If you can’t make fun of yourself, you shouldn’t make fun of anyone. So I humbly admit that for as far back as I can remember, I’ve been a dolt. Oh sure, you can easily point out that children can be, by there very nature, as sharp as a marble. But I think since the dawn of my own existence I have from time to time been, um, hmm — how can I keep from hurting my feelings? — let’s just say: the dullest crayon in the lamp.
I’ll be happy to elaborate.
The year was 1972. My mom was into hot pants and halter tops (sadly, there are things you just can’t “un-see”), my very strict dad owned a successful service station, my brother Guy was almost two and I was in the first grade of Park Street School in Palmer, Massachusetts.
My teacher was Mrs. Fairy and she was, to put it simply, mean. I’m old enough to recognize when someone is just doing their job. This one was looking for some kind of humiliation award. And I remember that she was famous for employing “the corner” as her favorite form of first grade riot control. After you had spent the day pillaging kindergarteners and you were exiled to said corner, the rule was to stand still, hands at your sides — no leaning — and do not, under any circumstances, leave that corner unless so-directed by Mrs. Fairy herself. She just was not a nice lady.
Now being a typical boy who was always looking for recognition, I would brag to my friends when I thought I had accomplished anything I found noteworthy. No matter how trivial or simple, I sought approval (okay, so some things never change). The problem was that I would harp and hound, and relentlessly share my achievement with anyone unfortunate enough to pass within radar distance: my classmates, the lunch lady, some poor soul who happened to be getting gas at my dad’s shop. And the more approval I feasted on, the more I craved. It wasn’t healthy.
So unhealthy was it, that it affected the wonderful relationship I had cultivated with Mrs. Fairy. You see, one day I began the feast slowly; after learning how to write a few letters in cursive, I thought I knew them all. I remember asking anyone who would listen, “Want to see me write my name in cursive?” Or I would tell them, “This is how my name looks in cursive.” I showed everyone. Each and every student in Mrs. Fairy’s first grade class learned my name in cursive. Even after the teacher had asked me to stop, I whispered it one more time — want to see me write my name in cursive?Apparently, that was one more time than she could take.
“Mr. Forrest,” — (Mrs. Fairy was nothing if not polite to all of us — we were all referred to as Mr. or Miss Whateverthelastname) — “please find yourself in the corner.” That’s what we’d have to do — ‘find (ourselves) in the corner’. I would like to think that she was encouraging us to take a life-defining journey while standing on display in the front of the room. She wasn’t; she was just being mean.
So I ‘found’ myself in the corner, standing still, hands at my sides — not leaning — and prepared not to leave, under any circumstances, unless so-directed by Mrs. Fairy herself.
That is, until that bell sounded.
It wasn’t the recess bell; it wasn’t time for recess.
There was only one other bell it could have been, and kids from kindergarten through high school instinctively know and have looked forward to that bell to give them fifteen minutes of unexpected, welcome, fresh air. I don’t ever remember thinking about the impending inferno we were supposed to practice dodging. It was just another small burst of chalk-free air. Heck, sometimes — once the kids get old enough to think of it on their own — students themselves have been guilty of liberating the masses. Since the consequence for this type of thing in 2008 is much stiffer than “the corner”, I wouldn’t suggest anyone try it.
Anyhow, there was the bell; and on instinct the entire class lined up like soldiers at the door and filed like ants, past the cardboard flames and teachers pretending to be firemen. Out onto the front lawn and into the welcomed air spilled Mrs. Fairy’s first grade class, to be head-counted and critiqued on their evacuation abilities. Then it was back into the classroom for another critique on yet another poorly attempted escape.
What a sight, when the class returned to the room. Though no one spoke aloud, each student giggled to themselves when Mrs. Fairy found herself saying, “Mr. Forrest, is there some reason you didn’t join us for our Fire Drill?”
Tears streaking my face, I whimpered, “You never told me I could leave the corner.”
It was her rule, not mine.