Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Fly, my pretties, fly...



Maybe it was all of this talk about angels and wings, but for some reason I started thinking this morning about the flying monkeys in the Wizard of Oz. And the flying monkeys made me think about the Wicked Witch of the West and the Wicked Witch of the West made me think about my 5th grade teacher because she was the spitting image of the Wicked Witch of the West. But in all fairness to the witch, my 5th grade teacher was nastier.

First, I want to go on record at this point and say I was a perfect student. I say this in all modesty, because I was just one of those kids who was terrified of authority and did everything he was told to do by teachers. I didn't talk. I listened and I did all my assignments. Teachers loved me. My first grade teacher named her firstborn son Tim because I was such a delight. In hindsight I would probably say it was because I was a good monkey and danced on command. So it was a major "life is not fair" lesson when it came time to go into 5th grade and I was assigned to a harpy who wanted a monkey who could fly as well as dance.


Mrs. Gussie had been around awhile. She was legendary for simply being evil. I spent all summer before 5th grade sweating which teacher I would get. I wanted Mr. Spencer. He was from Texas and wore a cowboy hat. He taught P.E. He played guitar and sang to his class. He was cool. But of course when I rode my bike to the school a week before school started to look at the class roster list tacked up on the front door, my name was right there under Mrs. Gussie.

If a ten-year old can experience true depression, that was my moment. For some reason karma had pegged me for serving hard time in 5th grade and Mrs. Gussie was my jailor. I could almost hear the kids around me murmuer, "Dead man walking...," as I headed down the hall for my first day of class.

This is probably where you are thinking this is going to be one of those cute tales about a strict teacher with a bad reputation that turns out to be a life changing mentor. No. Mrs. Gussie was a witch. To this day if I was in my car and saw her in a crosswalk, I'd seriously consider gunning it.

She looked so much like the Wicked Witch of the West that I used to find myself sitting in class kicking my heels together and whispering, "There's no place like home, there's no place like home..." And to make it even freakier, she had this flaming red hair that looked like her head was on fire. I used to fantasize that someone would throw a bucket of water on her to put it out and she'd melt away into the floorboards like the Wicked Witch she was.

I found out too late that the reason I was assigned to Mrs. Gussie's class was that I had signed up for band that year. All of the band kids were in her class. And three times a week we'd be excused to go to the auditorium to go practise with the district music teacher. The non-band kids would stay with Mrs. Gussie and she'd teach them singing. After our first band class, we returned to Mrs. Gussie's room and made the mistake of just walking in to return to our seats. She immediately began shrieking at us that we should never interrupt her singing class. We were to stand in the hallway when we returned and wait until she came to get us.

The next time we returned from band class, we stood obediantly waiting outside the door for ten minutes until she finally popped her head out and began shrieking at us for just standing there keeping the rest of the class waiting. Even at aged ten I realized she was a major whack job.

Every day was like that with Mrs. Gussie. I think she was bi-polar. I was terrified to set her off and I was one of the unusually well-behaved monkeys. I pitied the more spirited kids in the class, particularily Al Eichols. He was this weird, gangly boy who couldn't sit still and wasn't much on paying attention. Unlike other teachers who sent kids to the principal for discipline, Mrs. Gussie believed in cutting out the middle man. She kept a ominous looking paddle next to her desk. And almost daily she'd drag Al into the book room next to our class and we'd hear the sound of the paddle echo loudly down the hallway as Mrs. Gussie whaled away on Al's behind.

But oddly enough, Al would always come swaggering back into class with a big grin on his face followed by Mrs. Gussie with her eyes bulging out in anger that he wasn't crying after the paddling. Al became our Coolhand Luke.

It seemed like the longest year of my young life. I created one of those paper chains at home that you used to make to count down to major events by ripping off one of the links at a time. Only this time I was counting down weeks until I got away from Mrs. Gussie.

Finally, I ripped off the last link of that chain and I was free from 5th grade. I walked out of her classroom and I could have swore she cackled, "Fly, my pretties, fly..." When I was out the door I began singing, "Ding dong, the witch is dead, the wicked witch, the wicked witch. Ding dong the wicked witch is dead!" But I kept looking over my shoulder.

I still can't watch Wizard of Oz all the way through without twitching.
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