In 3rd grade Mrs. Magarity, Principal, told my mother that she put me in Mrs. Godard’s class as one of 8 girls to “help” with the 15 boys also in the class. The boys were tough. It was a tough year. I remember being teased mercilessly. It seemed that no matter what I said or did, I became a target for their jokes. Most days I went home and cried. When my mother was exasperated with my tears, my sister would try to help me cope.
Back then girls were not allowed to wear pants to school. It was dresses only. The boys loved to find ways to flick our skirts up, pull our pigtails or ponytails, and experimented with various crude hand gestures. I knew nothing about what those words and gestures meant. My naive innocence just seemed to encourage them. Recess was miserable.
One day this group of boys had broken a mirror. They put pieces of mirror on their shoes anchored between the crisscrosses of their shoelaces. The object was to get close enough to a girl to be able to see up her dress with the mirror. All day was spent dodging their quick feet in terror of a successful attempt and having my underwear be the topic of more teasing.
I remember that some days Mrs Godard would get so angry her neck would turn red. Sometimes the principal would come in and threaten punishment. She was a formidable woman to us. We often had class punishment of putting our heads down for an extended time. It was confusing for me because I was never sure whether I should feel bad or not.
Yet, Mrs. Godard holds a special place in my life. She was tough, but kind to me. Once she invited me and my family to come hear her sing at her church in Arlington. It was not far from where we lived, so my parents took me that Sunday evening. I don’t remember what she sang, but I remember the warm spring air with the scent of lilacs and felt special to be invited. My mom and I dressed up and my dad wore his best suit. I can still see her standing proudly in that colonial chapel lit by chandeliers. Her voice was strong and filled the chapel.
I cried in High School when I learned she had died of cancer.