By Kevin Slimp
Mary Ann Tinkersley was the prettiest girl in all of Lennox Valley during my teenage years, and truth be told, she was the primary reason for the drop in my algebra scores between the winter and spring semesters of 1998. My mother made me spend at least 60 minutes each night studying algebra. What she didn’t understand was that Mary Ann sat one row to my left and one seat ahead of me in class, and no amount of studying was going to make up for the confusion she stirred in my brain cells each day from 1:15 to 2:05.
Lennox Valley wasn’t big enough for its own high school, so Mary Ann and I both attended school nine miles away at Central Valley High School. CVHS was born through a merger of West Central High School and Lennox Valley High School back in the 1950s. It comprised of a mix of kids from Lennox Valley and the area west of Springfield, the county seat.
During my sophomore year, there were 103 students from Lennox Valley at Central, meaning that most of us had grown up together and knew each other pretty well. Mary Ann and I had been close friends in elementary school, but as is often the case, we parted ways as we grew into adolescence.
In towns like Lennox Valley, it’s the common practice for high school students to raise livestock during the school year, in anticipation of the FFA judging at the August county fair. As it happened in 1998, both Mary Ann and I were raising lambs.
It’s a big deal to raise a prize-winning animal, so teenagers went all out to get their livestock in the best condition possible. Beginning in March, when the weather was more supportive, I would walk my lamb, Archibald, every evening just before supper for 10 minutes.
Imagine my surprise when, on June 4, 1998, I came upon Mary Ann walking her lamb, Snowflake, one block from the town square, just around the corner from All Saints Church. Pretty soon, our “accidental” meetings took place every night at that same corner.
Ten minutes became fifteen minutes, and before long, we had the healthiest lambs in all Spring County.
As we walked, we’d help each other prepare for the livestock judging and the “oral reasons” section of the judging. Oral reasons is a process dreamed up by cruel farmers in decades past who obviously enjoyed watching future farmers forced to participate in their greatest fear, public speaking.
Basically, the idea was that we would judge livestock raised by other future farmers against the “ideal” animal. Not only did we have to group the unknowing contestants into categories, but we had to give oral explanations of why we placed each animal where we did. In short, it was worse than algebra.
Most of our walks were peaceful, but now and then we would encounter something memorable. Like the night we saw TJ Bordewyck slam his door and zip toward the town square, murmuring under his breath about overnight shipping.
We would hear arguments from time to time. More than once, we heard Sarah Goolsby arguing with her parents over her refusal to eat the “animal carcass” that her mother had prepared for dinner.
Most disagreements seemed to be over the Federal Reserve System or the new preacher at the Methodist Church. Funny, though, 15-year-olds don’t concern themselves with such things while walking their lambs through the town square near the end of the day.
There were more important things to think about. Things like the upcoming livestock judging or the class schedule for our junior year.
Yes, Mary Ann Tinkersley was the prettiest girl in Lennox Valley, and I was walking with her. The Federal Reserve System wasn’t about to do anything to mess that up.
Kevin Slimp makes his home in Knoxville, Tenn. Read more at LennoxValley.com.