Bernard always carried two extra books to our eighth grade American history class. Stacked on top of the history book they made a loud crash when he edged them off his desk with his left elbow. As soon as the books slammed into the floor Miss Williamson would whirl his way, point a fat finger, and growl, “Now you stop that, Bernard.”
“Stop what, Miss Wiggysome?” Bernard put on a big show of picking up the books and accidently dropping them again.
“My name is Williamson!” Her voice was sharp and she wrote her name in great big letters on the blackboard for all to see.
“What, Miss Wiggysome?” Bernard bent over his books and he cupped one hand around his right ear like he didn’t or couldn’t hear very well.
Then she reached up and grabbed a yellow pencil out of her red-orange hair – she was always scratching her head with it – and wrote hard and fast on a small pad of paper.
“Bernard,” she said, and her fat face got red, “Take this note down to the dean’s office!”
Then Joe and I let our books, balanced on the edges of our desks, go both together, and Mighty Phelps raised his hand and said it was hot and asked he if could open a window.
“No!” she hollered at Mighty, so loud that those on the front row held their ears. But he went right ahead and pushed up the window that had the broken sash and when he got it to a good height he let go. Down banged the window, cracking one of the lower panes. He then put on one of those weak smiles like he didn’t know that was going to happen. By this time Bernard was up to the front of the room, had picked up the note and just stood there reading it.
“Here, give me that,” Williamson said, and for some reason snatched the note out of his hand. By this time the two teacher’s pets were shouting that someone had stolen their history books and she turned from Bernard to the girls and he was out of trouble. If Bernard had kept the note he would have taken it outside and let it float down from the third floor balcony of Ida M. Fisher Junior High School. He then would come back to class and tell us how the wind blew it out of his hands.
The very first day of our fourth period class Miss Williamson yelled at us that she had had the likes of us before, that she would not stand for any noise or shenanigans in her class and for us to watch our step.
Right away Bernard gave us our duties. Bernard was our captain and I was the second lieutenant. Five of us began practicing fainting after school so that when we had a good chance it would look like the real thing. Others were guards of the blackboards. Their job was to write DWWW eight times everyday on the blackboard without being seen. DWWW was our secret motto. “Down With Wiggy Williamson” is what it stood for.
Mickey Silverstein had first called Miss Williamson “Wiggy” because he said that Miss Williamson was really bald. Miss Williamson was big and no one was brave enough to grab at her orange-red hair to see if it really would come off, so we kept the story running. It was too good a thing to let pass.
“Wiggy” told us that our task for the year was to outline the American history book. The history book was the thickest book in junior high school. “That,” she said, “ought to keep you busy”. She didn’t ever tell us how to outline, but just told us to do it and to do it in ink. “This way,” she said, “You will learn by doing.”
So we asked Phoebe Johnson how to outline. Phoebe was ugly as a catfish but was very smart and made A’s in everything. Phoebe said that there wasn’t much to it. All you had to do was to read what was there and write it down but not use so many words. She showed us that the history book was outlined for you. It had heavy print before each new paragraph that told what was coming and you could always write that down for a starter and fill in below it.
Well, we tried, but it wasn’t as easy as Phoebe made it out to be. It was always hard to tell when you should copy things from the book the way it was written or when you should write words of your own. We were really stuck because every time you turned in a chapter, “Wiggy” marked it down in a little record book. Those kids with the most check marks got the highest grades. So far, a lot of us hadn’t gotten any marks.
In the first week of class Miss Williamson collected pennies for a class bottle of blue-black ink so that everyone had enough to outline the book. Bernard and Mighty Phelps had a lot to say about it being “against our constitutional rights” and we would not have given our pennies except Bernard said for us to go ahead. We would get even later on. After Williamson took our money she bought a large bottle of ink and set in the cupboard in the corner of the room. She said that now we were free to fill our pens at any time because everyone owned the ink and wasn’t democracy in action wonderful.
Each day for a week (that’s all the time the first bottle of ink lasted), 26 of us lined up around the room to fill our pens. There were really 28 kids in the class but the teachers pets stayed seated. At the end of the week about an eighth of an inch of ink was in the bottom of the cupboard’s shelf and a lot of ink was running down the sides. We hadn’t been very careful filling our pens. After we would fill our pens and take our seats, “Wiggy” would pass by our desks on her inspection tour and her hips would brush against the pens accidently held out in the aisle. Before long all her dresses had a blue tinge at the hip.
After the first two weeks of class we got worried because we didn’t have any marks in her record book. But then Joe had a slick idea. We all outlined the first chapter of the book and got it checked off. Then Joe produced a little bottle of ink remover. We took out the titles on our outlines and went to the next chapter and wrote new titles in from the black print before each paragraph. So underneath The Pilgrims Land At Plymouth would be stuff about Ponce de Leon searching for the fountain of youth. “Wiggy” never read anything but the titles and in that way we caught up. The only problem was that after three or four times the papers began to looking ragged and we quit because I was worried she might catch us.
We made out okay on the “Day of the Great Fainting.” Mighty Phelps complained all period about how hot it was and asked if he could open a window. “Wiggy” was right on him, though, and he never got a chance. I had gone swimming the day before and my head itched something terrible. I was scratching away at myself, but then Miss Williamson yelled at me to quit it, and her blue eyes flashed fire. Only I wasn’t scared. My head kept itching and I kept on scratching. Then she really got mad and came over and slapped the fool out of me. It wasn’t actually that hard, but I never said so. I just stood up and demanded a note to go down to office so that I could have her expelled from school for hitting little children.
While I was standing my ground, little Joey Fields came to her desk said he didn’t feel so good, and asked if he could get a drink of water. Well, “Wiggy” was tired of the drink of water business and she told Joey to take his seat. Joey fainted dead away. Honest, I thought it was real until I saw him wink at me. I found out later that out of the five trying out for the fainting , Joey had won hands down because his sister had really done it a couple of times and he learned to faint by watching her. Anyway, Joey was lying there and I said, because I was the nearest, “You better go get the nurse.”
Miss Williamson jumped and ran down the hall. Quick as a wink Bernard had her little record book and marked him and me and Joey and Mighty Phelps all caught up. When “Wiggy” came back with the nurse, Joey was sitting up and doing fine. But he thought he better go home for the rest of the day. He had bumped his head on her desk trying to put on a good fainting act. He didn’t mind at all and would have fainted all over again just because we had such a good time.
Our secret motto leaked out to Miss Williamson by her “spies”. We didn’t mind too much. It made it all the more fun to write DWWW on the board. It made me laugh to see “Wiggy” talking about Washington crossing the Delaware and at the same time erasing the secret motto carelessly behind her back.
Sometimes “Wiggy” would get off American history and start telling us about her trip to Mexico and how she had climbed to the Temple of the Moon on her hands and knees. Those were the best days. We called them “TheTemple of the Moon Days”. When things got even duller than usual, one of the girls would say, “Ma’am, please tell us about your trip to Mexico,” and then all of us would chime in, “Please, please,” till you couldn’t hear yourself think.
Once she got talking she could hardly see the class. She would get a far-off look on her face and tell us about the burros she wouldn’t ride because they were so small and she was – only she never did say what she was. While she was talking about her travels over the old trails to the Temple of the Moon, Bernard and Joey Fields would have a contest to see who could make the teacher’s pets, Mary and Wilhemina, holler first. Bernard usually won. He had a longer rubber band for his paper wads. Before long one of the girls would scream, “Stop it! Miss Williamson, make them stop it.”
“Wiggy” would snap the dreamy look out of her eyes for a minute and tell us that please, she wouldn’t go on with the story if we wouldn’t be quiet. Then all of us would shout for the girls to get quiet so that we could hear the story. On “The Temple of the Moon Days” the “spies” never won.
Every now and then we would take turns being teacher’s special pet. One day it would be my turn, then next Joey Fields’, and Bernard’s, and so on, all arranged ahead of time. If it was Mighty’s day, he would make a great to-do about erasing the blackboards and dusting off the seat before Miss Williamson sat down. Then Joe and the rest of us would holler out, “Teacher’s pet,” loud enough so that “Wiggy” was sure to hear. “Don’t mind them, Mitchell,” Williamson would say. (Mitchell was Mighty’s real name). Then she would just beam at him and scowl at me and Joey and the rest.
We would raise a little commotion then, like all of us burping at the same time, all except Mighty, who would jump to his feet and shout, “You’re all very rude, that’s what. You’re rude for burping while Miss Williamson is trying to carry on a history class.” And then turning to “Wiggy” he would say, “Please go on, Miss Williamson, I’m listening.” Every “Teacher’s Pet for the Day”got an A in the record book – for that one day, anyway. That is, all except Bernard, who accidently spilled water over the book when he was straightening the flowers on her desk. But, it was a long time between Teacher’s Pet Days and more fun to be on the other side.
We kept riding through class having a swell time when before we knew it Christmas was staring us in the face. It scared me and Bernard because we only had a few marks in “Wiggy’s” record book. We decided that after Christmas we would have to settle down and do some real work copying the history book or else we would probably fail and wouldn’t be able to keep going through school with the same old gang.
As a holiday parting, we decided to give “Wiggy” a Christmas present. Around Christmas time it was the custom to give the teacher a present. We didn’t really mean to give “Wiggy” anything until Bernard ran across this article in a magazine on ‘Why I Wear a Wig.’. It cost thirty-five cents so we all chipped in. Bernard opened the magazine to the right place and put it in a box and wrapped it in shiny paper and tied a little card onto the ribbon. “To our wonderful history teacher, with love, your American history class, period four.” Bernard put on a tie to present it to her, but we were all too scared to see what might happen when she opened it, so we gave it to her right at the end of the last day of class, and then beat it for the bus.
All during Christmas vacation I was waiting for school to start, wondering what might happen. The day finally came and it seemed a long time until the fourth period. I looked around and could see everybody was half ready to die laughing and half ready to run like heck. The bell rang and nothing happened. Then, as everyone was starting to talk the Dean of Girls came in and a tall thin man came in with her.
The Dean said, “Children, Miss Williamson has gone to visit relatives in Alaska and will not be with us anymore. And may I present your new teacher, Mr. Forsythe.”
Just as soon as the dean left the room Mickey Silverstein held his pencil way up high and called out in a loud voice that it was broken and asked if he could sharpen it. Forsythe looked at him through his shiny glasses for a minute and in the coolest quietest voice you ever heard he said, “Chew it off.”
After class where we learned that Patrick Henry was a real person just like you and me, Bernard said to me, “You know, I guess history can be pretty interesting.”
“It sure isn’t like the TheTemple of the Moon Days,” I said.
“Yeah, I know,” said Bernard, “but at least, we don’t have to outline the history book.”
I learned a few weeks later that “Wiggy” hadn’t gone to Alaska when I saw her in the stands at a rival basketball game.
“Hello, Miss Williamson,” I asked “How are you?”
“Young man,” she growled, “I hope we beat the socks off you!”