Though it was known throughout my family that I was a troublesome child, I had my ally, Creepy, who took care of us and made home happy for me. I was appalled to find that my first grade teacher did not play by the rules. At home, when I did something wrong, I was put outside or became a quick and sudden victim of the fly swatter. There seemed to always be one around.
Outside was really a haven at the farm. There were secrete places, cats, dogs, people and Sam, the mule. The cows didn’t care much for me. In town with a sprawling house and friendly neighbors, I could ramble outside and visit all day..
How in the world had I come to be standing in a corner of my first grade classroom, facing the wall. And to think of being told I would have to “stay after school.” What did that mean anyway?
The first time that Mrs. “X” and I came “head to head”. I announced that she was evil. Apparently, that was not permissible.
We had lined up for lunch the first day of school and as we left for lunch, Mrs. “X” left a little girl named Ruth, (not her real name) alone in the room. Ruth had her head in her arms and she was weeping. ‘
“You forgot Ruth,” I said.
Mrs. “X” said, “Ruth did not bring her lunch dollar for the week.”
“My daddy will send her a dollar,” I announced. “She’s hungry and you are evil.”
The problem was, my daddy did get involved and took it to the school board where where they worked to ensure no one should go hungry, no matter what the situation.
Mrs. “X” must have gloried in my next infraction, even though I thought being supportive and loving was a nice thing to be.
My friends, Jerry Parrish and Jim Dickerson had been sent to the blackboard and given chalk. They were instructed to write an arithmetic problem on the blackboard - small addition - and put the answer to it. Their faces went white. This had not been done before and Mrs. “X” demanded things to be well done. With shaking hands, they succeeded in completing the task.
Mrs. “X” took the chalk and said, “Sit down boys. That’s the right answer.”
An empath in my soul, I jumped up and ran to each one. I hugged them both and soundly planted a kiss on both of them. And so, Mrs. “X” was very angry.
When school was over - and my feet had stopped hurting from standing in the corner - I sat at my little table alone .
Mrs. “X” made herself busy at her big desk.
This was, I guessed, what “staying after school” was.
But it did not last long because my mother and the principal, Mr. Moody, came in to see what was the matter.
Mrs. “X” explained in vivid colorful language.
I was proud of my mother. She said not a word, took my hand and we walked out of the room with Mr. Moody.
On the front step of the school, he patted me on the head and said, “It’ll be all right,”
I was so mortified I burst into tears and proceeded to fall and roll down the concrete steps.
In the car, I told my mother I was going to die.
“Not today,” she said calmly. But her mouth was twitching and I thought i t might be because of Mrs. “X” instead of me this time.
I had to promise my mother to be very good and very quiet while minding my own business at school.
But my love of animals caught up with me next. One day Mrs. “X” kept walking by my desk and staring at my hair.
Creepy - had washed my hair. It had itched and stung and I was scratching it.
“Jane Roper”, Mrs. “X” announced, “Get your things together and take this note to Mr. Moody upstairs in his office.”
Mr. Moody called my mother. She came immediately with a look of shock on her face and told Mr. Moody she was taking me to my daddy’s office, and whatever it was, he would be informed if it was contagious.
Daddy was a doctor and he dropped everything to examine my head. Then he did what he always did with children in his care. He gave me a cold Pepsi. Then he said, What have you put on your head lately?”
“Prissy” I said.
Prissy was a grey and white kitten on the farm that I had trained to sit on my head when I walked around.
“What is Prissy?”
“A farm cat.”
“Is Prissy clean?”
“She lives in the rocks under the kitchen. She has fleas.”
“How did you train her?”
“I put tuna fish on my head.”
“Where did you get the tuna?”
“Creepy”, I sad, damning my ally.
“Why did you train Prissy?”
“I’m going to start a circus.” I said. “And I can stand on my head in the sandbox.”
“Well”, said Daddy, as my mother rung her hands in shame, “I think we should watch you more.”
“Oh no - she likes me to go in the yard alone.”
“Does your head itch?”
“It itches and stings.”
“Have you put something on your head besides Prissy?”
“Hoppy toads stay on if you put scotch tape around them.”
My mother was beginning to weep. “Well,” said Daddy, “you have ring worm and I’m going to have to wash your head and shave the area where the ring worm is and you have to be real still while a hot blue light shines on the shaved spot. We’ll do that and wash it with alcohol for many days. Then your hair will grow back slowly.”
“But I have my picture taken tomorrow at school!’
“That’s OK,” said Daddy. “Your mother can take you to Belks and get some beautiful ribbon and make a big bow. Then we’ll use surgical tape to hold it on in the morning and no one will ever know. But if you play with it, it might fall off, so be careful.”
I tried to be obedient about the bow. I went to school and held my head straight and gave Mrs. “X” a disdainful look. She remarked on my hair bow.
My class walked in line to the auditorium and stood obediently outside the door. We became restless so Mrs. “X” said we could take a sip from the water fountain to pass the time. My friend, Jerry Parrish - still shy of me because of my unwanted kiss - was behind me.
I bent over the white porcelain water fountain to sip the tepid water and felt time and eternity roll before me in my mind as I realized my bow was falling into the basin. I felt like I might faint or something worse. “OOO!” Screamed Jerry Parrish. “There’s something wrong with Jane Roper’s head!”
Believe it or not, Mrs. “X” came to my rescue. Had she been informed? The bow was saggy and ruined and a patch of scaley, bumpy, red and oozing mess was exposed to one and all.
Mrs. “X” got one of the black combs given to each child as a prize and did her best to arrange hair over the naked, sore patch. She pulled back my bangs with a clip. I knew I looked a sight. The whole class was snickering. I was allowed to have my picture taken first and the photographer and Mrs. “X” helped me hold my head at a certain angle. I could not smile. I was taken by Mrs. “X” to the office and my mother came to get me. I stayed out of school for a while and went daily to have the blue light and ointments needed to treat my terrible affliction.
I was told not to play with Prissy anymore. I tried but I did bathe her under the well spigot in hopes of making her clean enough to play with. She scratched me up pretty bad. Creepy had to pretend to be mad to look at me real hard and talk about cat fever and rabies - things you could die from if you let cats sit on your head or scratch you. If I was foolish again, I might get her into trouble for giving me the tuna fish.
I was good, for Creepy’s sake, for a long time at least.