In the little town of Mullinville there were several men who were a “jack of all trades” but the one that most of us remember best was our grade school janitor, Mr. Coy Headrick. Other than our teacher, he was the first person we met when we started first grade.
Mr. Headrick was a giant of a man to the first graders. He seemed 7 foot tall to us and could have played Santa at Christmas without the aid of the pillow. I am sure he was no more than 6 feet tall, or an inch or two more, but he was larger than life to us.
The first day of school Mr. Headrick arrived in the class room to do his yearly job for the students. He came ambling into the room in his overalls, usually the striped ones, with a wrench in his hand.
He went from desk to desk and adjusted the height of the seat so our feet touched the floor. Then the seat was slid back or forward to the right distance from the desk. After the seat was right he adjusted the height of the desk so it was perfect for writing. This required the student to get out of the seat 3 or 4 times so he could make the adjustment and then we’d sit back down to see if it was right.
When everyone’s desk suited him he would disappear from our room and head down the hall to the next class and do the same thing all over again. Since each class had about 20 students with 20 desks that needed to be adjusted, that was a lot of kneeling and bending to get us ready for the year of studying.
By the end of the first day he had all of the desks in the grade school adjusted for the students and that job was done for the remainder of the year. Well, unless a new student joined a class during the year and he would have to come back to adjust their desk.
Every morning on the way to school, if you lived on the north side of the highway and walked to school, you saw Mr. Headrick at the intersection of Highway 154 (that went through town from east to west) and Main Street. He would be there by 7:30 standing on the north side of the intersection.
The pole of the yellow stop sign was welded into an old wheel rim and then two little wheels were attached to the base of the rim so he could roll it down the sidewalk. When we arrived at the intersection it would be sitting in the middle of the very busy highway.
He’d motion the traffic through the stop sign if no students were around. But when the kids arrived at the corner he would go out into the middle of the highway and stop the cars and semi trucks. Then he would come back and escort us across the street. Sometimes he would lead the smaller kids by the hand.
The first thing we noticed every morning when we walked in the front door of the school was the clean smell. The cleaner he used on the floor was pink sawdust that came in barrels. The sawdust had oil added to it that gave it the pink color and the clean smell. Mr. Headrick sprinkled it on the floor and then used a dust mop to move it over the floor and it picked up the dust and dirt.
In the hallways he made a line of the sawdust across the hall from wall to wall. Then he would work from side to side to push the line of pink sawdust down the hall. When he had finished each room or hallway he would pick up the pink sawdust and throw it away. The sawdust had one of those smells you never forget.
I am sure the lunch room needed a wet mop everyday with all the kids that ate there. I shudder to think what the floors looked like when lunch was over. I imagine they were covered with food and spilled milk.
Mr. Headrick was the first person they called if a student got sick in the classroom or the bathrooms. That’s a job that I wouldn’t want but he cleaned up everything, maybe not with a smile, but he did not scold or grumble about the mess and got us back in shape pretty quick.
Every time we went to recess or down to lunch, we would see Mr. Headrick in the hall with his big dust mop. He went over the halls numerous times a day trying to keep it clean after all the little feet tracked in dirt and mud from the playground.
His next nasty job was cleaning the boys and girls bathrooms. He used Ajax powder and a wet rag to clean all the surfaces that could get germs on them, a job that he took in stride each and every day.
At the end of each day, about 3:45pm, he would roll the yellow stop sign back down the sidewalk to the intersection. He’d set the sign in the middle of the highway again. Once the stop sign was in the street he took up his position, on the south side of the highway this time, so he could escort the kids across safely at 4:00.
His was a thankless job. I don’t think any of the students ever thought to say thank you to him for keeping the school clean. We should have, but it was not something that a kid in grade school thought of doing. I hope most of us thanked him for adjusting our desk each year.
Mr. Headrick didn’t talk much to the students. He just went about his job and took care of the school. He was always willing to stop what he was doing to listen to a child’s story or to look at some little treasure they had brought from home, but then he would hurry them along to class.
I can remember him saying a few words to drivers when he thought they were not going to stop at the crosswalk. I would have stopped, not because there was a stop sign, because I wouldn’t have wanted to rile up the big man heading out into the street.
Mr. Headrick cleaned the school everyday, adjusted the desks for the students, hung things up for the teachers, changed the light bulbs when they went out, did odd jobs for everyone and was our traffic cop at the school crossing.
The school could not have run without him. Thank you Mr. Headrick, our grade school jack of all trades, for taking care of us so well. To contact Sandy: [email protected].