Pieces from Life's Crazy Quilt
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Author Marvin V. Arnett
Format: Hardcover, 208pp
Pub. Date: April 2003
Publisher: University of Nebraska Press
American Lives Series
FROM THE BOOK
(Chapter 20) When Your Gods Have Feet of Clay
When my mother saw the smiles on our faces, she heaved a sigh of relief. When she asked my father what he though of my teacher, he answered, 'Well she may be one of those bleeding heart liberals, but she's certainly a sincere one. I think she'll be good for the children.'
For the next year and a half, peace and quiet reigned between my father and my school. I was in seventh heaven. Two of my most favorite people in the world'my father and my teacher, Miss Reynolds'liked and respected each other. How could anything go wrong? Unfortunately, I had forgotten the favorite saying of our resident busybody, Mrs. Hodges. 'Bad luck follows good luck like night follows day. Why it's the law of nature,' she would say.
I didn't know much about the laws of nature, but disaster did strike during the first week of the new school term.
It's ironic how often trouble rides in on the back of good intentions. So it was with the events that led to the demise of my relationship with Miss Reynolds. The term began on a high note, as Miss Reynolds was to serve not only as our homeroom teacher but our social studies teacher as well. The structure of each social studies class was left to the individual teacher. Our course was a hodgepodge of history and literature.
It was the history portion of the class that most intrigued me. The scandals of the European courts seemed not unlike the scandals that so often consumed our neighborhood. It was my love of history that was to serve as the gateway to the most traumatic experience of my young life
I do not recall the exact content of the history lesson that fateful Monday morning. I do remember that it had something to do with an argument between the King of Sweden and his court officials. During the lesson Miss Reynolds used the expression, 'Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.' When she realized that we did not understand the meaning of the expression, she attempted to explain it.
She began her explanation by saying 'I'm sure everyone in this room has had the experience of feeling that something was just not right although you didn't know exactly what was wrong. That's what the expression means.'
When we still appeared puzzled, Miss Reynolds undertook to further explain the meaning of the expression. To this day, I wish that she had left us in complete ignorance, but fate had other plans. She hesitated for a moment then said, 'Perhaps you'll understand if I use the American expression that means the same thing.' Then with a face illuminated only by a sincere desire to impart knowledge, she uttered those fateful words; 'You'll always find a nigger in the woodpile.'
In the silence that followed, THAT WORD echoed and
re-echoed around the room. As Miss Reynolds realized the impact of her words on
the class, she half rose from her chair and gestured wildly with her hands in
what appeared to be a vain attempt to recapture the words from the empty air. I
looked on in disbelief as she turned on her heels and fled the room.