Biographical Non-Fiction posted June 15, 2024 Chapters:  ...23 24 -25- 26... 

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There are days when things go wrong.

A chapter in the book At Home in Mississippi

The Pros and Cons of School Days

by BethShelby

As school continued, I wasn’t pleased that my mom had decided to volunteer as a room mother for my class. I wanted my independence, and she wasn’t ready to fully let me go. Not only was she involved in all the school parties, she’d volunteered to read Children’s Bible stories to us kids every Friday. That wouldn’t be allowed these days, but in the 40s and 50s, there wasn’t a problem. Most of the class attended the same Baptist church which I attended. The others were either Methodist or Presbyterian. 

Each morning, our class always had prayer and repeated the pledge of allegiance to the flag. At least once every week, we would line up and march to chapel, which was often a talk by a local minister. No one had a problem with religion in public schools. Miss Chatham was delighted to let my mom take over on Friday afternoon while she had a break. I wasn’t thrilled with having her there, but the kids all adored her, and she paid them more attention than she did me. That gave me some relief. 

Mom decided she wanted to thrust me into the spotlight, so she signed me up for both private piano and speech lessons. The speech was actually called “expression”. We had an old player piano at home which had been Mom’s as she grew up. A player piano has rolls of paper with little square holes which the instrument reads and plays when pumped by foot. Each song is on a separate roll. One has to pump the large pedals quickly, or the music slows down. This type of piano could also be played by hand like a normal one. It is what I would use for lessons.

I wasn’t happy when the piano teacher told me I must practice at least 45 minutes a day. She also gave me theory papers to fill out in order to learn how to read the notes. Those were the longest 45 minutes of my day, and I had to get them in before Dad got home in the evening. Dad couldn’t handle noise, and a kid banging on the piano definitely qualified as noise. Mom bought an owl shaped cookie jar, and kept Oh Henry cookies in it to use as a reward for when I finished practicing.

After I mastered the beginner book of little tunes, the piano teacher assigned me a recital piece. The first recital would be in December, so I was given Jingle Bells to play for my number.

Mom went out and bought sheer pink georgette material and pink satin with lace. She had a local seamstress make my evening dress for the performance. I had to go for so many fittings, it was almost like getting a wedding dress. I think my mother thought of me as a doll she could dress. It was her glory, not mine. I never had any input in these decisions. I wanted to drop the piano lessons and take ballet like some of my classmates, but Mom said Baptists don’t dance. That made no sense to me, because most of my classmates went to the same Baptist Sunday School which I attended.

The expression lessons were a further thing which resulted in another embarrassing bladder problem for me. My expression teacher had a group of kids she was directing in a play. Instead of the private lesson she dragged me along for the play rehearsal. 

The auditorium had thick red curtains. The kids with parts were on the front side of the curtain. I was waiting behind the curtain. I was still avoiding the school restroom, but when nature calls, one shouldn’t wait too long. I needed relief. By squeezing the curtain between my legs, I hoped the pressure would relieve the urge. It didn’t help. On the other side of the curtain, kids watched in horror, as a dark spot appeared on their side of the curtain and continued to spread. Panic broke out.

“Look! Something’s happening. It might be a ghost. We need to get out of here.” A chorus of screams erupted. I felt myself being grabbed and dragged away from my hold on the curtain. With soaked panties and water dripping down my legs, I felt shamed once again. They took me to the nursing station where someone washed my panties and put them across the radiator to dry. I had to wait on the cot while they dried and I could return to class.

Sending me back to class from a location I wasn’t familiar with caused yet another debacle. I got lost and ended up on the high school side of the building just as the bell rang dismissing classes. The doors sprang open and what looked like a herd of giants poured from the rooms. The kids three times my size didn’t seem to notice I was being trampled as they shoved their way toward their locker to exchange books. I clung to the wall until it was over with tears running down my cheeks. Finally, a teacher saw me and asked if I was lost. She guided me back to my room. 

If all of this wasn’t enough to make me hate school, my mom learned about the incident in the auditorium and found it hilarious. Now, everyone she knew had to hear about it. She should have known better and muzzled her mouth. I wanted to crawl under the bed every time I heard her repeat the story. She tried to do it out of my earshot, but there was nothing wrong with my hearing at age six.

Some of you might accuse me of being negative, but there is one more not so happy thing which happened that winter. I’m not leaving it out. We didn’t have indoor plumbing, but Mom wanted to make sure I went to school clean every day. I was still small enough to fit and sit down in an enameled baby bathtub. Mom would boil water and fill it for my bath. We had a roaring fire going in the fireplace in our front room, so Mom would place the tub in front of the fire. One night, the tub had been too close to the fire and the metal edge was red hot when I placed my bare bottom on it. 

I won’t go into my screams of pain and Mom’s heartfelt apologies. I won’t elaborate on all the salve she spread across my cooked rump. The following day, I went to school, but I quickly realized there was a certain portion of my bottom which couldn’t be sat on without agony. I wasn’t about to tell the teacher I’d had an accident on an unmentionable portion of my anatomy. 

Of course, Miss Chatham noticed I was sitting in a very weird position. No doubt I was wearing an expression of great pain on my face. The teacher was concerned. Today she would have likely called child welfare, thinking I’d been badly abused. It took a couple of weeks to heal, during which time, she confronted my mother, telling her she suspected something very bad had happened to me at home.

Mom explained it all away, but this time I think it might have been her, who felt shame and embarrassment by having to admit we had no indoor plumbing. My Mom had a lot of pride, and I’m sure this wasn’t one of her better moments.


Book of the Month contest entry


As most of you know this isn't a stand alone story and is a chapter in a much larger book. Reading over this, I realize a lot of it sounds negative, but it spite of things I wasn't so happy about, I loved school. I think it is just more fun to write about crazy things that go wrong.
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