Tattered Jeans

When a teacher terrorizes and a shy hero stands beet strong: Giving thanks for a true lost friend

When a teacher terrorizes and a shy hero stands beet strong: Giving thanks for a true lost friend

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Mrs. Thompson wasn’t much taller than her students. She wore flat shoes that made no sound when she walked and her eyes were the color of powder blue. Make that steel. Photo via NowhereWithMe.com
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In the cafeteria, Mrs. Thompson circled around and around our table repeating her pet rule. “Eat two bites of everything!” she commanded. One day, much to my dread, beets were served. Photo via MegaBeth.com
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Apparently, Lester hated beets as much as I did and decided to follow suit. Unfortunately, he didn’t get far. Neither did his beets. The invisible Mrs. Thompson suddenly appeared, poised over poor Lester like a snake about to strike. “Give me your napkin!” she demanded. Photo via SkullADay.com
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Lester stood taller than any of us that day.  A humble, shy little boy who taught me something no school ever could. Wherever you are Lester, I am grateful to you.
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This Thanksgiving, I am remembering Lester. Lester was a classmate of mine throughout elementary school, and in first grade, we had the great misfortune of being assigned to Mrs. Thompson’s class.

Mrs. Thompson wasn’t much taller than her students. She wore flat shoes that made no sound when she walked, and her eyes were the color of powder blue. Make that steel.

On PTA nights, she wore a smile that looked like a Jack-O-Lantern. When she angered — which was daily during class — she sprung like a trigger on a gun. Gritting her teeth, she’d get in your face and fire with words that made you shake. When she got into mine, I sure shook.

 To at least one 6-year-old, she had supernatural powers. Invisible one second, all too visible in the next. 

I stared at her teeth, which unfortunately, looked more menacing than her eyes. Along her gum lines were dark colors, as though she had just taken a bite from out of the underground.

Once in her classroom, you were never free of this woman. Not even at lunchtime. Then, she ordered us to get into a straight line, keep our hands to ourselves and walk, “silently to the cafeteria.” If she caught you talking to your neighbor along the way, she yanked you from the line like a hawk snatches its prey.

To at least one 6-year-old, she had supernatural powers. Invisible one second, all too visible in the next.

In the cafeteria, Mrs. Thompson circled around and around our table, repeating her pet rule: “Eat two bites of everything!” One day, much to my dread, beets were served.

I looked at those beets on my plate and suddenly, something big happened. I dared and did more. I plotted a plan to deceive.

On my right sat Lester. Lester was a quiet, shy type of boy who never harmed anyone or got into any trouble. This day, sadly, he would. Lester looked on in silence as I took a mouthful of beets, then pretended to wipe my mouth with a paper napkin.

After successfully spitting out three bites of beets, I froze, still unsure as to whether or not the eyes of Mrs. Thompson were upon me.

Minutes later, I was holding my napkin in my lap like a hamster, feeling relieved and utterly thrilled, amazed with my great fortune! Apparently, Lester hated beets as much as I did and decided to follow suit.

Unfortunately, he didn’t get far. Neither did his beets.

 Mrs. Thompson didn’t punish you with spankings. She slapped hands, like a butcher breaks bone with a meat cleaver. 

The invisible Mrs. Thompson suddenly appeared, poised over poor Lester like a snake about to strike. “Give me your napkin!” she demanded. I don’t know whose stomach turned over the most, Lester’s or mine.

I felt terrible for Lester, but I was more terrified of my hide being next, or rather my hand. Mrs. Thompson didn’t punish you with spankings. She slapped hands, like a butcher breaks bone with a meat cleaver.

It was terrible seeing Lester cry. In some ways, it was more painful than feeling like my hand was on fire. Adding to this was the fact that Lester took the punishment without once pointing a finger at me.

I got lucky. Mrs. Thompson didn’t demand to see my napkin, as I so feared she would. Nor did she go down the row terrorizing others. I felt relieved again, but the pleasure of knowing that my scheme had been successful vanished.

In its place came a profound feeling of sadness, guilt and shame. Amazingly, Lester never held any of it against me. I didn’t dare pull then same scheme again.

Whenever I saw those damn beets on my lunch plate, I saw more than blood red. I saw Lester’s face and felt deep remorse.

Years later, interestingly enough, I like beets. I eat them on occasion and now taste something sweet. Lester stood taller than any of us that day. A humble, shy little boy who taught me something no school ever could.

Certainly not Mrs. Thompson. Wherever you are Lester, I am grateful to you.