Since Christmas day is less than a week away, I figured it would be appropriate for this blog to be somehow related to the holiday. So sitting here this morning at my keyboard, I let my mind wander back through the years to come up with a story of my most memorable Christmas. With all the colorful lights, decorations, gifts, and magical atmosphere, Christmas is a wonderful time for kids. So, I knew the year that came to mind would be from my early times. But, in all honesty, I was surprised by the particular memory that first popped into my old head. In this little mental exercise, you sort of expect to come up with a story of a little boy getting exactly what he wanted or maybe finding something wonderfully unexpected under the tree. There were certainly times like that, but no single year stands out to me now. Instead, the Christmas I remember most vividly is memorable for very different and personal reasons. At the risk of further embarrassment to the shy little boy I once was, I’ll share it with you.
If I’m doing the math correctly now, the year was 1958. I was ten years old and halfway through fourth grade at Groves Elementary. On the last Friday before school let out for the holidays my teacher, whom I had a tremendous school boy crush on, stood before the class and announced that we would have a new teacher when we returned to school. Mrs. Kite was leaving to have a baby. We were all stunned by this turn of events. With obvious concern in his voice, my classmate Rusty Brown (no relation) asked if she would have to be cut open to let the baby out. She smiled and said no. We all laughed, but nobody asked the obvious follow-up question. In many ways, ten year olds were a lot younger back then. As for myself, it had never occurred to me that the pretty blonde first-year teacher was married. We all called her Miss Kite. As she introduced her replacement, Mrs. Cheek, I’m sure I wasn’t the only boy in the room who was at least temporarily heart-broken. When I got home that day, I came across a graded math worksheet she had returned to me a few days earlier. I wasn’t proud of the C+ grade she had given me, but it had a note on it in her handwriting. It said, “I know you can do better than this, Norman.” Not exactly a love note, but it was written just to me. As I later cleaned out all the other odds and ends from my satchel, I saved the paper and stuffed it way back in my bedroom closet underneath a pile of old stuff.
Like any ten year old, my attention soon moved on to happier things. After all, we were out of school for two whole weeks and it was only a few days until Christmas. And then the inevitable happened. Looking back on the scene now, I wonder how I could have not known that bedroom closets are the personal domain of mothers. Anything rearranged or hidden would be noticed. Unfortunately for me, she came across the note on the very evening that my dad set up the Christmas tree in the living room. We were all looking forward to decorating it. That year, and that year only, I would not be participating in that. Mother came up to me with the math paper in hand. I know. A C+ grade doesn’t seem all that bad. It was merely a daily exercise and I had carelessly rushed through it. But the handwritten note in red ink from the teacher, along with the fact that I had obviously hidden it in the closet, was pretty damning. Not aware of any other possible reason I might stash the paper away, my mom had no doubt that Mrs. Kite had sent my poor effort home to be signed by a parent. Hiding it was what got me in hot water. She handed me the paper and told me to go sit myself down at the kitchen table and rework each math problem that had a red “X” beside it.
At that moment, I think I learned the meaning of the phrase, “between a rock and a hard place.” What could I say in my defense? I feebly argued that the teacher had not sent it home to be signed, but there was no way I could stand there in front of my entire family and explain the real reason I had hidden the paper. It was a personal note from a teacher I—what? Liked a lot? I realize now my parents probably would have understood if I could have explained. But hey, we’re talking about a ten year old boy here. No way I was going to talk about that kind of mushy stuff. With my head down I quietly marched into the kitchen and did as I was told.
Fortunately, it took only a few minutes to do the math exercises. I was able to rejoin the family before the tree decorating was completely done. My parents seemed satisfied that they had taught me a valuable lesson: follow directions and do not hide things from them. But the lesson I had actually learned was quite different: no more older women for me.
Norm Brown is the author of the suspense novel Carpet Ride, published by Secondwind Publishing, LLC.