A few days ago, I saw a documentary about the rivalry between Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin. I had seen it before. I had the sound off. In one movie clip, Jerry Lewis leaped up a flight of stairs in three bounds. I used to be able to do that, but I had to pay attention. Taking every other step was easy enough, but skipping more than one step meant watching the steps. I have crash landed by missing one.
Once that thought was gone, it was replaced by my stair climbing today. I take one step at a time, sometimes resting along the way. That got my train of thought onto something long ago.
When I was in the ninth grade, I took Spanish. I had taken middle school Spanish the previous year. My conversational Spanish was good enough to get the Spanish interpreter’s stripe for my Boy Scout uniform. I was now ready to take two years of high school Spanish (the foreign language requirement for entry into college). Little did I know that I would lose the Spanish that I had learned the previous year, and quickly. The 8th grade Spanish teacher had also taught 9th grade, but she got pregnant and decided to take the year off. I hated that. Puberty was hitting me really hard, and she was very lovely. I was smitten. In her place was a teacher who had been retired for many years. She was persuaded to come back for one year.
The old un-retired teacher was totally out of touch with reality. She learned quickly that we could all speak Spanish a little and only needed to expand our vocabulary. So, she started conjugating verbs instead. For an entire year, we never learned one word of Spanish. Most of the conjugations made no sense, because we hadn’t learned those verb tenses in English grammar class yet. All I can remember was ”Ra, Ras, Ra, Ramos, Rais, Ran”. It sounded like a cheer at a ball game, so we chanted that for an hour each day for about a month. Since we chanted that with gusto, she had us repeat it. She thought our gusto meant that she had reached us. We were just pretending to be at a football game. Maybe someone reading this can tell me what verb we were conjugating and what verb tense it is.
The only time I got into trouble in school in twelve years of elementary, middle school, and high school was in her class. I passed a note to my friend. We thought we could get away with anything. The note said, “Hi. How are you, today?”, but she thought it was a secret code when she found it and I served a day in after-school suspension. Yes, people, I have sinned.
The thing that I am now sad about that all of us did was to pretend to be little ducklings. The Spanish classroom was upstairs on the second floor. The faculty lounge was downstairs. Her planning period was the hour before our class. She would emerge from the lounge and walk to the stairs. She would go up one step and then rest with both of her feet on that step. She then did the next step in the same manner. Half way up the flight of stairs to the turning point, she would rest long enough to catch her breath. She would rest even longer at the turn. I think it was one of the girls in the class that suggested we follow her to class. We couldn’t be late for class if we arrived the same time that she did. Thus it was, for the rest of the school year. We all filed in behind her single file, resting at each step, trying to keep from giggling. Everyone else would pass us on their way to class and smile at the mother duck and her classroom full of little ducklings. If the bell rang, we would run around her, only after she had reached the second floor hallway. The classroom was immediately across from the stairs. The other teachers saw what we were doing. We were never reprimanded. Does this mean that the old un-retired teacher did not get along with her peers?
She never talked about our little game. I am sure it was very hurtful to see how we had so little respect for her. Maybe her insistence on conjugation instead of teaching the conversational language was because she didn’t really care, but maybe she cared a lot.
Now, I walk up the stairs in a similar fashion and I remember her. Payback is tough. I hold onto the handrail tightly, afraid to fall. I know that my knees would fail me if I slipped. I sometimes use my cane in the other hand for added support. What young people are looking at me, and having a secret laugh?
She has probably been gone to her heavenly reward for forty years or more. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the last time that I saw her. I hope she has forgiven me and the rest of us in her class. Maybe someday, I’ll have the chance to give her a hug.