Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Miss Blanche's

"7x5=35, 7x6x6=42, 7X7=51," I said.

"49," my grandmother corrected me.

We were sitting at our kitchen table in Bluefield West Virginia. The month before we'd moved from Reading, MA. I was in first grade and my mother shocked by the level of education, had enrolled me in Miss Blanche's private school. I would attend from 1-3 every afternoon.

However, I would be allowed to stay after my one-month probation only if I could catch up to the others, which meant I must know my times tables thru 12, be able to do do simple addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, spell 150 words and be able to read and understand our books. She figured I could catch up on geography that she was just beginning.

"No problem," my grandmother said. Each morning found us at the kitchen table with my Sunbeam bread toast, egg and fruit juice.

In one way I was thrilled.

Gone were the brain-dreading, boring "See Dick run, run Dick run" that I had finished the first week in Reading. The new books were about silk worms and gave real information about animals, people and places. I wanted to unlock those so I learned the words. My grandmother would make them into anagrams so it was fun to find the correct spelling.

No big letter printing. We were expected to write cursive and be neat, no ink splotches.

I loved the learning, hated Miss Blanch.

I'm not sure if I would recognize her, but my memory dimmed by decades conjures up a woman with a grey bun, chubby and house dresses. A ruler was never far from her hand to tap the outstretched fingers of any student that gave a wrong answer. I never told my mother, thinking I had no choice.

There were only five of us. I only remember Robert who usually wore shorts to school. One day Miss Blanch refused to let him go to the toilet and the mess he created oozed out of his pants. I was rapped for gagging. I wonder, if he is even still alive remembers.

At our short recess, we had swings and monkey bars. I always selected the swing, but one day she gave me no choice. Monkey bars or else.

I didn't have the strength to swing from bar to bar, but she refused to help. Instead I fell to the ground and was not allowed to play on the swing because of my failure.

By third grade we were back in Reading and I was put in third grade although tests showed I was at fifth grade level or above. I was tiny even for third grade and my mother thought that socially it would be too hard for me for the rest of my school career.

Miss Berry, a new teacher, made no allowance for my advanced learning. I was back to printing on double lines. No cursive. Reading was boring.

That year I ran thru childhood diseases: mumps, measles, chicken pox. Not wanting to return to the boring school, I rubbed poison ivy leaves on my face. (I never confessed this to my mother, was nearly permanently scared and in agony, but it was worth it).

I did pass the year went on to Mrs. Beaton's class with the wonderful pamphlet books about famous people that we could read when we finished our work, and started cursive writing, although different from the one I had learned. Flutophone was introduced, enough to make anyone hate music, but school was no longer dreaded. I started a school newspaper.

Life and learning were good again.

Me with my not-loved flutophone, third row, second from left.

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