would not have been complete without a couple swats.
Jeff Gilliland is the editor of The Times-Gazette. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 937-402-2522.