Age Nine: Penmanship and Shame

Fourth grade was the year of Miss Annie Nesbit, a spinster teacher who had also taught my mother (as had my first grade teacher, the one who spanked hands with a ruler). Miss Annie was a legend. We’d all heard of her since the time we entered school, and now it was our turn to endure her for an entire year.

Miss Annie was tall and thin and ramrod straight with a set of classroom rules to match. I don’t remember her ever cracking a smile. She terrified me. She prided herself on her penmanship and was determined to pass that art on to all fourth graders. She lived for cursive. We must have spent hours each day practicing our strokes and curves to make perfect letters. I tried very hard.

Handwriting
Image courtesy of office.microsoft.com

That year was also the year of the kiss.

On cold mornings when we were allowed inside the school before the bell rang, the game of choice was for the boys and girls to take turns chasing each other up and down the halls. Those wood floors were slick and smelled of oil, but we didn’t care. We ran with abandon, and we girls kept the boys at bay by hitting them with our book satchels. No lie. How we got away with such behavior, I don’t know.

There was one second grade boy–the younger brother of a boy in my class–who started chasing me. He was cute. He was just little. Having a boy your own age chase you was okay, but this little guy? And then one day he caught me and planted a kiss right on my mouth.

Everybody was laughing. Everybody had seen.

I went and hid in Miss Annie’s cloakroom. Every classroom had one. It was a big closet where we hung our coats and took off our galoshes on rainy or snowy days. It was dark and close and smelled of wet wool and rubber and sweat. I hid among the coats. Miss Annie called my name. Someone must have told her where I was because I heard footsteps, and then she was standing beside me.

“Come out now,” she said.

I was sobbing. She asked me what had happened, but I couldn’t tell. I was too ashamed. I already knew what a reputation was. Mine was ruined. Ruined.

I don’t remember what she said to calm me or how she coaxed me out. I do remember that she put her arms around me and told me it was all right, that _______ was just a silly little boy and I shouldn’t worry. But maybe I shouldn’t chase boys in the halls anymore. I went back to class, which as best I can recall had stayed quiet the whole time. If Miss Annie had told them to be quiet, they would have done just that. I went to my seat with my face still burning, and the lessons began.

I survived that first unlikely kiss. And I would never see Miss Annie in quite the same way. I’d discovered a softer side of her that not many people knew. I even imagined that sometime in her life, sour and old as she was, surely, sometime, she must have been kissed.

This is the eighth post in the October Memoir and Backstory Blog Challenge launched by Jane Ann McLachlan. For previous posts, see Recent Posts in the right column.

11 thoughts on “Age Nine: Penmanship and Shame

  1. A beautiful story – I love the way you weaved the two threads – a strict teacher and a first embarassing kiss – together. So nicely done!
    I liked everything tiny – still do, in fact – so I practiced making my writing tiny & perfect. One day, I wrote out our writing exercise in the most exquisite tiny, perfectly-formed letters. My teacher that year was strict and unpleasant – she drew a big line through it, said it was too small and told me to write it out again.
    I still don’t respond well to that sort of thing. I re-wrote it, but NEVER again tried to write nicely. I’m laughing as I write this, because I’m in a play at church, Sophocles’ Antigone, and the two directors are just like that teacher, & have come down heavy on me over a few scenes, and my reaction is just the same as in grade four! Lost all interest in the stupid thing, rebellious as hell. I’d quit, but they don’t have enough actors and I’d be messing it up for everyone. Sigh.
    Jane Ann
    http://www.janeannmclachlan.com

    1. I have a rebellious streak, too. It took me a while to find it! Hang in there with the play, though. Sounds like fun.

  2. What a beautiful story — I loved what you did with it at the end, imagining a different side to a legendary spinster teacher.

  3. So sweet. I hated cursive, and, by grade 2, had to do it in Czech and Russian. You should see my handwriting now! Lol. But I really do love the old letters I collect where the penmanship is so perfect and so beautiful.

  4. Awww Gerry! Loved this post. 🙂 School is fraught with humiliations. How wonderful that you got a different glimpse of your teacher, though!
    When I was in the fourth grade, we had a teacher who had a terrific idea. If you had to toot, you should hold up your index and middle finger (like a victory sign – later would be called a Peace sign) and walk outside the door!! Really??? Of course the boys loved it and milked it for all it was worth. I don’t think there was a girl in the room who would have EVER even considered doing such a thing. hahaha!

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