Now I may have closed out fifth grade on a high note, what with taking over science class and all, but it had a rocky start, that year did, because I landed in the homeroom of a foreigner called Mrs. Wooten. I think we can all agree that because she came over from Clayton County (20 minutes to the east of us), she had no way of knowing that I was the perennial Teacher’s Pet.
I had never had to earn the title of Teacher’s Pet – my reputation simply preceded me each year. But Mrs. Wooten was a hard nut to crack. I pulled out all the stops: wore my most adorable dresses; took my time to make sure my writing was legible; brought extra goodies in my lunchbox and made sure I was seen sharing with those around me; left love notes on her desk, chair, chalk rack; kicked every day off with compliments about her hair, her dress, her shoes – something; made sure her chalkboard and erasers were always clean; made sure my desk was always neat and my eyes were always on her – I left no stone unturned, and was still treated like Everybody Else.
Except for Junior M. Nobody was treated like Junior M. Only Junior M. was treated like Junior M. I’m guessing his shoes had something to do with it because Mrs. Wooten told us on the very first day that you could tell all you needed to know about a person by the condition of their shoes. Mrs. Wooten didn’t take well to scuffed shoes, and she could not abide nicknames. She didn’t care if “Junior” was a family nickname of long standing, she simply would not stand for nicknames being used in her classroom. Period. Turns out Junior’s real name was Oliver, and with that revelation, every fifth grader in that room positioned themselves firmly behind Junior.
I did everything but get letters of reference from previous teachers to convince Mrs. Wooten to
anoint appoint me her Teacher’s Pet, and when all else failed, I brought in the Big Guns: my mother.
Though I didn’t exactly give Mother all the details . . . well, actually, I kind of told her that Mrs. Wooten didn’t like me and I had no idea why because I thought that presented a more urgent situation. Sure enough, my mother told them at the office that she’d be in late the next morning, and when she drove me to school, she parked that airplane carrier-sized Oldsmobile, and walked in with me. Right down to Mrs. Wooten’s room we went, and i couldn’t decide whether I felt smug or scared.
I needn’t have worried because my mother knew exactly how to get
me the job of Teacher’s Pet my teacher to like me: she went bearing gifts. Not only did she wear my favorite pink and white sleeveless shirtwaist dress with the 2-toned high heels and sharp toes, my Mother delivered a gift wrapped present to Mrs. Wooten: a copy of a book called Take Time! by Charles Allen, a book Mrs. Wooen apparently loved because before Mother had time to get to her car, I was in like Flynn.
Every Friday afternoon we’d push the desks against the four walls, pull out the record player, and square dance the afternoon away because as Mrs. Wooten said repeatedly, “We [the teachers] get paid to be here, but they [the students] don’t.” I think I can safely speak for my classmates when I say that we didn’t really require a reason, but the justification sure seemed to make her feel better.
In mid-October at our Teacher/Teacher’s Pet weekly planning meeting, Mrs. Wooten brought up the Christmas party. A woman who believed in planning ahead, she suggested we have a Christmas Around the World Party with every student choosing a country to research and represent. With that, she reached into a bag and pulled out her Authentic Moo-Moo and handed it to me, saying I could wear it when I represented Hawaii.
The morning of the party – Friday, 12/20 – the phone woke us up. It was my Aunt Rene calling to tell us that she couldn’t wake my Granddaddy Hewell up. He had died in his sleep, my Granddaddy Hewell had, and because they couldn’t be sure whether he died before or after midnight, the family opted to make his official death date 12/19, the same date his 18 year old son died years earlier when a tractor flipped over on him.
I was devastated at the loss of my granddaddy and I wasn’t too happy to be missing the Christmas Around the World Party. Mother checked with her friends, and they agreed that I should go to the party since it was after lunch, so I went, but I didn’t feel much like wearing Mrs. Wooten’s size XXXXL moo-moo. She said she understood, and other than that, the only thing I can remember about the party is how touched I was with so many of my fifth grade classmates – Gordon K. was the first – telling me how sorry they were to hear about my granddaddy.
Fifth grade was also the year I started writing songs, but that’ll keep till tomorrow. You know, there’s a line in an Anne Rice book that describes a character as walking like someone who had once been cherished. If I ever did walk that walk, it’s because of my Granddaddy Hewell.
It’s just been brought to my attention that story #41 ran into technical difficulties and didn’t go out to subscribers.
Nancy and I are honored to be included in a book of irrepressible artists who create despite their handicaps. Anne Copeland and Barbara Williamson have put together a beautiful book of beautiful art, and they’ve launched a kickstarter campaign to raise funds to get the first run of books printed. Click here to be whisked to the kickstarter page and have a look. Support them as you can and will – financially, by helping spread the word, or both. Any way you can support these two women who have spilled an awful lot of goodness into the world, will be hugely appreciated.
In Our Own Language 4:13
Nancy (my developmentally disabled sister-in-law) draws.
I (the woman who flat-out loves her) stitch.
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Wonderfully sad story… I love your school picture. Especially the eyeglasses.
Those were kickass glasses, weren’t they? But that blouse? It buttoned in the back. Enough said.