I looked up at the new teacher, stupefied. She weren’t like old Mrs. Gupper, that’s for sure. Young and slender and pretty she was, and when she smiled her tiny white teeth gleamed out like the pearls in Mama’s treasured necklace.
“Good morning, children! I am your new teacher. My name is Miss Goodrule, and I hope we will be good friends,” while she wrote her name on the blackboard with a fancy curl around the “e”.
Little brown curls flitted across the back of her neck from the late autumn breeze flowing through the open window, and I couldn’t tear my eyes away from her prettiness. I noticed other boys stupidly grinning at the schoolmarm, too.
“James Miller, I am happy to make your acquaintance,” as she held out her hand in front of me.
Suddenly conscious of my grime, I gave her my sweaty hand. As she went on to each of the other students, I blushed, remembering my name in her lilting voice.
I remained on my best behavior until after recess. Danny was fooling around, elbowing his seatmate unmercifully when we were supposed to be copying arithmetic problems onto our slates, giving me the idea for a prank. I retrieved the dead frog I found by the pond before school and snuck it into Daisy Mae’s inkwell right before she returned from a trip to the outhouse. I didn’t count on her screaming loud enough to wake the dead, though. Laura Myers told on me and quicker than a wink, Miss Goodrule ordered me to apologize for scaring my classmate witless and disrupting everyone’s lessons.
It was during history study that I developed THE PLAN. I could hardly wait for Miss Goodrule to go out and ring the bell for the day’s dismissal. I got my evening chores done and went to bed early, knowing I would have to get up before sunrise.
“Jimmy, you sick?” Ma worried.
“Naw, just extra tired, I expect. ‘Night!”
Next day, I arose as soon as I heard Ol’ Roost crow and hurried through my chores. Wolfing down a couple of biscuits, I grabbed my lunch pail, sauntering down the dirt path until I was out of sight.
“Pa, that boy’s got something up his sleeve, sure as molasses is slow in January.”
Meanwhile, I took my burlap bag of tricks from behind Sander’s apple tree and ran to the schoolhouse to prepare for the day’s shenanigans. I finished my job and narrowly escaped out the front door right before Miss Goodrule’s arrival. I doubled back around to my usual route to school, joining a few friends on the way. . .
“Oh, oh, oh, ahhhh!” the teacher’s shrieks brought us running into the school.
“I’ll git him!” I heroically advanced to the slithering garter snake with a stick, coaxing him out of the teacher’s eraser bucket. I felt a little ashamed, though, seeing my pretty teacher’s face almost as white as the cameo brooch at her neck.
“Th-thank you, James. Spencer, would you please pull the bell this morning? I feel a little faint.”
I guessed she wasn’t from around these parts. Ol’ Mrs. Gupper would of jumped, as much as her fat legs would have let her, and then probably have thrown the snake out the window herself. I wondered if I had made a big mistake.
Sure enough, the rest of the day was a disaster. Throughout the classroom, carefully planted night crawlers, clinging honey, a slimy fish head, daddy-long-legs and a pig snout were mixed with gasps and shouts while girls cried and boys laughed. Miss Goodrule banged the yardstick against her desk.
“Girls, calm down! Boys, gather up these ridiculous carcasses and put them outside! Classes are dismissed for the day. And whoever is responsible for these malicious acts will be punished!”
Somehow I knew I was in deep trouble. . .
“Pa, all I wanted to do was to stay after school—not expelled,” I stammered.
“Why? And don’t give me any nonsense, boy!”
“Uh, well—Pa, have you SEEN her? Don’t you think her pretty?”
“Just what does that have to do with the price of eggs, young man?”
“I-I thought she’d keep me after school so’s I could just watch her, Pa,” my voice cracking as it often did these days.
Pa gave me a lecture, but not before I heard a muffled guffaw behind his twitching moustache.
I had to wash the blackboard every day after school—alone.
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