Miss Henry

Miss Henry, our 7th grade teacher in the Riverside, CT public school was a very large, very round person. When she stood at the front of the room, it was hard to see the blackboard.

On the first day of school, during lunch recess, when all my classmates were on the playground, and Miss Henry was in the teachers’ lounge, I sneaked back into the class room and wrote a little story on the blackboard attributing the presence of a large crack that had been present for several years in the cement path to the school’s front door to Miss Henry’s  having walked on that path on the very first day of her employment. I went on to claim that the Principal had told her never to walk there again.

I think this was my earliest venture into narrative fiction, a fairly good try for a seventh grader. I especially liked my depiction of the inner thoughts of the amazed principal in which the word freak appeared several times, and I was clever enough not to adulterate the punch of the story by explaining how Miss Henry had managed to enter the school every morning since.

I assumed Miss Henry would walk back into the room, see what was written on the blackboard and demand to know, “Who wrote this?” None of the girls would answer. And all the boys would shout, “I did!” All through the sixth grade this tactic had worked.  Such fun!

But Miss Henry paid no attention to the blackboard when she returned. It seemed she didn’t even see it. I can’t remember what we did that afternoon. Whatever it was did not require a blackboard. We kept waiting for her to turn around and see the blackboard and fly into a rage. Finally, just seconds before the end of the day, she looked straight at me, smiling kindly. “You spelled cement wrong, Stevie,” she said. “It starts with a c not an s.” Then the bell rang and we all trooped out. From that day on in that class my name was Stevie. Everywhere else it was Steve.

I have no idea how she knew who was the culprit. But I do know it is hard to be a wise guy with a tendency to cruelty when your name is Stevie.

So, after a while, I stopped.