Teaching One of Life's Lessons
One day while my best friend Emily and I sat licking banana popsicles beside the honeysuckle bush in our back yard, Mother called out, "Girls, she said, "she's not retiring.
My face dropped. A snarly frown of resignation replaced my sunny smile. All summer long, I had crossed my fingers, hoped and prayed that Miss Agnes Felch, the fourth grade teacher, would retire. No such luck. Mother told us that 80-year old Miss Felch had been quoted as saying,"I have devoted many years of my life to teaching the children of this community, and I shall continue.
"Just you wait until you see Miss Felch's mean-rage dance, my older sister told me that night at dinner. "You're in for it," she said with a knowing air.
Before I knew what had happened the lazy days of summer had passed, and I found myself seated in Miss Felch's classroom, apprehensive, shaking, afraid to be myself.
"These rules will be followed diligently or else,"Miss Felch announced, tapping her ruler sharply on the chalkboard.. She barked at us in her raspy voice, her hump-backed figure clad in a long grey skirt, white blouse with a cameo pin at the neck, her powdery face, white as a corpse.
One look from her piercing eyes, however and you knew that Mis Agnes Felch was very much alive. The slightese infringement of her rules resulted in a sharp rap on the head. Serious offenses meant Miss Felch would implement the famous Felch ear pull.
One day during silent reading, Willie threw a spitball. Miss Felch looked up just in time to see it smack Peggy Sue on the cheek."Oh no you don't," she said bolting out of her desk chair.
Willie sat rigid. When Miss Felch started toward him, I heard a trickle. Looking under his desk, I saw a yellowish puddle that had started to edge out into the aisle. When Miss Felch reached Willie's desk, her feet flew out from under her. As her gray skirt covered her face, she landed on her bottom, her white bloomers on display.
A couple of the nearby boys helped her up. Once on her feet, she smoothed out her skirt and then grabbed Willie by the ear. Out the room they went. Willie's loud squeals echoed down the hallway. When Miss Ferry returned, we were all quietly reading. Willie camr back to school the next day. He never, ever threw another spitball.
My turn came in music class. "Hold your tonette in your left hand, raising your arm," Miss Felch instructed, reminding us that was the arm on which we wore our watches. Unfortunately for me, my watch was on the wrong arm. Miss Felch headed toward my desk. "Young lady, " she cried out, rapping my head sharply with her ruler, "I said left hand." Holding back tears I hurried to the corner at her instructions. I stood like a statue for fear she would go after my ear again. After school, Emily bought me a chocolate soda to heal my crushed ego.
The year seemed to crawl by at a snail's pace. The exception was on the day that we had math. Then Miss Felch shined. She had a calculating mind when sharing her mathematical genius. However, she insisted that we read the same story over and over again in reading class. Miss Felch, could we go on to the next story in our reader, a brave Betty asked one day. "Absolutely not," Miss Felch replied"We will continue to read, "The Return of the Puddleduck". After many years, many of my classmates and I can still recite that stort word for word.
One day during health, Emily giggled when Miss Felch read about having regular movements. "Just what is so amusing? Miss Felch asked. "No,,,no,,,nothing," stuttered Emily.. It was Emily's turn to stand in the corner.
As the year went by, we managed to have a few good times with Miss Felch. We sang and surprised her with cupcakes on her 81st birthday. When Danny belched in the middle of singing "America the Beautiful"one day, Miss Felch pretended not to hear' That day she seemed real, like an aunt or even someone's grandma.
In February, someone sent Miss Felch a Valentine claring undying love for her and signed Eddie's name. We never found out who did it.
On the last day of school, a knowing smile crossed Miss Felch's face when she opened her gift from the class. Holding onto her box of chocolates --bittersweet --, her shiny ruler, and earmuffs, she dismissed us by saying: "Read children, stop to look at the flowers, the birds, and be grateful for wisdom."
Skipping and singing, I ran home beside Emily, feeling like I'd been released from prison. Telling the class behind us all of the wicked Miss Felch stories sounded like fun. I couldn't wait.
It wasn't to be. Two weeks after school let out, Miss Felch died. Tears came when I learned she had donated her small savings to buy playground equipment for the school yard. Today, after so many years, I still remember many of her ideas. Actually, I'd like to spend one day in her classroom. I would be extra nice to her. She cared. I know that now. After having our class, perhaps she deserved to rest in peace.
I saw Willie at a high school reunion not too long ago. Maybe it was my imagination, but I'd swear that one ear lobe hung down further than the other.