Monday, July 27, 2009

Mean Ole Lady Snark, Susan and the Restroom - Part 2

Mean Ole Lady Snark (MOLS) was a very short, tiny, black-haired woman, probably 90 lbs, somewhat older than my previous two teachers. Her spectacles were about 1/4" thick, almost binoculars (I suffer from severe hyperbole) which gave her an austere look.

Her hair had regular appointments with Miss Clairol. She had NO sense of humor. In retrospect I think she had 'small woman syndrome,' not unlike 'small man syndrome.'

[I forgot to mention in the previous post Susan seemed to lag behind in the learning curve, and may have been held back a grade--I don't remember. ]

From the first day of third grade, I was depressed just being there. MOLS chastised a few rude boys, but not as much as the uppity upper classmates led me to believe.

During the early days of her class, I realized I could not clearly see the blackboard. MOLS asked me a question from material on the blackboard, and realized I didn't have a clue what she was asking. She asked me if I'd like to move up to the front. Not really, I thought: that puts me right next to her desk, besides my peers will call me 'teacher's pet.'

Student were assigned seats alphabetically, ascending or descending. There were exceptions, sometimes erroneously labeled 'teacher's pets.' My last name, Richardson, never got me a front seat. I was behind the Joneses ascending order, or behind the Smiths descending order. Thank the schoolhouse gods for the Smiths which kept distance from Susan in front of, or behind, me; her last name started with ST. There were not many Rs.

I did not know if MOLS was being kind or sarcastic, but I accepted a front seat, thinking I would stay out of trouble. Apparently, she called my parents, as shortly thereafter I had optometrist's appointment and left with eyeglasses. Thank God they were a lot less thick than MOLS's binoculars!

Another antiquated procedure in those days was students appointed as monitors whose duty was to report misbehavior of their peers to the teacher. We had hall monitors, playground monitors, restroom monitors. I figured monitors were nothing more than spies in training, ratting and tattling on their peers--not an achievement to covet for a transcript or application by an aspiring, prospective college student.

Nevertheless, I eventually was appointed restroom monitor. My main chore was to accompany female peers who requested use of the facility during class, but I also had duty during recess. While all my friends were playing Red Rover I was standing alone in the restroom "monitoring." I called it DUMB DUTY, but soon it became HAZARDOUS DUTY.

Susan pushed the envelope of decorum in the restroom, but if she did not physically abuse another student or damage the restroom, I did not report her.

One day she asked MOLS to be excused to the restroom, which meant I must accompany her. Her request was granted, and we started down the quiet hallway toward the restroom.

Susan tried to engage me in loud hallway conversation, a no-no when classes were in session. Her explosive anger began to simmer when I was unresponsive to her.

We entered the restroom and I assumed my "monitoring" position, leaning against a wall. Susan entered a stall and completed her mission, I assumed.

She exited and washed her hands, a good habit. She told me there was graffiti inside the stall door; naturally I went over to check it out. [She probably created the graffiti, but I could not have proved it.]

To this day I do not understand the next sequence of events. She grabbed me from behind and tried to plunge my head beneath the toilet water.

At age 10 I was already fearful of water and drowning. Mother said you could drown in less than three inches of water; the toilet water was definitely deeper than three inches!

My life was racing before me. What would my parents think if I drown at school in the toilet, after all their warnings?

I could see front page headlines and my obituary: STUDENT ALTERCATION RESULTS IN ONE DEATH BY DROWNING IN SCHOOL TOILET (front page) or Obituaries: 'Student, age 10, died yesterday at 2 p.m. by drowning in toilet of stall 3 of South Elementary School, services pending completion of investigation and autopsy.'

Substitute commode or stool, can, throne, latrine, lavoratory, or 44 other synonyms if some other choice is better for publication. Some synonyms would not pass censorship, especially those beginning with sh----- and cr----- plus a new one on me... ordure. You look it up as I doubt it is commonly used in the South.

I struggled to get up and hit the concrete floor several times, all the while my Cherokee temper began to heat up ( didn't know it was Cherokee till 54 years later). I don't remember aggressively hitting her, but I defended myself to the best of my limited stature and strength which grew exponentially with my temper.

Susan began to see my head was not going in the toilet, down the toilet or anywhere near the toilet. She released her head grip on me; then, amazingly, her personality changed completely. She acted as if nothing happened.

To this day I wonder if she suffered from some personality disorder, like schizophrenia. Maybe her parents were abusive and this action mimicked some medieval "water boarding" method of getting her to tell the truth.

We started back to class very quietly. However, MOLS sensed something was awry. She asked me if there were problems. I'm sure I looked disheveled. I admitted there was a little problem. As expected, Susan outright denied anything at all happened.

MOLS apparently overlooked my disheveled appearance. Susan's appearance was the same as when she left the classroom. I am sure my Cherokee hair was flying in all directions and my ironed, starched feed-sack dress was creased and wrinkled.

Hey! when you are battling a Philistine descendant of Goliath, you don't make a dent in their appearance. I needed my slingshot from when I and my siblings playacted David and Goliath, another Bible story that ended in trouble for me.

We both were relegated to stay after school one hour. There is no worse punishment than detention to a 3rd grader. As the hour ticked by, my imagination raced between the anticipated grilling of my parents to the all important "conduct record" I was compiling for college.

Finally, we both were released to go home. As I dragged myself home in shame, I still could not explain what happened or why. But I told the truth as best I understood it.

Mother knew a little more than I did about Susan and her family. Apparently, her adoption was not well screened and perhaps was not through legitimate channels. Whatever the reason, the parents had a multitude of problems with Susan.

MOLS helped understand the teacher's position. She told Mother since we had different takes on the altercation and she could not discern the truth, so we both were held accountable, partly because I failed to maintain peace in the restroom.

[I tried to "maintain peace" but when a fly is battling a behemoth with a swinging tail the size of a club, there is not much of a chance.]

There was a lot of conversation between them, that I did not then understand, mostly concerning Susan.

But Mother stuck in several strikes for me. She told Mean Ole Lady Snark the students', especially my, perception of her, how much I dreaded going to her class, and that I did not like the "monitor" assignment. And I had better not have a markdown in "conduct" which was usual when a student had one detention event.

Mother did not use the word "hate," the much maligned word I learned early on the playground, without any conception of its meaning. I was chastised every time I used it included every time I mentioned MOLS.

Surprisingly, the next day at school, MOLS told students she wanted to clear up some misconceptions students had of her. She was as contrite as an old battle ax can be, but I didn't buy it. However, I never had trouble in her class again. I was relieved of my monitor duties and did not receive a markdown in conduct for the episode, either.

I continued to avoid Susan; in fact I don't remember her in the 4th grade but there were two 4th grade classes. At some point she disappeared from my elementary school experience and faded memory. I seem to remember she came to an early demise, but those details are not etched in stone.

MOLS and I reached an unwritten truce, or was it impasse, for the rest of the year. I graduated from my college aspirations and was employed when she retired as teacher of the 3rd grade. There were many accolades of former students and teaching staff plus a front page article in the local paper. Need I say, I was not among the accoladees (new word I made up) nor did I save the article in my scrapbook!!!

I know, I know, too long..............just could not find a second place to stop and continue.

[The picture above is 2-story South Elementary School that my brother sent me; yesterday's photo was the 3 story Brownwood Senior High School which for some reason was with a website about the Elementary School. I also attended the high school .]


Renie Burghardt said...

Good story and so well told. I guess the mighty Cherokee inside of you surfaced right there in that rest room, and when Susan realized you were not going to be dunked, she gave up, and acted as if nothing happened. And your mother did the right thing telling MOLS where she stood with her students and got her somewhat straightened out.

Funny, how certain incidents in life remain etched in our memory.

I enjoyed your story, Carol Ann.

Have a good Tuesday.


Betty said...

Good story. I guess every elementary school must have a MOLS. The one at mine we called Ten Ton Tunnah. To first graders, she was huge. She wore her battleship grey hair slicked back in a knot. When we saw her coming up the hall, she didn't seem to walk - she set sail. We avoided her like the plague.

Lorna said...

I fully expected the story to have a dire ending, but you can,t have too much excitement in a 3rd-grader's day

Pat - Arkansas said...

It's a good thing Susan didn't succeed in drowning you! You lived to tell the tale, and told it well. I think we all had at least one bully in our classes; gender might vary, but there always seemed to be one.

Liz said...

WE had a teacher like that who terrified everyone. She was an elderly spinster with bright orange frizzy hair. My mum had to have a word with her because I was so scared of gym days because i couldn't do somersaults. But when I was older I used to visit her at Christmas. Her heart was good though she was a strict disciplinarian.

Arkansas Patti said...

I was torn between laughing out loud and feeling badly for all concerned. MOLS and Susan had some severe problems.
Your mom was wonderful and did a great job of straightening out a tough situation. I give MOLS credit for taking the thumping your mom gave her constructively.
What goes around comes around.

NitWit1 said...

Post Script: as an adult

Truthfully MOLS probably was a strict disciplinarian because she was so short of stature, the boys and some girls including "Susan" were taller, bigger, etc. than she was.

Susan had multiple problems which would have been managed differently in a modern school setting.

My sister, who also had MOLS just e-mailed me she did not know anybody who liked the teacher. So I guess more than one generation had a like opinion. Sis said she thought she died a few years back. I seem to remember she was 90, and probably still mighty,-- mighty scary.

She does not know "Susan." I am trying to find out what happened to her