Sunday, December 1, 2013

Sunday Rerun: What I learned in Grade Three

Because I don't really care for most of the comics in the newspaper today - I refuse to start my day thinking about something called "Zits" -  I get classic comics delivered to my email every day.

Oh, that Marmaduke.

But it was actually the "Peanuts" cartoon from the other day that led me to a memory...

I've mentioned before how lucky I feel to have been with the same core group of other kids from first grade through twelfth.  Sure, people came and went, but there were dozens of guys 'n' gals decked out in maroon and white on graduation night that I could remember in those early days at Hampton Elementary (which began in the Lutherville school building for the 1st 1/2 of 1st grade).

Our teacher in third grade, one Margaret van Breeman, was not typical, as third-grade teachers go.  For one thing, she was not softhearted and kind. For another, she taught us all sort of ridiculous notions ("people from down South talk like that because it's so hot down there and they are tired all the time") and even had us singing songs that today are not permitted within ten miles of an eight-year-old ("Mammy's little baby loves short-nin' bread"). I can see her in that classroom, explaining why certain words were to be sung in certain ways, as in "Put on da skillet, put on da lead" being the way to say "put on the skillet, put on the lid" when one was really tired from the heat.

All right, I suppose that a lot of odd, eccentric, racist notions were expounded upon in a lot of 1950s classrooms.  That's just the most memorable part of Miss Van Breeman.

The other thing I can't forget about her was her temper!  Man, did she have a temper!  Hardly a day went by that she didn't start SCREAMING about something.  Even a simple request to use the lavatory could result in a tirade that rivalled some of the best set-tos between Reggie Jackson and Billy Martin.

And these contretemps were not only about things that happened in her classroom.  We were down on the lower floor of that lovely school on Charmuth Road, and woe betide any kids from any other classes who dared to make noise in that hallway.  She was out there hollering in a jiffy, bellowing about their hooliganism.

This was in our quiet, little Dulaney Valley town, and there was not a lot of hollering to be heard on our winding streets and byways. But Lord, how she jarred that quiet. Every day, something else to shriek of.

All I can remember about her is that she said she came from a farm in Upper Marlboro, MD, and that she recognized the patriotic deeds of Reuben, who was a custodian at the school who had been a paratrooper in the Army.  Beyond that, we knew nothing that I can recall.

In fourth grade, our teacher was Mrs Rennie, who was more the grandmotherly type.  Strict, but fair, and encouraging to those of us who had a little trouble with our timeses and guzinthas.

One day, she made an English composition exercise out of writing letters to Miss Van Breeman, who was conspicuously absent from the faculty that next year.  We thought it was a nice idea and we wrote the letters, which Mrs Rennie said she would have mailed to our former teacher.

It wasn't until many years later that a couple of us started to wonder just what happened to Miss VB, and if she had know...fired? hospitalized? promoted to chief of disciplinary services?

We shall never know, on this earth.  But one day I fully expect to be walking through those fabled pearly gates and hear, "Mark!  Get back there and pick up that cafeteria tray!  This isn't the Plaza Hotel, you know!" being barked out in a familiar Southern MD accent.  Then I'll know I'm right where I need to be.

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