The Battle Axe in 4A
It's Monday in November, aka National Blog Posting Month aka NaBloPoMo, so that must mean I need to take a walk down memory lane. I have a really good memory, so it might seem that this would be an easy task, but really it's harder- where to begin?
My daughter is in 4th grade this year. Part of the mother-daughter dynamic seems to include a peck of "I remember when I was your age" anecdotes. For me, fourth grade was awful. To begin with, I was cursed with having possibly the meanest teacher on earth as my homeroom teacher. There were 3, and I got the mean one. Miss Marjorie Bowers was her name and she was an old battle-axe of a woman. At 60+ years, and I'm guessing at that because she retired at the end of the year, she had a rather imposing physique- sturdy of stature, one of those old-lady bosoms that is just, well, scary; short, steel-gray hair, wire-framed glasses, watery blue eyes that held not an ounce of warmth, not a drop of kindness. She always wore pants- of the polyester variety, and usually a button-down blouse that was never tucked in. Sometimes she wore a strand of hideous beads or a medallion of some sort that could take out an eye if she swung around too fast. Despite the fact that she wore a necklace on occasion, she was not the most feminine person. She spoke with a Missouri (pronounced "Miz-ur-uh") accent- she said "warsh", for example. Her voice was unpleasant as well.
Her severity at Grant Wood Elementary School was legendary. All schools have teachers like that, hell, some of us even strive to be one of those teachers. Her reputation was warranted, however. I was witness to it during science one day. We were reading out of our textbooks- round robin style, when she called on Heath to read. He was a squirrelly kid- always getting in trouble for jacking around, but hella funny, and always with a big, toothy grin on his face. Those were the beginning days of special ed. We knew there were kids who left our classroom and went to get extra help from Mrs. Fife, and he was one of them. Nobody told us that's what they were doing, but we all knew, just as we knew that the Bluebirds reading group was the High group, the Cardinals were the Middle group and the Hummingbirds were the Low group. Nobody had to tell us, we just knew. We had all been in school together since kindergarten and knew each other's weaknesses and strengths. We knew that when Miss Bowers called on Heath that he would have trouble with many of the words, that she would have to help him. We didn't get nervous when she called on him, we knew what his capabilities were and so did she. He started out, faltering a bit here and there. She stuck her big, meaty finger on his page, pointing with her middle finger like she always did, trying to help him follow along. She corrected him several times, said a few words for him several other times, grumpy and irritated. She finally lost it, muttering angrily, "Baby. You can't read." and grabbed him by the back of his head and pushed it down, hard, on his desk, where he lay humiliated, and crying. By 4th grade, if the boys cried, it was a big deal. Our class was silent, horrified. Miss Bowers continued the "lesson", whatever it was, I have no recollection. What I do remember from that day was how she managed to cut our classmate off at the knees; our smiling, funny, quick with a joke classmate; our friend. We hated her.
I don't know what happened with her, because she did retire at the end of the year, but I think she waited until the summer to announce it. In fifth grade, we had to wish her a happy retirement into a tape recorder - the idea of one of the other teachers in the building. I remember feeling like I absolutely could not wish this woman well after she had been such a hateful, despicable presence in my world the previous year. I either managed to avoid recording a message for her at all, or choked one out because we had to- one of those "be the bigger person" lessons.
I think of her every once in a while- and shudder. I try and imagine things from her point of few, especially now that I'm an adult and have a classroom of my own. I imagine that she was once someone's child- she would have been born somewhere around 1913, lived through the Depression as a young woman. 65 in 1978 was probably much different than 65 in 2007. It's not that I no longer think she was horrible, for I certainly do. I'm just curious about her story. What was her story?