I remember being so nervous when I started fourth grade. I had spent my first three years of school at a private school in Wintersville, Ohio, that was run by a coven of sadistic nuns. (Notice that “coven” actually means “a group of witches.”) I did that on purpose. I hated going to that school. I begged my mom about every day to let me attend Edgewood, our local public school. I was so excited when I found out I was going to switch schools in the fall.
“ Vickie, we are going to let you go to school with your friends this year.”
I loved how she said, “we.” My dad had no say in the matter. My mom was a rolling pin wife and my dad was Wally Cox. He had no spine when it came to her. He hid behind his newspaper and made faces at her when she wasn’t looking. Oh, how I loved him. She would yell at him and he would just take it. Then, he would hop on his little red tractor to cut the grass, and run over her flower bed. And he would look over at me and smile. He knew he was going to get yelled at.
So, back to me. I couldn’t wait to attend school with my bff, Ramaine. We could ride the bus together and sit by each other in class and everything was peachy keen. Well, except that it wasn’t. I had Miss Emler.
Miss Melvina Emler. I honestly do not remember much about her. When I think of her, I picture Aunt Bee from The Andy Griffith Show, but she looked nothing like her. And she definitely didn’t act like her. I just spent three years at the Little Jesus Baby Immaculate Conception, a school with nuns. Oh, not just any common nuns, if there even is such a thing.I’m talking about the evil kind. I wanted to come to Edgewood and see balloons and unicorns and lollipop gardens. Instead, I saw the Dumb Row.
I’ve briefly mentioned Ms. Emler’s Dumb Row before, but it made me think of it yesterday when day-dreaming how wonderful it would be to have a marine standing beside one of my fourth graders to help them listen to my directions so they don’t repeatedly ask a hundred times a day “So, what are we supposed to do?” I frowned though, at remembering Ms. Emler’s Dumb Row. I really tried hard not to be placed in that row for stupid kids.
When I entered the classroom that first day of public school, I was a happy child. I was with my best friend and all the neighbor girls that I hung out with after school and throughout the summers. This was going to be great. But, also remember that I was as hyper as Speedy Gonzales on speed. My mom tried to minimize that by slipping me a mild tranquilizer every morning before school and disguised it as a “car sick pill.” Thanks, Mom. Did it help? I have no idea, but I think that it may. It didn’t help with my car sickness, however. I had no idea that I was being tranquilized every morning. Who does that to a child? My mom.
Anyway, I had my hyper moments, I am sure, but seemed to do well in fourth grade. I stared at that Dumb Row sign daily and never wanted to stit there.The row was never empty. It was one of those old row of oak desks that were connected to each other and bolted to the floor. There were three boys who sat in the Dumb Row almost every day: Nickey, Bert, and Joe. I changed their names so they won’t get pissed it they read their names here. The chances are slim.
These boys lived in the Dumb Row. Years ago, teachers got away with that crap. You could grab a kid by the arm, drag him to a Dumb Row, and then smack the shit out of him. I don’t remember any smacking, but I remember plenty of talking down to students because, well, I was one of those. Ms. Emler apparently thought I was a wise-guy one day and put my ass in the Dumb Row.
It’s amazing how you can remember something that happened when you were in fourth grade but can’t remember what you did fifteen minutes ago. I can vividly recall the first day Ms. Emler put me in the Dumb Row. We were going over our homework for Spelling. We had to write sentences, using each of our spelling words. We were studying compound words at the time. She would say each spelling word, and then pick a student to read the sentence we had for that word.
“Cardboard…..Vickie, read the sentence you have for cardboard.” She stood right in front of me, holding her teacher’s manual to her chest. I would gladly read my sentence, for I was quite creative in my sentence formations.
” I live in a cardboard box.”
I don’t know why she just stared at me. Didn’t she hear me? She must not have. I read it again, this time with feeling. “I live in a cardboard box.” I think I may have sounded like a flaming gay guy the second time. The students laughed. Ms. Emler did not.
“What kind of sentence is that?” Ms. Emler slammed her teacher’s manual on my desk. What the hell.
“Um…..it’s a ……………….declarative sentence?” I didn’t know what she expected from me. I had my homework. I wrote complete sentences. I answered her question correctly. What the hell.
“Vickie, you do not live in a cardboard box! I have been to your house. That sentence is absolutely ridiculous! Go sit in the Dumb Row!
I had never seen Ms. Emler so mad. The only thing I could think of was that she must live in a cardboard box somewhere and the subject was a little touchy. But, that couldn’t be true. Oh, sure, she wore the same five dresses every week, but where would she hang them if she lived in a cardboard box? They don’t have closets. I didn’t get it.
I quietly stood up and glanced over at the empty seat waiting for me in the Dumb Row. I’ve always had this thing about inanimate objects, and I really think that row of seats was happy I was going to sit there for a while. I saw the sign on the first desk, announcing the row. The three goof ball boys looked shocked, which is better, I guess, than the blank look that sat on their face most days.
I burst into tears. I didn’t understand why I had to go sit in the Dumb Row. Dori and Kathleen smiled at each other. They thought it was highly amusing that I was going to sit in the Dumb Row. I stuck my tongue out at them and then continued on with the crying. Not good, Vickie.
Miss Emler thought I was sticking my tongue out at her, behind her back.
“Ok, you can just sit there all week, Vickie. You don’t live in a cardboard box and you should never disrespect a teacher.”
I didn’t understand that last part. How can you disrespect a teacher for crying and walking over to the Dumb Row? I wrote a goddamn complete sentence. I skipped a line. I used my best penmanship. I even underlined the spelling word like we were supposed to. Why can’t I live in a cardboard box? I didn’t understand.
So, I sat and cried all week in the Dumb Row. Every time I looked at Miss Emler I saw Sister Dominica from the Jesus Mary and Joey Immaculate Academy.
And so when I broke out of my daydream, I looked over at my fourth grader who asks for directions immediately after I give directions and write the directions on the board. It happens a zillion times a day. It’s tiring. But, I don’t want to be a Miss Emler. I don’t want to be a mean teacher. I am not allowed to have a Dumb Row.
So, I went over the directions yet another time. I will try not to lose my mind.
I will hire a marine.
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