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venting is good for the soul

Busy week: gearing up for the CNFC conference that starts Thursday evening and goes till Sunday late afternoon. My last hurrah with the organization – after 2 years on the board and 4 on the programming committee, I’m leaving Sunday. I’m glad. It’s about time, in more ways than one. I love the CNFC and will be happy not to feel responsible for it. 

Mother’s Day was a joyous gathering and feast at Anna’s, just us and my daughter-by-another-mother Holly who bought me a sumptuous bouquet and bottle of wine. From my children, promises of lovely things, just as good. How incredibly blessed I am to have my family near; to be able, at this time of isolation, to spend a day with my children and grandsons. Below: much-loved Uncle Sam and nephew.

I was throwing out an old teaching notebook when I noticed some writing: I’d given an in class writing exercise, to write a piece in the voice of someone you detest or have had great difficulty with. I did it too. In Grade 5, in 1960, I’d skipped a grade so was a year younger and a stranger, having recently returned from living in England where I attended a terrific local school. At Tower Road in Halifax, we had a very old teacher with yellow teeth and yellow-grey hair who hated me. Miss Hewitt was so vile to me that my parents were concerned about my mental health and sent me to a child psychiatrist. Dad was convinced she was motivated by anti-Semitism. Here’s what I wrote:

It’s impossible. They give me far too much work. Thirty Grade 5 children, sometimes more! And some of them dirty and ill-bred, barely able to speak the English language! They say I have a favourite. Well of course I do. I like to reward the good children with treats, like helping me. I know it’s a thrill for them, being allowed to clean off the blackboard or come in early from recess to plug in my kettle. They deserve it. They’re no trouble.

And then there are the others. In every class, the troublemakers. And in this class, that little smartaleck girl. Thinks she’s so smart. Of course, she’s Jewish, with a smartaleck professor father who on top of everything is an American. And he waltzes in here to complain about what I’m teaching his precious daughter. Just because he founded a school – a private boy’s school where all the fancy people of Halifax can pay lots of money to send their sons – he thinks he knows how children learn, and he wants to complain about me, I who’ve been teaching for 40 years. 40 years! I know how to teach, I know what children need. 

And what little smartaleck Jewish girls do not need is their important professor father waltzing in to complain about their teacher. I have to teach her a lesson. She needs to understand how the world works – that she’s just like everybody else. Take her down a peg. I can see her looking at me as if I’m some sort of dishrag. Who does she think she is? Little brat. Little smartaleck Jewish brat. And so what’s their solution? To send her to a child psychiatrist! What nonsense. I’m glad to be rid of her. I don’t want her sort in my classroom. 

Do you think I captured her sweet voice? I did try to see the world through her eyes. That’s the point of the exercise: villains do not see themselves as villains. Hitler, I like to tell the class, was a vegetarian. 

It was an interesting school, Tower Road, with a startling socio-economic mix of kids, though not of race – some really poor, some okay, some fairly well-off, but all white. I look back now and see which kids could barely afford clothes and shoes for school. I see Mabel, who was so savvy about sex at such a young age, with such a haunted, too-old face, I’m sure she was being abused. Of course I didn’t realize any of that then. Miss Hewitt savaged them all, with a special edge for me. 

But I win. Miss Hewitt is dead, and I’m telling my truth about her. Dad got his revenge, too; the school he founded, the fantastic Halifax Grammar School – co-ed since 1963 – years ago bought and incorporated Tower Road. 

One thing we half-Jewish brats are good at it is humour.

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2 Responses to “venting is good for the soul”

  1. Theresa says:

    In my Mnemonic, there's an essay about voice lessons and it remembers the choir teacher I had in grade 11. He was so mean to those of us who didn't suck up. I described him as having a mouth pursed like the anus of a cat and I was disappointed to learn he'd died because I wanted him to know how destructive he'd been.

  2. beth says:

    But we get revenge! As someone once said – Anne Lamott? – if they didn't want us to write about them, they should have been nicer to us.

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About Beth

I began keeping a journal at the age of nine. Nearly fifty years later, I started this online journal, sharing reflections, reviews, updates, and the occasional secret.

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