Marlene Ratledge Buchanen

A dear friend, Mell Hulme, recently died. Mel taught and coached at Central Gwinnett and Shiloh High Schools in Gwinnett County.

I knew him when he got his first job at Bass High School in the City of Atlanta. Mel is really the last link to my daddy, James E. Ratledge.

I posted Mell’s funeral arrangements on face book and received a note from one of Mel’s former students, Ken Anderson. “He always carried a big set of keys on a leather strap. I asked him ‘Coach, how do you remember all those keys?” He told me ‘I don't. This is my weapon.’ He said he started carrying the keys in Atlanta.”

This is the story behind Coach Hulme's big ring of keys.

Mell was teaching and coaching at Bass High School in Atlanta. My Daddy, James Ratledge was the school detective for Area Two, which contained Bass. In 1947, Atlanta began dividing detectives into specific groups. In 1953, the Atlanta Board of Education and the Police Department joined forces and developed the School Detective Unit. Daddy was the second man hired for the department after the commanding sergeant, J.D. Nash. Julian Stevens was the third.

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Daddy gave each new coach in his schools a big key ring. He told them to load it up with old keys. Daddy picked up useless keys whenever he found them.

Sometime in the 1960's, Mell began his teaching career. Daddy gave Mel one of the rings with some keys. He promised to bring Mell a few more.

“Detective Ratledge, I don’t need a big key ring.” Mell told Daddy. “Yes, you do, Son.” Daddy replied. Daddy told him to put that ring either in his pocket or on an easy to break away strap on his belt. Mell often carried it in his hand on his clip board.

“When a fight breaks out and you can’t control it, throw the key ring at someone's back. It will knock the breath out of him and usually stop the fight. Then you can get in there and get the fighters under control. If a criminal is running away from you, throw the ring. It will bring him down,” was Daddy advice, often repeated to me by Mell.

Another tip Daddy used was to throw the keys down a hallway when he saw someone that didn’t set quite right. “Bring me those keys.” The culprit would pick up the keys and bring them back to Daddy. He had the varmint right then. It wouldn’t not have been wise to run.

I remember seeing him do that at Grady High School. Daddy recognized one of the boys walking down the hall. Daddy knew he had been involved in some burglaries. He slide those keys down the hall. The boys stopped and looked back. “Bring me those keys, please, Son.” One of the boy picked them up and all of them walked back to Daddy. Daddy put his hand on the boy’s shoulder while he took back the keys. Daddy asked the young man if he knew anything about a particular robbery. The boy denied any knowledge. Daddy said “I think we need to go talk to your Mama.” The boy confessed all of his sins right then.

Mell used to laugh about the number of fights he broke up over the years with that key ring. I’m sure some others found it useful over the years. I still have Daddy’s key ring. It weighs a good bit and is just the right size for throwing.

Mell called Daddy “Ricochet Ratledge.” Once when Bass and another school were having a riot in the gym during a basketball game, the coaches couldn't break it up. Daddy was called. Daddy was over 6'4" tall. He calmly walked into the gym, fired one shot into the ceiling and everyone hit the floor.

Daddy told Mell “You don’t call me in until the situation is beyond your control. When I arrive you want me to do something.”

Daddy and Mell had a mutual admiration society. I loved them both.

A southern humorist, Marlene is the 2020 Georgia Independent Author of the Year for Life is Hard, Soften It with Laughter and 2021 GIAYA for A Place with a Past. Marlene is available for speaking engagements. You may reach her through her website www.MsRatWrites.com.