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Well-meaning folks

When i was growing up fat and sloppy a few adults tried to help me fit in better. Some were more gracious than others.

In the early grades classes formed a line to get weighed from time to time. Imagine it: everyone in a line, each in turn getting on a scale, the teacher noting the weights. In the second grade I had a teacher who clearly did not like me. Her name I remember: Mrs. Knusi. Pronounce the K, yes. This is upper Michigan. When I stepped on the scale one of these days she announced loudly to the whole class that I weighed far too much for a second grader. Never mind that she herself was fat. Did she think she was being helpful to point out what I already painfully knew?

In the fourth grade I had a teacher I loved. She put me in the group of "independent" students. We sat at the back of the classroom working at our own pace, doing arithmetic problems. I knew I was in this group because I did not need any help and could progress faster this way. I loved it. She also shared her life a bit with us, even invited us to visit her at her home. One day I took her up on that and went to her house. It was a small house. She welcomed us - I think I did not go alone but with a friend, Candy, my elementary school friend - and showed us a picture of her twin sister. Imagine my shock to learn that teachers not only have separate lives but some of them have twin sisters.

In the fifth grade my teacher, Mrs. Shortridge (funny that I seem to be remembering the names of those I did not care for more than those that I did), would take me out of class and into the restroom, where she would suggest that I clean off my forearms, which were sooty with dirt picked up from playing jacks with Candy. We were late every day, Candy and I, even though we lived a half-block from that school, because we sat on her porch playing jacks until the last possible minute. Mrs. Shortridge was always making sure I cleaned my arms. A part of me was grateful but the other part was just too embarrassed and ashamed. You'd think I'd pick up and wash my own arms before getting into class. Maybe I did, eventually. I don't remember though. I do know that I am not late to anything any more. I really hate being late.

In junior high our class was divided. Half went to shop, the other to home ec, then switched for the second semester. Radical for that day, both boys and girls. I was a disaster at both, however. By that time I already knew quite a bit about cooking because I holed up at home to cook (more on housekeepers and cooking another time) and I had no real patience with the Betty Crocker school of cooking. The utter neatness of it all, for example. The little kitchens. You'd think I'd like it but we had to do things in teams and it was awful. Shop was awful too because I couldn't remember how to use the machines right but I had a shop teacher who sometimes took pity on me.

One well-meaning home ec teacher took me out of class to help me learn about keeping clean and mending things. If you can imagine a more embarrassing situation I'd like to hear it. I know she thought she was being helpful. What she did not realize is that I knew I was a disaster, I blamed myself, yet somehow I could not get hold of it all and change anything. I wasn't dumb. These teachers may have thought I was.

When I was in twelfth grade, in English class, we had a substitute teacher for a time. The teacher was the mother of some of my classmates, twins to be exact. These twins took it upon themselves to tell me what their mother said of me: that my mother didn't take very good care of me. I was shocked that this teacher blamed it on my mother; I was 17 at the time, after all. And I was again embarrassed at being singled out this way. That, of course, was not helpful. She didn't try to help me. Just took pity.

It was in tenth grade, I think, when I joined the Forensics club. I joined because I was so bad at public speaking. Most people join clubs because they are good at stuff. I joined because I wasn't. I had a coach that year who was a teacher who had a large effect on me. Well, let's admit I found him attractive. I was also amazed that he took such interest in me. He helped me choose a piece to memorize and present, and he pointed out what others might not have, that would help me. He noted that I was fiddling with the buttons on my dress as I talked. He made many suggestions that I didn't want to hear but that I later recognized as real and helpful. He looms in my mind as a person who focused just on me, who saw potential and tried to bring it out.

When I think about it he wasn't the first. My piano teacher, in my younger years, also tried. When I was in high school taking piano lessons she decided I was too fat and needed to diet. She presented me with plain peanut butter sandwiches and skim milk when I came for a lesson. Never mind that I had already eaten. Somehow I could not refuse. At the time I couldn't stand the bluish look of skim milk and the sandwiches were hardly appealing without some jam in them. This teacher once said if she could give me the gift of music she would but she couldn't, I had to work at it. In my high school years I finally started to work at it and it showed. Music was a way for me to escape yet also to share everything going on inside me without having to say a word.


Jul. 8th, 2008 05:12 pm (UTC)
Oh yes! sometimes just a smile, a little comment, and all is well. The librarian's handling of the underpants event was perfect. It came naturally to her. I am not at all sure it would be so easy for me.


Judith Lautner
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