Wednesday, February 26, 2014


The six teachers who resided at  Mrs. Wood’s Boarding House back when every-town-had-a-school were a homogeneous group, like sisters or cheerful nuns who had lived long together in such an estrogenic universe that they melded like wax.  They ranged in age and tenure by several decades, from gray upsweeps to waist-length curls, from bouncing salt-and-pepper page-boys to one silky-white permanent renewed at the Chat-n-Curl every six months.  They taught math, English-and-Latin-combined, Speech and Home Ec, as well as all-the-Rs-plus- H-and-G in the lower grades. 


  The two elementary teachers were oddly disparate---one sturdy and solidly planted, her plain-spoken character and her sense of command quite suited to the rowdy fourth-graders, most on that cusp between  innocence and naughty entendre, and needing a firm hand and incisive voice. 
Miss Omar strode into the classroom in a gabardine suit---shoes solidly laced, setting down her purse and taking up the day in both hands.  She had no need for call-to-order after about the first week, for a majority of her pupils had heard from older siblings that she was a tough old bird, and proved by stern example in those first few mornings. 

   When she woke up, she was AWAKE, and could not understand those who needed the brace of coffee and a bit of quiet to get going in the morning, though she matched them cup for cup at the percolators.   And she’d never set an alarm clock in her life---she just KNEW what time it was, never missing an appointment, knowing without turning her head that the Jenkins boy and Claude Ray Burns were setting their brogans for escape at seven-til-three, instead of waiting for one-minute-before like everyone else watching the clock.   And until she went off to college, she’d believed that everyone else could tell time like that, startling onlookers occasionally with “It’s four-fifty-two---I’d better get home,” with no clock in sight.  

rubylane photo
Miss Haynes’s waist-length curls were the envy of every girl in the entire school, and the Toni counter at Leon’s Drugstore would have grown dusty had it not been for Miss Hazel’s assiduous attention with the turkey-feathers, for it lacked for customers as all the girls began to let their hair grow out about the third week of school.  Then succeeded a run on the soft-curler rack and the TAME aisle, once word leaked as to how she kept her elegant coiffure.   She was thin and fine-boned in  her pale shirtwaist dresses and silky blouses tucked into somber skirts.  Her manner was quiet and soft-spoken to her class of first-graders, calling them “ladies” and “gentlemen” when she called them to order.  
The effect her calm, orderly person had on those brand-new scholars bursting in, fresh and still drunk with Summer in the first days, was a wonder of the school, for the grubby barefoot boys soon attained an almost neat aspect, with clean faces and fingernails, and the chattery, chirpy little girls stilled and ceased at the first soft words.
And after her very first note-sent-home, introducing herself and asking that each child bring a pencil, a tablet, and a handkerchief every day, there was a cloth in every pocket, though some were obviously cut from an old sheet or dishrag, unhemmed and ravelly, but folded into the small pocket every morning along with Barlows and aggies and chunkin’ rocks and yesterday’s night-hardened nugget of gum.   They knew better than to chew in school, though Miss Haynes was still new to the game, holding out a scrap of torn paper for the miscreants to spit the gum into, rather than the seldom-needed, sternly-proffered bare hand of Miss Omar, who had become inured to all sorts of grime and goo over the years, and who kept a tiny bottle of McKesson’s in the top drawer with the Jergens, for anointing her hands now and then.
Miss O had lived at Mrs. Wood’s for some seventeen years; Miss H was the baby-of-the-bunch in her second year of teaching, and they both fit in like family.   




Jane and Lance Hattatt said...

Hello Rachel:

And now we have these wonderful insights into the very characters who occupied Mrs. Wood's house and who 'melded together like wax'. What superb descriptions are included here that, in the here and now, in a different time and place, they really 'live' for us. And they are of the 'old school' where discipline and fair play are the watchwords of the day.

Rachel, this is beautifully written and, as said previously, utterly enchanting.

And now to the latest comment which you have left on our post 'Snapshots'. We are so very, very touched, more than we can possibly say. We have, of course [how could we do otherwise?] replied. But to see your comment and our reply, buried somewhere in the middle of all the comments, you must [since there are now over the 200] go to where you would leave a comment at the bottom of the page and then click on LOAD MORE and then look for it. All a bit tedious, and muddling, but it should work!!

J&L, xxx

harleygirl said...

I love this! (Especially hearing about Latin, because I teach Latin to my boys and everyone thinks I'm crazy!) These are the types of stories I like to hear. I wish the world could still be like this today. Thanks for sharing. :)

Kim S. said...

I had a Miss Omar - 5th grade, though. And a pretty, sweet Miss Haynes for first grade. We girls were half in love with her and wondered at the boy's who were naughty and caused our dear so much trouble!