Oh when we were young…
As promised, here is the continuation of my list.
Mrs. Branton, Language Arts, Grade 7: Her class was the one I looked forward to all day. We wrote, we read, and she had this way of squeezing the brain juice out of us even when we seemed to be uninspired. She was a tiny little woman, full of wit and humor. Whatever book we read we did projects on. I once made a hoop skirt and bonnet and pretended to be a Quaker for a class project. Then I did a monologue. And no one laughed at me.
She had this extra credit system which was based on the total number of books we read per month. I read a lot anyway so that was a piece of cake. I kicked ass at extra credit reading. She had shelves full of great books we could choose from. I stole some of them. (Sorry Mrs. B, I only took the ones I really, really liked and if it’s any consolation they are still in the very same condition they were in when they were stolen.)
We read Romeo and Juliet. When I packed up all my stuff and moved to a different country for high school, I was the only one who understood any Shakespeare. I thought the other kids at the new school were idiots. Also, they didn’t read. And the school had a sorry excuse for a library.
Mrs. Tighe, Language Arts, Grade 8: I was afraid of Mrs. Tighe. I don’t know why. She read out my name at my commencement ceremony at the end of 9th grade. We all changed schools after that because in my day they didn’t yet have a high school program. I was extremely sad. I remember the entire class of ’97 burst into tears as we walked out of the auditorium. None of us wanted to leave.
Mrs. Tighe hated the word “suck.” We were never allowed to use it, ever, no matter how much something really sucked. One kid said it once and I swear, she turned into the devil incarnate. We read The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare. I use the word “suck” all the time. Sorry Mrs. Tighe.
Mrs. Joseph, Math, Grade 7: Mrs. Joseph was a bad ass African American math teacher. Passing notes in class? She would take them and read them, but never out loud. Tardy? Detention bitches. I did well in her class, but it was a struggle. She was the only one who acknowledged to my parents that I was a weird ass kid and that something was wrong with me. She told them that she would put me into Algebra rather than Geometry 1 because she thought that I was always way too worried and stressed out. Thank you, Mrs. Joseph, for noticing and trying to help.
Mr. Cushenberry, Algebra, Grade 8: This was the only time in my life I ever understood anything remotely related to math. The. Only. Time. I have my Math 101 college transcripts. I failed it. Three times. Each time my average was lower than the next. Mr. Cushenberry was just like his name sounds. He was a soft spoken, sweet old man with a raspy voice. He left at the end of the year. I sat on a desk in class while he was packing up his things.
I remember we talked, but I’m not sure what we talked about. I just know that I left with a blue post-it on which he had written his mailing address (no email yet) and a great feeling of comfort. My childhood was sometimes violent and I was always on edge or afraid, so feelings like that were rare which is perhaps why I remember it.
I lost the post-it, and it is something I still regret to this day and I feel sad whenever it crosses my mind (like right now). I wonder if I had written him, would he have written back? Would I still be writing him today if I hadn’t lost that little, blue piece of paper? I looked for him on Facebook once, but I couldn’t find him. I don’t know if he’s even still alive. I think I loved you Mr. Cushenberry.
Mr. Duciame, Geometry 1, 9th Grade: He looked like he belonged on one of those American detective/cop TV series. He had a Bronx accent I believe, and could have easily been a former government agent. “The easiest way to spell my name,” he said to us on the first day of class, “is to remember this: Du CIA is after U and ME.” Remembering the way to spell certain words became much easier after that. I never learned a thing about geometry, but that wasn’t his fault. I suck at math. Give me numbers and I’ll get all nervous and break into a sweat. Give me letters and I’m totally in my element.
Principal Fitzsimmons, 7th-9th Grade: He was a tall, Big Bird-ish sort of fellow. It tell you, the man was insane. He had a loud booming voice that could be heard all the way down the hall. He was a great principal and kept us all in line, letting things go with a firm but friendly warning when what you did wasn’t so bad. You didn’t want to make him angry, that’s for sure.
I made the Honor Roll every quarter. One time they made a mistake – I think they were off by .1% – and had put me on the list anyway. When I received my reward – which was a little pin that said “Honor” on it – I explained to Mr. Fitzsimmons that they had made a mistake. He told me that it didn’t matter and I should keep it because I deserved it anyway.
Whenever he saw me in the hallways, he would sing, “I dream of Jeannie, with the light, brown hair,” in exactly the way that Robert Wilson sang it. Except with more projection. It used to drive me nuts.
(Thank you bigmanio)
Now here’s something from the more sinister side of my growing-up years. And I mention it because I can’t tell you about the person who is to follow this little side-track without telling you about Mr. X. Yes, very cliche, I know.
I had to take a certain class every quarter with Mr. X for two years (maybe less, rough estimate, getting old). For two years, I tried to avoid this elective as much as I possibly could, but my father didn’t think things like Band or Home Economics were as important as this class. Today, I understand why. Back then, I just wanted to be away from Mr. X.
He was the second man who taught me a lesson I was to be taught a few more times in the course of growing up. All I remember of him was his disgusting salt and pepper beard, his fetid, sour breath and him offering me apples and cheese once. He was always way too touchy, inappropriate, and made me extremely uncomfortable.
I still wonder if I was wrong, but some other girls I talked to had the same feeling about him. I didn’t even know how to tell my parents, but you’d think a child’s tearful insistence that she did not want to take this class because she really, really didn’t like the teacher would be enough of a sign that something was dreadfully wrong. I still remember my father roaring at me, “I’M NOT TELLING YOU TO MARRY HIM! I’M TELLING YOU TO LEARN FROM HIM!” I don’t blame Dad. He couldn’t have possibly known.
Vice Principal Gianetti: I told her. She listened and told me that this was serious shit that I was saying. I can’t even remember what I said. What I do remember is that she asked me to explain what exactly he had done but I couldn’t because he hadn’t really done anything. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who went to her about it because Mr. X ended up leaving. I don’t know if he was let go or asked to resign or if it was just a coincidence. But I felt safe telling Mrs. G.
I am going to skip high school because I went to an awful one in the country I currently live in where A LOT of kids don’t read. Ugh. I’ll tell you about the typical child over here some time. It’s really horrifying.
College is something I have to think about for a few minutes. Professors you are coming right up!