Friday, May 4, 2018

First Grade Memories

Do you remember the name of your first grade teacher?  I certainly do.  And over the many years since then I have never been able to diminish a deep hatred for that name.  Anytime I meet anyone who shares her last name, I find I cannot like him or her for any reason.  I know they haven’t done anything wrong to me, but the name brings back memories of being tortured for using my left hand.

I was somewhat ambidextrous as a young child, but for many activities I preferred one hand to the other.  As an adult I still prefer one hand to the other for many things.  For instance, I swing a golf club (on the two or three occasions I’ve played golf) right-handed.  I swing an ax left-handed.  I swing a bat with either hand.  I throw a ball right-handed, but I also prefer to catch a ball in a gloved right hand.  I shoot a shotgun and a pistol right-handed, but a rifle is more comfortable left-handed.  And many other things have a hand preference.

In the first grade “Mrs. Vlad the Impaler” hated left-handed people.  I mean HATED left-handed people.  I was not allowed to do anything with my left hand at any time or for any reason.  I remember picking up my lunch bag with my left hand.  She grabbed it away from me and threw it in the trash, and then slapped me across the face.  I found using a pencil was easier in my left hand than in my right hand, but each time she caught me attempting to write left-handed, she would grab a brick from a pile she kept in the corner, place my hand on a hard surface, place the brick on my hand, and hit it with a hammer until the brick broke into pieces.  Then I had to sit on my mangled left hand for the rest of the day.  My left hand still bears the scars and evidence of broken bones.

My parents questioned me about the condition of my hand, but they didn’t believe me.  When they questioned the evil queen, she said I must have injured it on the playground.  It’s always been strange to me how I must have injured my hand on the playground almost everyday during my first year in school.  The bruises on my face and body from her slaps and hits with a small club were ignored.

Outside the window of my second story classroom was a slide for use as a fire escape, and I discovered I could escape the fires of hell by jumping out the window when my teacher wasn’t looking.  The first time I tried it, I made it home (about a mile away) only to find my mother waiting for me.  “Mrs. Vlad” had called to say I had run away.  For weeks I got a belt across my backside every morning and every night for doing that; however, the belt was better than the abuse from my teacher.

The last time I jumped out the window at school another teacher “Mrs. Genghis Khan” was waiting for me at the bottom of the slide.  That day I went home from school with blood all over my face and shirt.  This time my parents were really upset, but not because of the beating I took from both the teachers, but because of the ruined shirt.  They were told I had fallen on the playground.  There must be something wrong with me, because I keep falling while playing.

I have many other reasons for my outright hatred of this teacher.  She called the police on me for being taller than my classmates.  She told them I was lying about my age, but I was the youngest person in the class.  I had to bring in my birth certificate to prove my age, as well as have my parents appear in court to prove it to the authorities.  Often she found a reason to throw my lunch in the trash.  My coat always disappeared from the coatroom in cold weather.  On one occasion she smeared dog poop on the seat of my desk and had me sit in it.

Our playground time always consisted of walking around the perimeter of the schoolyard.  There were no games or playing allowed.  (So how could I have fallen while playing?)  Walking was supposedly all the non-curricular activity a child needed, but I always had to make the walk barefooted.  The big stickers we called “goat heads” grew everywhere, and I always managed to step on a few of these things.  More than once they broke off in my feet and had to be removed by a doctor.  I was always in trouble from my parents for not wearing my shoes, but “Mrs. Vlad” would remove them from my feet (along with a couple of slaps or hits from her club) if I didn’t take them off fast enough to suit her.

Fortunately for me I survived the first grade, although I don’t know how.  My parents moved, and I was sent to live with my grandparents because their place was only about five miles from a school as opposed to the over 10 miles to a school from my parents’ new home.  It was an eight-grade four-room country school where I was able to be left-handed without consequences.  I still wrote mostly with my right hand because my right hand had had more practice with writing, and because my left hand was too deformed to hold a pencil.  But never again did I experience anything close to my first grade year.

When I was in high school I read of a teacher (name not given) in a neighboring city who was found bound and gagged with both hands smashed, and several broken bricks were nearby.  Apparently she survived, but wouldn’t tell who did it to her, or why.  I can only assume it was some left-handed former student because I am certain I wasn’t the only left-handed student she had in her classes during her many years of teaching.  No one, not even her, deserves this form of punishment, although at the same time a part of me wants to thank the person(s) who did it.

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