Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Kimberly Elementary School, Part 2

So, if Sister Lee was the saint of the lunchroom, Mary Will Findley was the devil with horns of the 2nd/3rd grade.

I never could decide whether Miss Findley just hated teaching or simply delighted in scaring the pee out of us. She screamed at us all day, everyday. Her number one rule was that you had to "sit up straight" in your desk--a feat not that easy for a girl who had gone from 20/20 vision to 20/100 vision apparently overnight. In order to even see what I was writing with my #2 pencil on that wide-ruled paper, I had to get REALLY close to my desk. This got me a whack across the back with a yardstick EVERY TIME she caught me.

Looking back, even her idea of "fun" was a little sadistic. During the hot Alabama days of September and May, she would line us all up outside, right under her classroom windows. Then, she would dip a rag down into a bucket of ice water and whack us across the face. For some reason, we LOVED this. We BEGGED, "One more time, Miss Findley! One more time!"

You knew you had somehow miraculously scored rare brownie points with her if you were the one picked to take the erasers out and beat them against the big pine tree at the edge of the playground.

The only parts of the school day I actually enjoyed were, of course, Sister Lee's lunchroom, and reading. You see, chubby girls are usually very good readers. So, I was in the advanced reading group. This group consisted of me and my friend, Pam Nail (who wasn't chubby but was still a good reader). We would take the next level Dick & Jane books and go back into the cloakroom and read to each other. I loved that cloakroom. It was dark and warm, and I would snuggle into whatever jackets had been left on their hooks by forgetful second graders.

(After Pam's mama got the Holy Ghost and was kicked out of the Kimberly Methodist Church, they started coming to the Church of God. So, she became the third "musketeer" with Joy and me.)

But, I digress--back to Mary Will.

Now, Mary Will did not like for children to bother her. You had to raise your hand (a long time) to get permission to go up to her desk. (I now think she was up at that desk reading Harlequin romances and didn't want her fantasies with Sven to be interrupted.)

Anyway, one morning I had this "place" on my leg before I left for school. It was red and itchy, and mama put some Polysporin ointment on it. But, as the morning wore on, that little red place grew to the size of my thigh. It was killing me, and there were red streaks running from it (which my Mama Kelley had informed me was a sure sign of blood poisoning).

So, I raised my hand, but Miss Findley would not acknowledge me. (I think she wanted to finish the kissing scene with Sven.) So, in my fevered, pain-filled fog, I did the unthinkable--I went up to her desk without being given permission.

Very timidly, I asked, "Miss Findley would you please look at my leg? It's hurtin' REAL BAD." To which she SCREAMED, "GO BACK TO YOUR SEAT; I'M NOT A NURSE." So I did.

After school, the bus driver always let us off in front of my Uncle Walter's store, which my Aunt Barbara "manned" until Uncle Walter (who we all called NooNoon) got off work from the brickyard. She noticed I was limping and asked me what was wrong, so I showed her my leg. Well, she went flying out the door, instructing my cousins to take me up the hill to our Mama Kelley's house. (Barbara had gone to call my mama who worked at Sears Roebuck.) I don't remember much after that.

I do remember my Mama Kelley laying me down on her little twin bed and putting something on my leg, which hurt so bad that I think I passed out. Next thing I know I'm laying on an exam table at Dr. McCarn's office in Warrior, with my mama crying and stroking my forehead with a wet rag.

Turns out, I had been attacked in bed the night before by something poisonous. Dr. McCarn said it looked like either a really bad spider bite or a scorpion sting. (I've always opted for the scorpion sting--it sounds so much more exotic.) I was put on antibiotics for the infection and was ordered to stay in bed for three days with my leg propped up on pillows.

On the way home, mama asked me, "Karen, why didn't you have Miss Findley call me at work before your leg got so bad?" When I told her about Miss Findley "not being a nurse," her soft brown eyes grew very hard and dark!

Now, my mama is one of the kindest people you will ever meet. In the words of her cousin, Fran, "She's always taking in strays and lost causes."

But, what happened the next morning at Kimberly Elementary School (while I was being fed ice cubes and "petted" by my Mama Kelley) has become the stuff of legends.

My mama did not raise her hand and ask permission to go to Miss Findley's desk. She marched into that classroom in front of all those straight-sitting second and third graders and "invited" Miss Findley (who outweighed my mama by....oh...about 100 pounds) out into the hallway.

When Miss Findley declined her invitation, I'm told that my mama said, "We can either do this here in front of these children, or we can do it outside. But, it's gonna be done."

When I came back to school from the "scorpion bite," my fellow second/third-graders were simply in awe of my mama. I never found out exactly what she said or did to Mary Will (maybe she whacked her across the back with a yardstick), but for the rest of that year, every time I raised my hand, I got almost instantaneous permission to come to her desk. (And my little brother claims that when he got to her classrooom...three years later...he even got picked to beat the erasers against the pine tree.)

Many years later, when I was in high school, I was asked to give the devotional for a regional teachers' meeting. Unbeknownst to me, Mary Will Findley was in the audience. After the meeting, she walked up to me. (When I saw her coming, I automatically stood up straight.)

What happened next...well...let's just say you could have knocked me over with a feather. Mary Will Findley HUGGED me. She had tears in her eyes. And she said, "I always knew."

I didn't dare ask, "Knew what?" I just hugged her back. I didn't thank her for all the ways her teaching had touched my life because, at the time, I thought all those ways were bad.

But, Mary Will Findley toughened me up. In this upside-down Kingdom, you get whacked across the back a lot with life's yardstick. And, she taught me how to take it.

"Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don't try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way....Anyone who meets a testing challenge head-on and manages to stick it out is mighty fortunate. For such persons loyally in love with God, the reward is life and more life." (from James 1, The Message)

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