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Like The Shadows of My Mind

By LC Van Savage

What is it about being 70 ½ anyway? I don’t know about you other septos, but for me, the small memories, ancient ones trapped tightly in the muscled tentacles of my mind without any particular proddings will quite suddenly bulge and squeeze and pop out of my aged brain in full Technicolor, and I have no choice but to remember 70 year’s worth of vignettes in vivid, crystalline detail.

The latest hit me during a recent very long drive to West Virginia. We were on our way to visit old and dear friends there, prepared to be seasick from the endless up-and-down-round-and-round mountain driving and the slight sense of claustrophobia after coming from the wide open spaces of our Great State of Maine. But in spite of that, West Va. has wonderful beauty and we loved being there and of course looked hard for Butcher Holler. OK, I know that’s in Kentucky, but there were jillions of hollers to look into in WV, a state many proud West Virginians call “West By God Virginia.” It’s just plain awesome there.

Anyway, Mongo drove every single inch from Maine to West Virginia and back, and one day quite suddenly during that 2000 mile voyage as I stared silently and hypnotically at all that scenery, up popped the memory of Miss Trout. I had not thought of her in decades, if ever. Miss Trout was my art teacher in the fourth grade and I loved her because she always told me I was going to be a great artist, and I deliberately didn’t listen when she told all the other kids the same thing. In fact my paintings today look exactly like the ones I painted in the fourth grade which means I’m either an expert in naïve art or I just never grew up, artwise. I’m going with the former.

Miss Trout was skinny and red headed with a thin, long pointed nose and huge blue eyes. She only wore brown. All brown. Head to foot. She was awfully boring, but Miss Trout did have one rippingly good joke to tell and she loved telling it and told it all the time. It became her ID and the joke was this; Miss Trout lived on Water Street. Trout? Water? Get it? She’d tell that to us and would throw back that red head and laugh and rock back and forth on her thin brown heels. We all tried to give her a mercy guffaw or two but after a few tellings, that horrid joke got to be way too old and we often speculated on whether Miss Trout had any life at all.

My mind then wandered lazily to our music teacher in that small school on Staten Island back when many cars still had rumble seats. Miss Windsor was tall with lots of thick grey hair that she brushed backward into a kind of pouf at the back of her head. She was never seen without a baton in her hand which she used not only to direct music but to slam on desks, to prod, poke and occasionally swat at us. She always wore pin-striped dark blue lady’s business suits, a starched white blouse with a black sort of tie around the collar, stockings with thick, black straight seams and sensible black shoes that looked like WAC shoes. Remember WAC shoes? Miss Windsor hardly ever smiled and was ruthless to those of us forced to play a musical instrument. She made countless abusive demands on me in my struggles to master the mighty Triangle which I apparently played pretty poorly. I was probably meant to play the harp or kettle drums. Her favorite song was “Morning Comes Early and Bright with Dew” which all of us had to learn, every class, every year, and we could hear the kids rasping it out all over the school; “Under your window I sing to you/Up then my comrade/Up then my comrade/Over the meadow the sun shines blue.” No, that was “Let us be greeting the morn so new.” I forget. Further, I never could figure out what comrade I was supposed to be forcing to get up, or if that was a war song or just an annoying song. Sun shines blue? Morn so new? Well, whatever, it was just simply to gag, but old Miss Windsor finally would smile as we bellowed out that song and her grey eyes would get all misty. Weird!

Thinking of Miss Windsor’s shoes made my old brain bring back the memory of Mrs. Booze. I forget what she taught, but she had an unfortunate name for sure and we young wags daringly called her Mrs. Hooch behind her back. Alas, the poor woman was burdened with enormous mammaries, and back then “breast reduction” was not an option or even a medical phrase. But in spite of her physical-- let us say gifts, Mrs. Booze made the risky decision to leave the lucrative field of teaching grammar school and joined the Woman’s Army Corps and wore those sensible WAC shoes with her sensible uniform. Once, she marched in a parade before she shipped out to the war, and I sat on a curb furiously waving a small American flag and screaming out her name again and again, but she never even glanced my way. By not responding to me, Mrs. Booze broke my heart that day and it was many years before I finally accepted that WW II actually wasn’t all about me and that military people in parades are not really permitted to wave back and throw kisses at loud little girls sitting on curbs screaming out their names. Hard life lessons.

My mind wandered even more as Mongo and I sped along; I recalled Miss Willard who put glass jars of water on winter windowsills to show us how frozen water expanded and broke the glass, and how to read Roman numerals; Miss Mundorf who taught us that if we cut even one tiny branch off a boxwood hedge it would take a hundred years to grow it back and by the way students, how would you like to have a finger chopped off just for fun? Miss Reynolds who somehow broke both arms but still came in to teach us arithmetic. Sometimes a kid just can’t catch a break. Miss Torres who at 4 foot 7 taught us French and began every sentence in class with a barked, “Alors!” but never told us what it meant. I finally looked it up; Gentle, kind and understanding Mrs. Merrick who leaned way out of her classroom window every day to shake her big brass bell summoning us back in from outdoor activities; Miss Raleigh who bleached her hair (shocking) and taught us hygiene amidst much barely suppressed embarrassed giggles when she wasn’t desperately trying to teach the girls field hockey or basketball where we had to wear hideous ballooning bloomers, and pinnies

The memories of those nasty bloomers snapped me back to reality in our car that day going south, and my old brain shut back down, recaptured all those ancient recalls and sent them back to where they before lay quiet and dormant. I shook my head and stared out the window as Virginia melted into West Virginia and didn’t think again of Miss Trout, Miss Windsor, Miss Torres, Mrs. Merrick, Miss Reynolds, Miss Willard, Miss Mundorf, Mrs. Booze, Miss Raleigh. But they’re all still with me; not gone, just stored.

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