The New Teacher

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When processing the stones Miss Flock was in doubt about what to try first. We used up all the drinking water in washing the rocks, then placed them in the sun to dry on the front platform. Several of us varnished them. DeWayne insisted on painting designs, which ran together until he had a mess that looked like something a huge bird had emitted in mulberry season. Norma and Delbert were probably on the right track, for they clipped out pieces of colored construction-paper and slapped them in patterns onto their rocks, hoping to make a decal that could be covered with varnish. But they ran into chemical difficulties, having applied the varnish when the stones were still wet. The result, when it dried, was a monstrous, ragged oddity that defied explanation, even though there were two of them. Miss Flock thought they were wonderfully funny, and when we all got through laughing, Norma confessed that her stone wouldn’t even do for knocking mud from your overshoes. Finally, with a joyous shout, we gave up, piled all our stones together in a cairn on the workbench, and sat down for a good game of pinochle.

In the weeks preceding the Christmas pageant we played cards every chance we could, “to relax us,” said Miss Flock. We decorated the schoolroom with fringed crepe-paper streamers and pinned cutouts of stars and Christmas trees to the window curtains. On the day of the performance, the last afternoon before vacation, Miss Flock brought homemade cookies and pots of coffee. The audience arrived well ahead of time, and from behind the bed sheets strung across the stage we watched them squeezing into our desks—like ridiculous, overgrown children. Then our pageant began, and never had we given such a performance. In an emotional scene Norma wept so copiously that she alarmed the cast and several mothers seemed about to rush forward. As the curtains closed the applause was tremendous.

Presents were passed around, and Miss Flock collected a handsome pile, gifts from each of us and from all the parents. It was clearly her day; everyone in the audience felt moved to tell her how talented she was with children and how in all the years of the country school there’d never been a Christmas program as good as this.

 

“Having the right teacher the first years,” I heard Mother say, “is so important!” She’d taught country school herself before marriage; she looked dotingly at Miss Flock. I thought how upset she and everyone would be if they knew the truth. “ Why didn’t you tell us? ” they’d ask. But I could never explain our conspiracy. I just knew I’d never betray Miss Flock, and I was sure none of us would.

However, on the way home Orban, who was riding with us, blurted out: “Why are the eights no good when you play pinochle?”

DeWayne jabbed him in the ribs. “Because that’s the game, stupid.” A pheasant whirred out of the snowy ditch in burnished glory, and Mother and Aunt Lizzie cried, “Oh, look at him!”

“Well, I’m tired of pinochle,” said Orban.

“Nobody’s saying you’ll ever have to play it,” his mother replied.

“That’s what you think!” Orban tried to say more, but DeWayne throttled him, and just then we drove into their farmyard—and let them out. In the farewells DeWayne’s mother said: “You know, I said to DeWayne, ‘You’re sixteen now, and you don’t have to go up to school no more.’ But you know what he says to me? ‘Mom, I want to keep it up.’ ”

“A good teacher makes all the difference,” said Mother.