Who’d of thunk it? A 50 year old memory sparked by an upside down bug on the concrete.
I had passed this large bug for two days straight, morning and evening on the way to my car. I thought it was dead and dismissed it without emotion as a “circle of life” episode.
I fully expected it to be carried away by a larger carnivorous species but on the third morning, it was still there. I realized it was upside down, I personally didn’t think that was a good way to go so I stooped and flipped it over. It’s antenna’s started moving first and then it’s trembly little legs wobbled. I sat in the car and watched as he slowly regained his faculties and grinning, pulled out of my yard.
That silly little bug made my morning, that is so crazy! Then as I was driving on down the road, it came back, just as real as it had been 50 years earlier. I recalled a memory crypt neatly filed under the heading teacher and bug.
When I was in second grade, I had a teacher named Miss Joy. And, what a joy she was, both to me and my classmates. I remember lot’s of smiles and fun projects; role playing our way through the Dick and Jane book series, counting with found objects, egg shell art (you can’t do this today, because of the threat of salmonella.) Everything was an adventure in her class.
When she announced the Christmas classroom door decorating contest, we were so excited. Our work was praised as we painted and glittered our individual contributions for the entry. Our art went to the door just as it was on our table, a mish mash of of creativity. Miss Joy’s addition was a garish silver tinsel border. We were proud, but then we started looking around at the other door’s down the hall. I remember thinking that ours was definitely NOT going to win.
There were some beautiful foil wrapped, bowed and blitzed doors down that hall that looked more like Macy’s window creations rather than those of the classmates.
On the day of the judging we were instructed over the intercom to close our classroom door and stay inside until summoned. Hall judges caroused the corridors, we were quiet as mice. Miss Joy, stood at the door with her ear to it and grinned while holding up her shush finger. It seemed like age’s but finally the principal came over the intercom to announce that the 3 winner’s had been picked. He asked that the students come out to see if their door had a ribbon, congratulate the winners and then come quietly back to their classroom.
We walked out to my foretold expectation of a prize-less door while shrieks of glee came from several of the gallery worthy classroom’s. We congratulated and filed back into our class. I remember wondering about Miss Joy, why is she still smiling? And—she’s passing out bags of candy to each of us with a ribbon tied to the bag that says “Winner.”
We were too young to understand her logic even if she had tried to explain it, and she didn’t. But now I do understand her. We really were winners, and not in the sense that “Everyone’s a winner.”
We did what was instructed. Our teacher supplied materials and we each individually created the door. And—we had fun!!
Life moves forward and winter turned to spring. I don’t recall anything about Miss Joy until the last day I saw her. We started each school morning by lining up single file on the cool concrete wall until the teacher arrived to open the door at the ring of the bell. One morning as we walked into our classroom Miss Joy found a huge dead palmetto bug on the floor. She was an expressive teacher and I remember that she was sad.
She reached into her pocket book and brought out a box of matches. She dumped the matches out and scooped the dead bug up with a piece of paper, put it into the matchbox and closed it.
At the recess bell she asked us to stay with her for a moment as we exited the double doors into the playground. She reached into her pocket and brought out the matchbox. We followed her over to the edge of the playground near the fence. She knelt and dug a hole in the sandy dirt and placed the roach coffin into the dirt and covered it. Then we were excused to go play. I remember stares from other teachers as we left the fence.
The following morning as we filed up to our classroom door, another teacher opened the door for us and the next day, and the next. The class by now wants to know where Miss Joy is. The principal came in one morning and leant back onto the desk and called us to attention. “I know that you are wondering where your teacher is. Miss Joy has become ill and won’t be returning.”
Days later one of the girls in the class told me at recess that her mama told her that Miss Joy was excused from her job because she had a mental breakdown. I didn’t have any idea what the word mental meant at this time, I did know breakdown could be anything from the furnace to the car. So, I was in limbo, with most of the rest of the class I am sure.
Later I learned what a mental breakdown was. But I have to say that IF, she was indeed “insane”, she was by far more sane than what I had encountered so far at that age in the “normal” world.
When I came home, sure enough, the bug was gone. I don’t want to know if a raven swooped down for breakfast, an irony not impossible after its 3 day suffering while looking up at the world, but I am satisfied that he was upright and alive when I left him.
Now I was too young at the time to know if there were other signs that suggested true mental illness, but I do wonder if this dear teacher was classified as mental because she didn’t fit protocol.
Friedrich Nietzsche: And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.