A few high school teachers had a major influence in my life. One of these was a chemistry and physics teacher by the name of Charlie Taylor. Charlie was eventually kicked off the teaching staff for teaching subjects a bit outside of the norm. He had been a World War Two hero, a pre med student, and eventually a high school teacher who was loved by (most of) the students. He had a genuine interest in the welfare of his students, and he stayed in touch with us far into our careers, calling with congratulations each time we reached a new level. Eventually, I stopped hearing from Charlie until one day in 2005 when I saw a news story about Charlie Taylor's World War Two record. This made me want to see him again if possible so I tracked him down. He had been in the Bedford County, Tennessee Hospital Nursing home for some time.
I visited him at Thanksgiving that year at the hospital. He seemed quite healthy and mischievous, though now in his own little world and he remembered little about high school. He was friendly with me but not too interested in visitors since he was quite involved with pestering one of the little ole ladies there, who was threatening to slap his face if he didn't leave her alone. That actually seemed to make him even more determined to steal a book she was looking at. I was pleased to see him again, even though he refused to believe that I was Trolinger, one of his old students. The
nurse told me that his memory comes and goes.
One of the craziest Charlie Taylor stories concerns a bottle of white phosphorous sticks that he had in his Chemistry closet. He had thrilled his classes with demonstrations by cutting off a tiny piece of phosphorous and letting it burn when exposed to the air, filling the room with thick white phosphorous pentoxide smoke. A fellow troublemaker, John Shipp, and I thinking we could put the phosphorous to better use, subsequently stole the bottle. Charlie was pretty unhappy about the missing phosphorous, and I am sure that he had suspicions about who took it. He warned us that it could be very dangerous, and that as a minimum to use extreme caution with it, but please return it.
Apparently we did not completely believe Charlie in his description of such a product, which for sure would never be lying around in a high school laboratory today. One evening we decided to have some fun with the phosphorous and went scouting to find some unsuspecting soul to be the object of a practical joke. Our first victim was a young lady by the name of Ardis Hunter. We placed an entire stick of the phosphorous into the exhaust pipe of (what we thought) was Ardis’ car, which was sitting outside a local store where she worked part time.
Lo and behold, her dad, George, came out of the store and got in the car and drove off. When the phosphorous lit off, it shot a fifty-foot flame out the back and covered the entire block with white smoke. George was totally stunned as he stood by his smoking Oldsmobile in disbelief. He never learned how his car had become a flaming dragon that night.
After that we were much more cautious in our use of the phosphorous.