A very funny short story: fossils, Shakespeare, and a stallion
A very funny short story: fossils, Shakespeare, and a stallion named Thunder
Here is a circumstance where the author recalls events one way and other participants see it another. I was telling my story and then I shared it for comment. People who I have not heard from in twenty years or more responded with addition and correction. This is modern writing, publishing, and interaction at its best and this is very funny.
“Chapter 15 At School with Teachers and Students
Mrs. Lepp was my first grade teacher. She lived at the bottom of Elm Street where it intersected Bank Street. I had seen her before while playing in that area, and now there she was in front of my classroom. She was quite familiar with local history. She told about the Native Americans which always got my attention. These were the times in America when everything on television and at the movies was about cowboys and Indians.
Once a week, Mrs. Lepp would have “show and tell” day. We would bring something from home to talk about and show the class. I remember coming to class and listening to other children’s’ presentations and thinking, they are better at this than me. The first time I tried it I brought with me a wooden nickel to share as it had a picture of an Indian and a buffalo on it. It may have been interesting, though I could not answer any questions about it. The next time, I would do better.
Our yard had a long wall along one side that was made from limestone blocks. Someone had carefully hewn these rocks and it very well could have been my grand ancestor, Henry George or one of his children. Flowers, sedum, moss, and even cacti grew in the wall. Most impressive to me was that you could see seashells.
My Dad explained to me that these were fossils and that limestone was formed from the seabed millions of years ago. Being a first grader, I could not contemplate or understand this as I had no meaningful basis for understanding time, much less science. My focus was on the seashells that I would come to know as brachiopods and cephalopods.
I walked to school in the First Grade, and on one show-and-tell morning, I left my Mother waving from the front porch as I marched off as usual. Then, I circled back down the drive, and got my red wagon from the backyard. I pulled up to the wall where I selected a large chunk to transport to school.
Now, this rock was so large and heavy that I could not lift it. It was a rock on the top layer such that I could push it into my wagon. Once in the wagon, I had to pull with all my might to get it out of the grass and onto the drive where it was easier to pull. Then, when I got it to the paved street, it was smooth wheeling.
Sweating profusely, I pulled the wagon with fossil rock to school a half mile away. When I got to the front of the building, I encountered a major obstacle, the stairway. There were sixteen steps up the front. If I could get the wagon up those steps, then, since my classroom was on the first floor, I could simply pull the wagon down the hallway and into the room.
Fortunately, Mr. West, the school principal and classmate of my Mother and Dad saw me.
“Jimmy George, what are you doing with that rock and wagon,” he asked?
I only had to say the words, “Show and tell,” to gain his complete understanding.
Without hesitation, he picked up the wagon with the rock and carried it to the doorway for me. He was a big strong man, or he may not have been so obliging.
I wheeled it into Mrs. Lepp’s room where she would make me sit and wait to be the last presenter that day. It would be so interesting and such a wonderful presentation that she wanted to be fair to the others. I understood this.
When it was my turn, I explained that this was an old fossil and that the shells were more than a thousand years old. My classmates were asked to gather round and touch it and see it up close which they all did. Mrs. Lepp offered some explanation about fossils and how Mt. Gilead was blessed with them.
At the end of the school day when it was time for me to go home, I had to once again face the grueling task of returning with rock and wagon. I pulled the wagon to the front steps. No one was there to assist, and I being impatient, made a command decision. I would push the wagon over the edge and let it and the rock go down the steps automatically.
With a good push, a running start from the top ledge, the wagon went flying and came to a wreck at the last step when the wagon pull flopped to the ground. Then, from the parking lot came Mr. West.
“Why, Jimmy George, you have broken your axel,” he observed.
I had no idea what an axel was, though I knew that the wagon wasn’t going very far in this state.
Mr. West lifted the rock from the wagon and placed it in the grass in front of the school. I pulled my broken wagon homeward.
I contemplated the challenge ahead. How would I explain the broken wagon?
As I was passing the empty lot where we played often, I recalled a hole in which I could place the wagon. I did this, and now my worries were over, and I had celebrated a victorious show-and-tell that classmates would recall many times since.
One Saturday, Dad asked Mom, “Have you seen the boys’ wagon? I want to haul some sod?”
“Boys, where is your wagon,” he addressed both Tim and me.
Tim declared he had not seen it. I agreed with him.
“Maybe someone borrowed it,” I offered. “Maybe Grandpa Oscar has it.” That was surely plausible.
Dad is not one to give up easily, though he was doing a chore and didn’t want to waste time on this subject.
Then, after working in the yard, and at dinner time he said, “Someone stole a rock from the wall. Can you imagine someone stealing a rock from the wall?”
A few years later while attending a school assembly, we walked to the front of the school when Dad exclaimed, “Hey, there’s our rock!”
I remember my second grade teacher, Mrs. McKurgan, as she taught me how to read music. I recall how difficult this was. Reading words from the book Fun with Dick and Jane and from Little Black Sambo was relatively easy. I could relate to the “fun” aspects of Dick and Jane and the “pancake” aspects of Sambo. Recent history makes Sambo culturally disrespectful, though for me, this was my first exposure to people with brown skin and it was a positive experience.
Reading music is more abstract than reading words. I first had to grasp the idea that words corresponded with notes that appeared in bars. Mrs. McKergan instructed the music nomenclature, introducing ideas about timing and beat duration while I was trying to grasp reading the words in unison.
Then, there is the idea that when you reach the end of the bar, you may go back to another spot to pick up new words or to repeat a chorus. All that left me lost at times. Though, I developed a love for this and was fearless in bellowing whatever I thought was correct to the point of letting the teacher know that I had a voice.
In both the first and second grade, about the first of May, we prepared for a special celebration, the winding of the May pole. This took some practice. Boys and girls assumed alternating positions. Pastel color streamers came from the top of the pole, one to each child. They alternated in three colors, pink, blue, and yellow. I think a special dance teacher helped the other teachers with the choreography.
You see, one way to wind the pole is to simply have everyone circle the pole in order and that will produce a simple wrap. Another way is to have boys duck under the girls, thus leaving a different pattern on the pole. There are variations on this theme with people skipping and ducking in different arrays. The skill is in remembering that when the pole is wound, meaning there is no more left on the streamer to go further, the participants must reverse the order in precisely the manner in which it was wound.
The choreography called for children to vary the techniques, winding one way, and then unwinding another. This was all accomplished to music that went something like: “doodly do do do do do do do do do do do do do, doodly do do do do do do do do doodly do do do.”
Well, during rehearsal, I was distracted and ducked at the wrong time. By the time the music stopped, we had already made a loop and therefore I had introduced a knot that had to be reversed. This became a really complicated problem when two or more people ducked and crossed at the wrong time.
These problems gave the teachers something to get excited about as they directed us to take our streamers and reverse our actions. Fortunately, during the actual performance, I can’t remember anyone making mistakes.
Following the May pole winding, participants stood in their places around the pole and sang a song.
“First the farmer sows the seed,
Then he stands and takes his ease,
Stamps his foot and claps his hands
And turns him round to view the land.”
- 15th Century Song
Of course, we would stamp our foot and clap our hands and added a chorus to repeat this for the audience one more time. Sounds idyllic and it was. I wonder if old Henry George sang this song in Wales. He surely could have.
By the third grade we were instructed square dancing. This was embarrassing at first because we had to dance with girls. Soon, I was getting the hang of it and enjoyed it to the point that I was sometimes asked to be the caller, the person who yells instructions to the dancers such as circle, dosado, swing, allemande, and promenade.
Miss Peeples was the name of an art teacher who would make weekly appearances in class on Fridays. She also instructed my Dad and Mother. I remember an exercise at Christmas season when she instructed how to draw and color a poinsettia. She graded our papers and wrote a special compliment to me saying that I was as good as my father at art.
Now, that was a compliment because I recognized that my Dad was a good cartoonist and draftsman. I also noted that my Mother was very good at fashion drawing, as I watched her sketch dresses and make patterns from which she would sew her own clothing. She gave credit, in part, to Miss Peeples. Miss Peeples was in her nineties when she drove her Cadillac to my Mother’s funeral. There, I gave the fragile little lady a hug and a large dose of appreciation.
A low point in my educational experience was the fierce battle that I had with Mrs. Smith who eventually became Miss Young, I think. It was time for class to begin, and I was wandering around chatting to friends. She asked everyone to sit down and I admit that I was slow to respond, as I finished up a conversation.
She lost her temper with me and came to my side, grabbed my arm, and marched me to my seat. Other than talking too much, my report card did not reveal that I was much of a problem, though she grabbed me physically and in the process pinched my arm. Reacting instinctively, I kicked Mrs. Smith in the chin. With that, she marched me off to Mr. West’s office where I would wait on a seat until I could meet with him.
I waited for a long time, long enough to worry intensely about how I would explain this predicament to my parents. “Jimmy George,” called the principal’s assistant, “Mr. West will see you now.”
This was all very official business. I knew Mr. West as you know, and so at least that would not be a hurdle.
He wasted no time asking, “Jimmy, did you kick Mrs. Smith in the chins?”
I answered, “Yes, I did.”
He asked, “Why did you do this.”
I answered, “I was talking and didn’t take my seat. Mrs. Smith grabbed my arm and took me there. She pinched me and it hurt. I kicked her for that.”
He asked to see my arm, and indeed it was bruised.
Mr. West asked me what I learned from this circumstance. I answered, “I should take my seat, and I should not kick my teacher.”
Confirming that I had given the right answer, he called my Mother. While I sat outside the office, I could hear him explain that what I did was wrong, though the teacher was also wrong because she bruised my arm in the process.
To me, that explanation was justice and I believed from that point forward that authorities would likely be fair and impartial in sorting out right and wrong. Never again, would I tangle physically with a teacher though I cannot say the same about them with me. I was embarrassed then, and I remain ashamed today for that despicable situation.
"All the world's a stage and all the men and women merely players; they have their exits and their entrances, and one man in his time plays many parts, His acts being seven ages." Jacques, As You Like It, Shakespeare
Miss Denman was my fourth grade teacher. One of her specialties was to introduce us to fine literature and drama. Grasping the likes of William Shakespeare from the context of my being an outdoors boy whose closest brush with literature was Boys Life magazine was a tall order.
Why did she select As You Like It? Did she think that I and the other boys would relate somehow to being in love with a girl? Heck, we weren’t thinking anything about girls. What’s the story about Lords and Ladies and such pinning poetry to trees? This was our first exposure to learning anything about the class system in England.
Want to introduce a boy to literature, start with Macbeth where there are swords and witches, perhaps. If we can’t understand the language and ideas, we can at least be entertained by saber rattling, blood pouring, and witches ranting over a pot of brew.
We had several weeks in which to learn parts in the play. When asked what parts we wanted to act, not a single one of us boys raised our hands. The girls were clamoring for parts by contrast.
By the fourth grade, I was much subdued over my prior years in public education. Miss Denman was the perfect teacher to usher my transformation to a quiet gentleman. She knew my parents. She was calm and deliberate. I understood my assignments and I was learning from this teacher. Even literature was within grasp because she made it interesting with her explanations that included comparing things to our local place and time.
Jacques, she said, was supposed to take care of his brother, Orlando.
Instead, Jacques attended school and took good care of himself while neglecting Orlando and leaving him to simple chores and without schooling. Wow, attending school was a privilege and staying home to wander the creek was not. Jacques took the best horse, and Orlando got the swayback.
I did not volunteer nor was I selected for a part in this play. I had the role of being in the audience and that was fine with me.
Unfortunately, this placid role would not last as Miss Denman insisted that boys participate, and she looked at me and gave to me a new name, “Orlando. Jimmy, you will play Orlando.”
She said that I would play opposite Judi Schrack who would play Rosalind. Since Judi was my friend, this was alright. Her mother was from England and Judi spoke perfect English with a slight accent. If anyone could help me through this ordeal, it would be she.
The play would be a performance before an audience of parents who would come to class in several weeks. Each day we would read parts and walk through scenes. Expected was that every night I would be at home studying my lines as the abbreviated script would be delivered from memory, a feat that I had not accomplished before with the exception of learning some songs in music class.
Every night when I got home, I did my homework and by the time that was done, I was too tired to read Shakespeare. So, I relied on my in-class experience as practice enough.
As performance day approached, it was obvious that I was not getting the hang of it. I struggled to read my lines, much less remember them. I was confused about where to stand and when and where to exit. Judi did her best to help, and Miss Denman encouraged this.
The day before the performance, I promised Judi that I would study my lines real hard. However, just in case I did not succeed, I had a back-up plan. I asked Judi to read my lines off stage where I could hear her, and then I would repeat them. That was a sure fire solution that gave to me much confidence.
Now, the performance was upon us. We had costumes of sort to wear. The stage was set. Parents arrived including my Mother who sat in the front row. I tried to ask her to move back, but she insisted that she liked her seat. Oh my.
I was sweating and red faced and we were just beginning. At the last minute, I realized that having Judi read my part off stage was a bad idea because she would be on stage with me most of the time. The back-up plan was no help at all.
Sure, I memorized a few opening lines, but after that, I needed the script. Heaven help me. During the performance when I had run out of memorized lines, Miss Denman handed to me the script, and I was able to read my way through it just as in practice.
Acting was not for me. I did not understand the story I was supposed to be delivering and if it weren’t for my friend Judi, I may well have collapsed.
I will weary you then no longer with idle talking.”
I shared this and other stories with Bill Calhoun who is now a lawyer in the State of Tennessee. There are a couple of ladies from Mt. Gilead living in Tennessee as well, Mary Petrie and Renee Sims. Via email exchange, they all looked at the stories and had comments as I hoped they might.
I did not expect what I heard from Mary and Renee who had quite different views and experiences about Miss Denman. I am sharing their conversation because on one hand it validates my being there as I did not make up these stories, and second, as I said earlier, everyone has a different view of the same events.
“How utterly amazing the difference in one's recollections of a situations as compared to another’s! I recall my school year with Miss Denman aka Mrs. Salyer as the longest nightmare of my elementary school life, as does Renee! We have been reminiscing our shared ‘dark days’ in her classroom as one might recollect a mild form of child abuse, never reported nor dealt with appropriately. It is a blessing that somehow you came through her fourth grade unscathed, with such positive little snippets enabling you to write pleasantries about "those good old days". I sincerely mean that. The clowns and laughter residing in your 'fourth grade locker' certainly trump the skeletons that seem to fall from ours when we dare open ours!
‘Please recognize the humor here.....neither of us has required therapy, although during Renee's year with Mrs. Salyer, she had to be medicated for a severe stomach problem caused by stress. I unfortunately just had stomach aches and headaches frequently, finding it nearly impossible to concentrate. Don't you recall that she often would come into the classroom, give us a reading assignment, and then she would lay her head down on her desk and cry for what seemed like forever? I vividly recall that in the year we had her, not only did her husband die, but her beloved parakeet also passed away-----which further caused her to cry at a moment's notice. And Renee and I recall feeling so confused, and helpless, and stressed during these ‘episodes’ of hers. And you may have forgotten the unbelievable ‘Jerry Rawles I need to puke saga’ obviously! How is this possible? LOL’
Jerry raised his arm, as we were supposed to when we needed to ask permission from our teacher. When she finally called on Jerry, he said to her, ”Mrs. Salyer, I gotta puke"! Her response to him was, "You go stand in the corner immediately"! Which he of course did.....for a very long time....slowly sinking into the wall....as he became a pale grey color....and he once again held up his arm.....for an even longer time. When she finally....finally asked him very hatefully, and loudly, ‘what now!?’, he repeated that he REALLY had to puke, to which she responded, "we don't talk that way in this class". She went back to him, and slapped his face repeatedly, asking him once more, "What do you have to do?" His answer was unchanged. This went on for eternity it seemed......until God, in all His mercy, enabled Jerry Rawles to spew his ugly stuff over every inch of that corner & the floor------and inside myself I cheered so fervently I bet the roof of that school moved just a little! Naturally, Mrs. Salyer was horrified, and angry at Jerry, and screamed at him, asking "why did you DO that?" to which he replied, "I told you I had to puke"......and that crazy woman, who was no more cut out to teach school than be a rocket scientist screamed back at him, "the word is VOMIT Jerry, the word is VOMIT!" Poor Jerry, his mother was a deaf mute, his father did the best he could do to raise two sons by himself, and unfortunately at home they undoubtedly used the word puke rather than vomit, and little Jerry just had never heard the word, and so, wasn't allowed to go to the restroom and relieve himself in the dignified way....Mrs. Salyer made sure of that. What a fine lady she was! So intuitive, and kind, and patient, and gee......my coffee will get cold should I go on about how much I DID NOT like that woman Jim! Empathy is the best I can give her, only because I feel certain that she should have been in heavy duty therapy of some sort rather than in our fourth grade room, pretending to be a teacher.
Just wanted you to hear, as a famous radio host often says...............’....the rest of the story....’
Don't know if you remember me.......but regardless, I remain, Sincerely,
Mary Petrie Ramsey
P.S. I also enjoy writing....but just for my own pleasure!
P.P.S. If that beautiful black horse was down at the end of Bank Street, in the ravine off to the left.....its name was Thunder! What a beautiful mare. I used to dream that someday, somehow, she would be mine! LOL Lots of our apples went into her stomach!! Good luck with your writing.
Thank you Mary and Renee!”
Obituary: Edna Elizabeth Denman Salyer
Edna Elizabeth Denman Salyer, 92, of Mount Gilead died Monday evening January 5, 2009 at her residence.
She was born on February 17, 1916 in Fredericktown the daughter of the late William C. and Aleta A. (Weaver) Denman.
Mrs. Salyer was a graduate of Ohio University with a degree in education. After three years of teaching 3rd grade students in the Mount Gilead School system she enlisted in the United States Army. After a year of various clerical jobs she was honorably discharged and returned to civilian life and her teaching career. In 1972 she retired after 27 years.
On June 25, 1955 she married Woodrow “Woody” Salyer. Tragically they were married for only two years when he unexpectedly died in 1957.
Mrs. Salyer was a long time member of the Mount Pisgah Primitive Baptist Church. The church congregation attended Edna throughout her illness. Her dear friend, Catherine Edwards spent many hours providing Edna with loving support. Her faith and her church were very important to her.
She was also a member of the Retired Teachers Association and a Morrow County Hospital TWIG.
Always looking for new ways to better educate her self, Mrs. Salyer loved learning about technology, especially computers. She had someone come to her house for her weekly lesson. She could spend hours e-mailing and scanning and printing photos.
An animal lover, she always had two dogs until her health no longer allowed her to manage. Her most recent companion is a 16 year old Chihuahua, Callie, a special friend who would sit with her for hours while they watched television or worked at the computer.
She is survived by her sister Dorothy Dunn of Marion; and nieces and nephews Elizabeth Addair, Lisa Harden, Bill Dunn, Ann Gehrisch, Philip Scarbrough, Dr. Stephen Scarbrough, and Dr. Timothy Scarbrough.”