She stood, no towered over all of us, a massive torso under house dresses down to her ankles where her dress brushed against her formidable brogans and half glasses on a chain resting on her bulbous nose below her big bun, brown hair laced with silver.
She addressed us as mister and miss as she walked around her desk and in front of the front row, a wooden, foot long ruler in hand, slapping against her thigh and palm of the other hand.
Intimidation, no abject fear, is what she invoked as she said, “Open your books to page seventeen. Mister,” she hesitated and all the boys prayed they wouldn’t hear their name pronounced with the authority of a great punishing goddess.
“…Mr. Allen, please begin reading where we left off yesterday.” Same name, no relation, thank God, Mr. Allen had said on numerous occasions on the playground during recess and out of ear shot of Mrs. Allen.
Left off? Yesterday? It might just as well have been a year ago in fourth grade. Russell Allen simply stared at the book on his desk.
Anna Mae Winstrom leaned forward and whispered in his ear, “Second paragraph.” And then the booming voice, “Miss Winstrom!” Anna Mae sat back duly chastened. Russell stood and read haltingly.
Then over the top of her reading glasses, her eyes zeroed in on me sitting at the back of the class, where she put me for talking repeatedly out of turn. Oh, no. I knew I was next to read.
And so, the year went like that, except I had entered at the bottom of the class and left for sixth grade having moved up the ranks significantly.
Somewhere along that year, I fell in love with Mrs. Allen and on the day of graduation from grade school to high school, I saw her in the hall and without reservation, I approached her and said, “Mrs. Allen, Thank you so much for helping me through fifth grade. And I’m sorry for having talked out of turn so much. You were a wonderful teacher.”
I saw her eyes warm over her spectacles and a smile came to her face. “Thank you. You know I expect great things from you, William.” She didn’t call me mister. She turned on her brogans and as she walked away I saw a bit of a sway in her old house dress.