Thursday, September 10, 2009

When Life Hands You A Mary Will Findley...

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 "SIT UP STRAIGHT!"--no easy feat for a girl with undetected 20/100 vision. In order to even see what my #2 pencil was writing on that wide-ruled paper, I had to get REALLY close to my desk. This wayward behavior got me whacked across the back with a yardstick EVERY SINGLE TIME she caught me, which was a lot.

Looking back, even her idea of "fun" was a little sadistic. During the hot Alabama school days of September and May, she would line all of us up outside under her classroom windows. Then, she would dip a rag 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!"

During those two years in "Mary Will Findley Hell," the only parts of the school day I enjoyed were Sister Lee's lunchroom and reading. Chubby girls are typically 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 advanced-level Dick & Jane books and go into the cloakroom and read to each other. I loved that cloakroom. It was dark and warm, and I would snuggle into whatever sweaters and coats were hanging on the hooks behind me.

Mary Will did not like for children to bother her. You had to raise your hand (a long time) just to get permission to go up to her desk. She sat at that desk with her skirt pulled up a little and her legs spread in such a way that you could see her white girdle. I guess she did that for ventilation purposes. But it was a disturbing sight for 2nd graders.

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 red streaks were running from it (a sure sign of blood poisoning, according to my Mama Kelley).

Well...I raised my hand, but Miss Findley would not acknowledge me. So, in my fevered, pain-filled fog, I did the unthinkable--I went up to her desk without 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's store, which my Aunt Barbara manned until Uncle Walter (whom we called NooNoon) got home from working at the brickyard. When I walked into the store, Barbara 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, all the way in downtown Birmingham.)...I don't remember much after that.

I do remember my Mama Kelley laying me on her little twin bed and putting something on my leg. 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 and 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 get Miss Findley to call me before your leg got so bad?" When I told her about Miss Findley "not being a nurse" and all, her soft, brown eyes became a hard shade of black!

Now, you need to know that my mama's "spiritual gift" is mercy. In the words of her cousin, Fran, "She's always taking in strays and lost causes." But, she did not practice that gift on Mary Will Findley the next day.

What happened the next morning at Kimberly Elementary School (while I was being 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 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 in awe of my mama. I never found out exactly what she said or did to Mary Will (maybe mama 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.

Unfortunately, though, it seems Mary Will's schoolin' didn't last. Because, three years later, when my little brother arrived in second grade, he says Mary Will gave him "shaken-second-grader syndrome" when he left his leaves at home on leaf-collection day...a fact never shared with our mama...until now.  
Years later, when I was a senior at Mortimer Jordan 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 and...quite probably...even peed my pants a little.

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 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, life's yardstick whacks you across the back...a lot. 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)

1 comment:

  1. I thoroughly enjoyed this story, Ms. Bowdle. In fact, I made Barry listen to it and then had to read him a few more entries. We laughed and laughed imagining the whacking of the rag with ice cold water. What could she have been thinking? I loved the ending...did not see it coming and definitely gave me something to think about.