Monday, March 16, 2009

Somewhere In The North

Sorry for the retreat -- I'm back from the evil flu and appreciate all well wishes!

When I was in the third grade, I had a demanding teacher whose last name changed almost every year (she got married a lot, got mad, went back to her maiden name, and got married again to another unwitting victim) -- she was Mrs. Goodwin that year. Her daughter was my age, a beautiful large girl who never ever seemed to make a mistake. Mrs. Goodwin seemed mystified by my ability to remember things without taking notes -- you're not writing, she'd say, until she figured out that I didn't need to and because I was always out of Big Chief paper and didn't want to go through the humiliating process of borrowing from someone else, listening to them sigh as they ripped off a page for me and listen to my lame promises to repay them the very next day.

Eventually, she had me grading quizzes for her instead of listening to the lesson although I'd overhear her say things like, If you're not a neat person, you should never be allowed loose-leaf paper. I'd let my daughter use it, but never my son. Her son attended college somewhere in the north and at the end of the year hanged himself with his belt from the rafters of his dorm room. Because I was small and silent, I could listen to adult conversations about the topic without being noticed and learned the sad meager details of his end, the note that he had apparently started and ripped up without finishing. I could imagine him in his last hours, not able to explain anything and giving up and saw him as my spiritual brother, the boy who couldn't stay neat enough to deserve loose-leaf paper. Despite my mother's attempts at making me look beautiful, I tended toward an unkempt haggard appearance, still in recovery from my second stomach ulcer. At the end of the year, Mrs. Goodwin paid me a compliment, a rarity from someone like her, even in the best of times. She said, You're the smartest girl in the room and I looked up from the stack of papers I was stapling for her, giving her a half-smile, the kind that employees reserve for a demanding boss who, even after the job was done, would linger because she had no other place to go.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"Never mistake motion for action." Ernest Hemingway

Cocktail Hour
Drinking memoir suggestion: Dancing Queen Lisa Crystal Carver

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Monday!


the walking man said...

Mrs. Goodwin (her name that year)seems to have had a problem with males. That same rigidity of the nuns of my ancient past, the boys in their classes always in need of the harsher treatment as if it was going to ward off the little evil plots boys always were hatching.

That they were hatching little evil plots was true, but my experience in those black days of youth was that the girls always started the plan, leaving it to the boys to carry them out.

I think most of the girls at that age were planning to join the convent, this was before they discovered that boys were good for something other than taking the fall for their young female machinations against the teacher.

While I was never a pack animal, the nuns always found a reason to single me out for their particular form of inspirational treatment. I particular liked the ruler over the knuckles because my penmanship was not neat enough.

I always wondered how in the hell I was supposed to be neat with swollen throbbing knuckles. It was good that my family could afford loose leaf paper, even though it pissed the provider of said paper off that I would write poetry on it.

Cheri said...

My senior year of high school both my favorite teacher (who taught English, no surprise, and I made sure that I had her every year) and I had stomach ulcers. Hers ruptured and she nearly bled to death. This story reminds me of her, her hidden disdain for those who could not meet her standards. Often I'd stay after school and help her and listen quietly to her muttering while grading terrible papers. How I miss her!

Anonymous said...

You're okay, Scott. There's nothing wrong with you.--Ernie H.

laughingwolf said...

rest up all you can, michelle... it's a nasty bug this time :(

jodi said...

Honey, you must have been one precocious little girl. But,did you use Dixon Ticonderoga #2 pencils? xo

Charles Gramlich said...

You always put me right in the moment. You certainly have a knack for the telling details. IN this case the suicide, and the ripped up note.

Laura Benedict said...

Where do you keep all the details of your life, sweetie? Okay, here's an awkward metaphor because I'm not a poet...It's as though you have an endless store of rough rocks and jewels tucked away--but when you bring them out to show us, you turn everything into shining jewels. Not always lovely, but always perfect and priceless. You're awfully rich, you know. xo