The View From Plum Lick
Where have all the teachers gone?
I mean, those spirits who guided us through first to twelfth grades.
First, there was Miss Delia. I remember her for her starched bib and tucker, signifying that she was kind and fair but don’t be so shortsighted as to try to paint her into a corner.
Miss Gertrude seemed quite old in the second grade—only later to learn she was in her first year of teaching and was barely in her 20s.
Miss Cabby led us through the third grade multiplication tables. Hand-held calculators were Buck Rogers stuff, or so it seems now. Nine times nine was a daunting 81, 10 times 10 was an easy 100, but head scratching began at 11 times 11 and 12 times 12. Just forget 13 times 13.
Miss Mayme ruled fourth grade. The big number here was long division. “Watch out for it,” was wisdom imparted over departing shoulders. The only escape was having the relief to go out and beat blackboard erasers against fence posts.
Mrs. Talbott was grimly waiting for us in the fifth grade but by now school had become a manageable blur. I suppose the redeeming value was a new sense of place even though the zippers on the knickers froze like a hilltop pond when the north wind blew.
The sixth grade was a major turning point. Some of the future basketball players sneered, “You don’t have to do everything that woman says.” But they were whistling Dixie. It was better street smarts that knew Miss Sudie took no prisoners. The Rock of Gibraltar was the Rock of Gibraltar and the sun never set on England. As for verse, Miss Sudie declared, when Joyce Kilmer wrote “Trees” he didn’t mean “fools like me,” he meant “folks like me.”
After our school burned down, we found a home on the second floor of one of the town’s creaky commercial buildings. Next we moved to big ticket seventh and eighth grades several miles down the road. This is where we encountered gentle Miss Elaine and beautiful Miss Bessie and the considerably unforgiving Miss Lida. When the boys tried to hide from her in the outhouse, she went in and pulled them out by the nape of their non-algebraic necks. Geometry of outhouse angles and space was one thing, logarithms were a baffling other, but Miss Lida ruled the roost with a paddle and the force of a 2x4.
After the rebuilding of the high school, it was Miss Dorcas who brought us through the threat of too much sugar in two many cream pies, while Miss Eloise was baking up a storm in Home Ec.
Miss “A” got us through the first conjugation of Latin verbs—Amo, amas, amat—but most of the “dead language” sailed over our heads like ghosts with robes snagged. She had us carving Italian columns out of bars of Ivory soap and grades improved a little.
Cecil, back from World War II and headed for Korea and Vietnam, tried patiently to persuade a young writer to become minimally knowledgeable about specific gravity, but it was a no go.
Mr. Gordon did his best to help us drive straight nails in shop, but it was another case of square pegs in round holes.
It was Miss Lillian’s diagramming of sentences that became the safe haven from physics and chemical principles. Somehow, nouns and verbs, and the difference between adjectives and adverbs, were more friendly and comforting.
“Teeny” the principal/basketball coach dreamed of winning the district tournament, while his predecessor, Mr. Foster P. Mitchell, was more inclined toward books.
Those joys would come. Grades one through 12 were building blocks. School simply meant respect for others (if you include our packing snow into Miss Tommie’s all-weather slippers).
I wouldn’t have changed a thing.
Thank you, teachers. And please forgive us, Miss Tommie, as we forgive you, Miss Lida.