We called her ‘Dog-faced Dawson.’ She not only resembled a bulldog but barked orders like one too. George Mitchell spent most his time in her class with his nose pressed against the blackboard when he wasn’t flirting with me. Mrs. Dawson not only ruled with an iron fist but with a wooden paddle, too. It was 1964 when teachers ran their classrooms.
I spread the Times out on the floor to search through the class schedules. I couldn’t wait to find my third grade assignment.
“You have her!” My older sister howled in my ear. My name was there in black and white. My fate was sealed. Not that I was a trouble maker. Not by a long shot. I was what most kids would call a quiet one – the teacher’s favorite kind of student. But even I didn’t know if my exemplary behavior would be enough.
I managed to hide in the back of the first row along with all the other students beginning with the letter D. I raised my hand only when her look lingered in my direction too long. Until THE DAY. I call it THE DAY because it proved to be one of life’s embarrassing moments that can permanently alter the course of history – my history.
Little did I understand that suppressing the urge to use the little girl’s room would be detrimental to my health. Whenever Mother Nature called, I tried to wait out the clock until lunch time or recess. On that particular day, minutes stretched into hours. I knew I needed to get a hall pass pretty fast.
I raised my hand. I raised it again. I waved it over my head as Dog- Faced turned into a pit bull before my water logged eyes. I’ll avoid the gory details but it is sufficient to say that George Mitchell’s flirting turned into tattle telling. Mrs. Dawson marched to my chair, discovered the pool beneath and ordered me into her private bathroom.
This is probably a good place to stop to save me further embarrassment but I’ll press on. My third grade teacher mopped me up then gave me a change of clothing she kept on hand for just these occasions. She returned to the classroom to call the janitor. I hid in the teacher’s closet until the bell rang and everyone was dismissed. My school career was over. I would never be able to show my face again.
In 1964, teachers often drove their students home when they wanted to talk with a parent. I personally couldn’t think of a better use for old Dog -Face’s Buick. We drove seven blocks in silence to my house. My mother didn’t work outside the home yet so she was there waiting.
“I’m coming in with you to talk with your mother.” I slid out of her car then led the way up the concrete steps. “Mom.” I shouted into the living room. “I’m home with my teacher.” My mother acted like I brought home the queen. I sat in the opposite corner as the two of them conferred. Mrs. Dawson turned to me lifting her lips into what I could only surmise as a smile.
“She had a tiny accident today in my class. You might want her to see her physician.” My mother knitted her brows then nodded with understanding.
“I’ll see you tomorrow, Ellen.” My teacher did that thing with her face again then actually patted my head. I didn’t plan on ever seeing her again. I was destined to be a nine year old drop out.
My mother had other ideas. Despite my protests, I returned to school the next day. My girlfriends surrounded me in sympathy while I glanced over their heads to my teacher who was scraping gum off her desk.
“Boys and girls.” She stood ramrod straight in front of the thirty wiggling bodies while puffing her chest out like a pigeon. “From now on, if any of you have to use the little girl’s or boy’s room and I don’t see your hand…” At this point, the whole classroom shifted their eyes in my direction. “I want you to get out of your seat and leave the room anyway. I am so sorry for missing a hand yesterday. Please forgive me.”
Old Dog-Faced Dawson immediately lost her status as Man’s Best Friend and won my Teacher of the Year award.
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