Friday, April 16, 2010

Old Lady Brown

Mrs. Brown was my Grade 2 teacher and for some reason I'm thinking about her tonight.  She was a very mean widow.  Everyone said her husband died in the war, but I really don't know if that was fact or fiction.  She always wore a man's watch on her left wrist.  It was rumoured to be her dead husband's watch. 

Mrs. Brown always seemed "old" to me, though I think she was probably in her early forties when I first crossed her path.  That would put her in the same generation as my grandparents, so that certainly made sense. 

Mrs. Brown ran a tight ship.  She put up with no nonsense.  She would rap her pointer across the desk of anyone who was caught talking in class, and she would make my brother and I stay in until our work was done, even if that meant missing the bus and facing a three mile walk home.

There were some good things about Mrs. Brown.  She was a good teacher in that I remember nearly everything she taught.  But there were some lessons in her class I wish I'd never learned.  Once, years later when I was out shopping with my sister, she came down the elevator in Bartlet's Department.  I can hear her booming voice still.  "There's two girls I know."  Then she stopped to ask us what we were doing now and how our parents were.  I stood there incredulous that she was actually being nice to me.  She used to tell me all the time that I wasn't living up to my potential.  Well, neither was she, neither was she.

I don't know what it was that made me hate her so much.  Perhaps it was her booming voice which scared the tar out of every kid within hearing distance.  Perhaps it was her rather large presence, which was enhanced by those black lace up clunkers which everyone's grandmother wore for shoes back then.

My most vivid memory of Mrs. Brown was the time she picked my brother up out of his seat by the hair.  I can still see him suspended between chair and desk and flopping about like a rag doll with arms and legs flying helplessly about.  And I can still see the tears form in his eyes as she released her grip and he fell back down into his seat and began to cry.  And I can still hear her castigating him to stop crying. "Get busy and get your work done."  And I can still see her backside retreating up the aisle in search of her next victim.  Hot tears began to run down my cheeks too.  I think that was the first time in my young life that I had ever experienced pure hatred.  And raw fear.  I did not know what to do.  I wanted to hug my brother and bite her hard on the leg.

Intimidation and domination are what she used to keep  control in her classroom  .  No wonder we called her "Old Lady Brown."

Once I wrote the words "Junk on the Hill" next to the word, "School" on the front cover of a notebook.  By then I was probably in Grade Four.  She was walking past me as I sat on a retaining wall under the shade of a small honey locust in the front yard of the school.

"Let's see what you're working on," she said, sounding interested.  My heart began to beat faster.  She picked up the notebook and to my utter chagrin, saw what I had written.  She looked at me disparagingly and told me to take the notebook inside and show it to my teacher, expecting, I'm sure, that some dastardly punishment would await.  I didn't listen to her,  though.  I just walked into the school through the front doors and right back out the through the side doors and into a smaller school yard on the other side where I knew she had little chance spotting me.

Funny how we remember these things so many years later.  When we're interacting with the children in our lives, let us remember that they will remember too.  ...

2 comments:

Belinda said...

Phew Susan MY heart was beating in my chest in fear of "Old Lady Brown."

Thanks for the reminder to be kind and gentle, especially when kids don't fit the average mould, whatever that is! As for the treatment meted out by teachers then--which I also bore witness too, I hope that now they would be disciplined themselves for such cruel and abusive treatment. Back then teachers seemed to have free rein an sometimes it was a reign of terror!

Dave Hingsburger said...

Susan, I had missed your post and Joe, who dutifully read it, remarked that I had to make sure to come and read what you had written. Like him, I am blown away by the power of what you've written here. Yes, we will be remembered. THIS is our legacy. Not cold acheivments. Not past honours. But how we live in the minds of those who remember us.