Tuesday, March 24, 2015


The six teachers who reside at  Mrs. Wood’s Boarding House are a homogeneous group, like sisters or cheerful nuns who have lived long together in such an estrogenic universe that they meld like wax.  They range 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 teach 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 are 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 strides into the classroom in a gabardine suit---shoes solidly laced, setting down her purse and taking up the day in both hands.  She has no need for call-to-order after about the first week, for a majority of her pupils have heard from older siblings that she is a tough old bird, proved by stern example in those first few mornings. 

When she wakes up, she is AWAKE, and cannot understand those who need the brace of coffee and a bit of quiet to get going in the morning, though she matches them cup for cup at the percolators.   And she’s never set an alarm clock in her life---she just KNOWS what time it is, never missing an appointment, knowing without turning her head that the Jenkins boy and Claude Ray Burns are 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.  

Miss Wanamaker's waist-length curls are the envy of every girl in the entire school, and the Toni counter at Leon’s Drugstore would grow dusty were it not for Miss Hazel’s assiduous attention with the turkey-feathers, for it lacks for customers since 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 keeps her elegant coiffure.   She is thin and fine-boned in  her pale shirtwaist dresses and silky blouses tucked into somber skirts.  Her manner is quiet and soft-spoken to her class of first-graders, calling them “ladies” and “gentlemen” when she calls 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 to rapt attention 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 is a cloth in every pocket, though some are 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 know better than to chew in school, though Miss Wanamaker is 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 has become inured to all sorts of grime and goo over the years, and who keeps a tiny bottle of McKesson’s in the top drawer with the Jergens, for anointing her hands now and then.

Miss O has lived at Mrs. Wood’s for some seventeen years; Miss W is the baby-of-the-bunch in her second year of teaching, and they both fit in like family.   

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