I Get Restless

                                                  I Relocate

In1970 I moved out of state to train as a medical technologist.  Although I loved the work, my favorite part of the day was early morning when the lab techs made rounds of the wards to draw blood.  Finally, I became so lonely for the interactions with people that I had enjoyed in teaching that I dropped out of the program.  A science position deep in the Ozark Mountains appealed to me and the village was charming with old-style houses available for rent, so I applied and got the job.

I leased a house with French doors leading from the living room to the back yard which was pleasantly overgrown with large bushes and trees providing some privacy from curious neighbors and passersby on the main blacktop entering the village from the south.  Shopping in the only general store was less enjoyable, however.  The clerk covertly followed me, creeping around the ends of the isles to peer cautiously at the interloper.

I enjoyed cutting the grass and trimming the bushes and decorating the house after classes every afternoon.  In late September I had the large heating oil tank in the back yard filled since the weather was getting chilly at night.

Not too long after the tank was filled the owner knocked on my door.

“You’re going to have to move, Miss.  My wife thinks you have fixed up the house and yard so cute, she wants to move in.”

“I have a lease for this year.  Then your wife can move in.”

“You don’t understand.  I’m evicting you.”

“Then see a lawyer,” I snapped and closed the door.

Perhaps this Missouri mule thought he could bully me.  But when that didn’t work he tried to wear me down by knocking on my door or calling me several times a week to tell me I had to move.

“You have to move by the first of October, Miss.  The law is on my side.  I get to keep the deposit and the heating oil, too.”

“I’m not moving, Mr. Johns.  A lease not only protects the landlord from a dishonest renter, it protects the renter from a dishonest landlord. I’m willing to move but I expect you to refund my deposit and pay me for the heating oil.  Here is the receipt to show what I paid.”

He then tried to negotiate a lower price on the oil but I steadfastly refused anything but a full refund on my money.  At last, to my surprise, he coughed up the deposit and full price of the oil, so I agreed to move.

Considering that the store clerk thought I was from another planet and the owner of the house had little concept of how laws work, I decided to move to a nearby larger town.  There would be an hour commute but hopefully the people there would be more involved in this century.

The two bedroom house I found  was in excellent condition and I hired movers since I was teaching full time and didn’t have time to pack.  Nor did I have any acquaintances to help with moving the stove, refrigerator and heavy furniture.  Only later did I discover that my new landlords, who lived just across the driveway from my little house, were leaders in the local Jehovah’s Witnesses church.

In 1970 Missouri had no minimum wage laws to protect public school teachers, so I bargained for my yearly salary.  Being a woman with a broad science background and being highly recommended, I succeeded in getting the second highest wage in the school district.  Other teachers, some with Masters Degrees, eventually found out what my salary was and complained bitterly.  Nevertheless, my broad educational background made me unusually versatile, so I was unperturbed.

Classes began with a bang that first week.  One afternoon during Biology class two male students began to quarrel and moved to the back of the room into the lab to throw punches.  They pushed each other violently and shouted angrily.  Afraid they would crash into the glass cupboard doors or break the gas connections, I hurried back to demand that they stop fighting immediately.  They glared at me uncertainly so I took advantage of the situation to dismiss the class to get the students out of the room.  Then I told the two combatants they had a choice of dropping the class or one of them could move to the morning section.  They assured me that neither choice was acceptable to them.  Then they hurriedly left the building to catch their buses.

Early the next morning I was called into the principal’s office.  The boys were there, having told the principal of my highhanded tactics of the afternoon before.

“Miss, you don’t have any authority to tell students they must drop a class or move to another section.  That is my prerogative, not yours.  These boys will be back in the afternoon class today.”

“No they won’t,” I stated boldly.  “If these students are allowed to over-ride the teacher’s discipline and I am not allowed to have control of my own classroom, you may look for another science teacher.”  Then I turned to the students.

“Alvin, you may come to the morning class.  Shawn, you may stay in the afternoon class.”  Then I wheeled and left the principal’s office.

The elderly principal appealed to the superintendent who upheld me, I was to learn later.  It seems that no one was willing to cross swords with the ageing administrator who was ready to retire.  Possibly he wanted the good will of the parents and students more than he wanted to support a staff with high turnover and strange ways.

At the beginning of every class period the principal came into my room the collect absence slips.  He just walked in and stood impatiently at my lecture desk.  If I hadn’t taken attendance yet, he jogged my memory.  If I was slow in determining who was absent, he helped me get it right.  At last, to gain a little autonomy, I shut the door to the room, but he walked in without knocking.  Not being very long-suffering, I asked him to wait at least ten minutes before coming to my door for the absence slips.  Nothing changed, so I paid a visit to the superintendent and mentioned this contest of wills.  The super had a talk with the man and he didn’t come back to my room to ask for anything but sent an office helper who did give the teachers enough time for record keeping duties.

I found a door hanger that showed a cave man with a huge club and proclaimed, “Knock at your own risk”.  Then I told the students, “Heaven help the person who knocks on my door during a lesson.”  They took me seriously, and a week later, when my brother and his wife were passing through the area, they stopped at the school to say hello to me.  They stopped a student in the hallway to ask directions to my room and were amused when the student explained that I was having a class and “heaven help the person who interrupted her lessons.”  Of course, my brother wasn’t afraid to interrupt and I was so delighted to see him that I allowed the class to go outside before the end of the period.  Score one for the teacher.

Early in the first semester there was an all-school assembly for students to hear the dress code read.  Among the rules were stipulations for the girls’ hemlines and boys’ hair length.  I dressed extremely conservatively so the students asked what I thought of the dress code when they returned to class, and were quite surprised that I thought the rules were a little tight for them.

“For example,” I commented, “look at Lee’s hair.  It’s over his ears, but it the Asian style and his hair is always shiny clean.”  Students looked carefully at Lee who was smiling at my approval, then back at me in surprise.  Score another point for the teacher.

Across the hall from the science room was the English classroom with a first year teacher whose parents were university professors.  F. was a refined young lady who loved her subject but her students did not.  Several months after I met her she began to tell me about coming to school to find papers strewn around her classroom, desks turned over, and even her own heavy oak desk turned on its side at times.  She confided that she had rented a little one-room shack with no telephone and at night there were voices and thumping noises around the building.  I urged her to move in with me since I had an extra bedroom.

“Oh no,” she exclaimed.  “That would put you in danger of harassment, too.”

“No it wouldn’t.  No student would dare to trash my classroom.  They wouldn’t torment you or me by phone, either.  Think about it as long as you need to.” F. did move in with me the last two months of school, and all the monkey business stopped.

In the classroom I am all business until the lesson is given.  Alexander sat nearest the door and kept up a running monologue from the time he entered until I shushed him to begin the class.  His monologue was so funny I had to bite my lip to keep from laughing.  One day I just couldn’t hold it in any longer and bent over the lecture desk wailing with laughter and nearly in tears.  Students sat tense, waiting for the axe to fall, but instead I explained that Alexander had a wonderful sense of humor, always clean and truly funny.  They could hardly believe their ears, and Alexander’s chest swelled with the compliment.  Score another one for the teacher.

When lessons were finished early we talked, and I often told stories of other schools and my early life.  Although I grew up on a farm, our parents could not afford a horse, and I had always wanted one.

“Can you ride?” they asked.

“Yes, but not well.”

“Janie has a pony and she lives on a farm.  Would you like to ride her pony?”

Janie was eager for me to visit her, so I went home with her after school one Friday to ride her pony.  The rascal was small and rough riding, but he seemed to like me.  After I’d made a couple of passes around the pasture Janie confessed that the pony was mean and bucked everybody off.  I had been set up, but Janie’s plans were foiled when I managed to stay on the bone-bruising critter.  By this time the kids were beginning to like me in spite of the tight classroom.  One person even said when they first met me they knew they wouldn’t like me because I dressed so conservatively and was so strict.  But I kept surprising them with my tolerance of them and their ways.

Second semester I could see that we wouldn’t be able to finish the Biology text so I asked the students to help me prioritize the units.  It was my intention to omit the human sexuality unit because Missouri law forbade the teaching of sex.  Of course, both classes begged to have this unit included so I explained that I didn’t want to lose my credentials by violating the law.

“But you are qualified,” they begged.  “You taught human sexuality in Illinois.”

“I’m willing, but how can I be sure you won’t betray me to your superintendent?  You know David is his son and he is in my morning class.”

“I promise not to tell,” David urged.

Still I hesitated and they tried to think of some risk they could take to show good faith.  At last they had an idea.

“Remember the fight that broke out that first week of school?  We could tell that you didn’t know the older student was high on drugs and we were afraid he would hurt you because he has been arrested for assault.  Would you like to learn something about drugs?  We will teach you and even take you to places the police would like to know about.  Is that a fair exchange?”

“OK,” I agreed weakly.  They were risking themselves, but I was expected by state law to report them if I knew anything.  So our trust had to go both ways.  I still remember the dingy basement bars they took me to, and needle strewn parking lots.  Drugs were not a part of my life, so I hadn’t given it a thought that the larger town I moved to  might be a magnet for drugs.  On the other hand, they asked questions about sex that had never entered my head.  I handled that by calling the public health nurse and she threatened to turn me in.

“Because I am asking questions about sex,” I asked?  “Is that proof that I am teaching sex ed?  If you can’t or don’t wish to answer me, I will find someone who can answer my questions.  You are not the only source of information.”

Throughout the school year my Jehovah’s Witness neighbors brought trainees to my door.  Although I wouldn’t let them in, I would stand at the door and discuss evolution versus creation with them.  They seemed surprised that I could be a public school teacher of science and still believe in God and creation as described in the Bible.  Finally they asked if they could come and talk in more detail about this issue.  Not being a beginner, I was willing but didn’t want to use a whole evening merely to bat the breeze.

From time to time I noticed that the landlord came into my house without telling me in advance he would be entering while I was gone.  I couldn’t understand why they would do that, so at last I bought a paperback copy of Once a Watchtower Slave and left it prominently on the kitchen table.  That seemed to eliminate most of the clandestine snooping.

In the course of a weekend visit they mentioned that one of their horses in the pasture just at the back of my house had been shot recently.

“Why!” I exclaimed.

“Well, its deer hunting season and I suppose the hunter thought he saw a deer.”

“Don’t hunters get permission to hunt on someone else’s property?

“No, people aren’t concerned about trespassing around here.  Even if you caught them and pressed charges, they wouldn’t be punished and maybe not even fined.”

Attitudes were certainly different in neighboring Illinois.  As I thought about the vast difference between the two states, I decided that probably I should return to the present century at the end of the school year.  When I turned in my letter of resignation the superintendent called to ask if I would come to his office.  Our conversations had all been collegial but I wondered if anyone had told him about the agreement between me and my students concerning the drugs and sex exchange.  It turned out that he wanted to persuade me to stay on in his small school district, so I told him about agreeing to teach my students about sex ed in trade for their teaching me about drugs.  I briefly mentioned my local landlord and F.’s terror at night and dismay when she came to school nearly every morning.  Then I asked him if his son had told him about our lessons at the end of the term, but he had not.  Of course I was flattered that this man trusted me so much he would want me to return, but at that time Illinois was third in the nation in educational laws and standards so I moved back home.  That year is still clear in my mind and I enjoy thinking of the people who made it so memorable.

When I returned to my home town, because of the national recession, I worked for a year as an upholsterer’s apprentice and then opened my own shop for five years.

With experiences like this, I don’t need to write fiction!

My Memories From 12 to 22

Posted on February 7, 2017

A Christmas to Remember                                                                       

During the winters our curtains billowed out into the bedrooms when the cold wind blew.  Mom boiled water to pour into quart Mason jars, and wrapped them in a towel for each of us to take to bed for a little warmth.  In the morning there would be snow on the window sills and frost smeared on the windows.  We danced across the freezing floors as lightly as possible to avoid contact with the cold linoleum.  Only the huge old coal-fed kitchen cook stove heated the drafty five-room house.  To conserve coal, we allowed the fire to burn down during the night and only when we dressed in the icy morning cold to go get more fuel did we get heat.  I hated the cold, but perhaps I hated having to make a quick trip to the outhouse before bed even more.

After crops were harvested in the late fall, our dad found work where ever he could to help supplement income for the family.  One winter I remember thinking that he had abandoned us because we didn’t see him for days.  At last I asked Mom where he was and she declared he was in their bedroom sleeping.  When I expressed doubt, she must have asked him to show himself because he occasionally came into the living room to see us.  Later I discovered that he was working to fire the kilns at a brickyard and listened as he told Mom how awful the heat was and how heavy the work.

The winter when I was twelve there was no money for Christmas.  If we children would allow them, our parents would buy us a small gift after the first of March when the landlord paid Dad for the coming spring planting.  We could ask for whatever we would like, so I asked for a doll that opened and closed its eyes.  Although I was getting too old for dolls, perhaps I felt the need to be comforted.  My dad loved Christmas, so this situation was probably harder on him than on us children.  Mom saw that we each got an orange on Christmas morning, which was a treat, and I don’t remember feeling disappointed.

It’s funny what kids remember and how they respond to difficulties.  My sisters valued stylish clothes as adults, but to this day I remember hating the cold while not caring about the latest styles.

Town School

When our rural school closed all the students were bused into a town ten miles from our house. The town kids were different and often a girl with a French name would bully and tease me. Finally one day during P.E. I’d had enough of her and grabbed her to pound a little sense into her thick head. “Here comes the teacher,” the girls whispered urgently, so the two of us raced up the stairs to the girls’ bathroom to finish our business.  There wasn’t time for either girl to “win” but a townie against a farm kid wasn’t an even fight. I lost a button off my shirt but Frenchy looked pretty mussed up. To my relief, after that incident my classmates were respectful of me.

Beatings

When I was about twelve years old my father and mother beat me severely for being disrespectful. I was reading the daily newspaper and my dad wanted it. When I said I wanted to finish reading it and would then give it to him, he was incensed.  Mom and Dad both took turns using a belt to strike my legs and I screamed in pain and anger.  More than my own pain, though, I remember the screams of my terrified little brothers and sisters who thought our parents were killing me.  When Mom and Dad were finished they had to drag me into my bedroom and throw me on the bed because I couldn’t walk. When I showed Grandma B. the bruises and welts on my legs above my hemline where they could not be seen she laughed!  “What did you do to deserve that?”

Another time, I remember Dad getting so angry with my brother that he jumped down off his tractor to beat him.  My brother was possibly 16 years old, tall and gangly as a teenager, but it was fight or be brutally beaten, so he fought.  They wrestled and rolled on the ground for what seemed like an hour, and my brother never once struck our Dad.  At last youth won over age, and Brother pinned our father to the ground.  Dad must have been shocked that he took on more than he could handle and was man enough to concede defeat.  After that there was a fragile respect between them.

My First Crush

I had a fierce towering anger against Mom in addition to the above.  When I was around 12 years old I began to enjoy male popular singers heard on the radio and TV.  One of my favorites was Jan Arden to whom I wrote asking for his picture.  When it came in the mail Mom quizzed me about it and cried as she verbalized her fear that I would go wrong.  I was so disgusted with her that I buried the photo in the soil of the drive between the corn-cribs rather than burn it as she insisted.  As a result of this incident I determined to never say or do or write anything that could be questioned until I was able to do it on my own, away from parental control.  Mom even read my personal mail that came to her house when I was in China if she is curious enough.  Nor has she ever felt the need to apologize or explain.

Saved

By the time I was fourteen I had shut down emotionally and betrayed no feelings at all.  My own stony heart concerned me so I made a deal with the Lord. (Yes, God makes deals, but you had better keep your end of the bargain.)  At that time we lived far from the county seat and our parents went grocery shopping every Friday while we stayed home.  Our church was having a revival and I asked the Lord to move on my parents’ hearts to give me permission to stay in town with one set of grandparents so I could attend the meetings.  If He would arrange that, I would go forward at the invitation.  Well, He did, so I did.  The pastor’s wife was puzzled, though.  Why didn’t I show any joy, she wondered?  How did I know I was saved?  Believe me, I knew, but by this time the walls were so high that expression wasn’t natural to me.

When my two sisters were old enough to be interested in boys they instructed the boys to meet them across a field because they knew they would not be permitted to date until they left home.  Fortunately, they realized the need to tell somebody where they were going, with whom, and about when to expect them home – their elder sister being the person they told.  I remember one night when our parents missed them and asked me where they were.  I wouldn’t tell because I had promised I wouldn’t.  When I have told this incident as an adult, people have said I deserved the beating I got as an eighteen year old for shielding my sisters and preempting our parents’ authority.

We Move to Town

When my father’s aunt died she left enough money for him to buy a house in town. He retired from farming and found a job working as the local school unit’s head grounds-man. While living in that house Mom had gall bladder surgery which threw her into menopause and even more emotional turmoil. During those years her father, my dear Grandpa P. died, and temporarily Grandma P. came to live with us. I felt so sorry for Grandma; she was so lost without her lifetime companion. She cut flowers from the lilac bush just outside the back door for bouquets at our meals but Mom was very unhappy that the flowers just on that side of the bush were cut.

During this period of time, Mom became angry with  my youngest brother about something and hit him, knocking him across the kitchen into a counter and cutting his face. Blood flew everywhere but she had no remorse. Since my youngest sister had already married, she and her husband invited our little brother to live with them. Although my sister’s husband wasn’t much older than little brother, he was like a father to him, and a bond was forged that still exists to this day.

As mentioned previously, we weren’t allowed to attend school functions except band concerts, which Mom sacrificed to help us with.    I remember Mom taking me to a summer parade to march in the band, but after the parade I had to walk home in the scorching heat – maybe six miles.  I was in the school plays but I wasn’t allowed to drive because my parents refused to sign for me to get a driver’s license. They didn’t want to take me, but I could ride with another parent or a teacher after they were carefully vetted.

College Student

At that time the State of Illinois made a certain number of college scholarships available to high school seniors and I prayed for one because Mom and Dad expected me to make my own way after graduation.  Unfortunately, my name was too far down on the list of graduating high school seniors so all the scholarships were taken.  But, one by one, eligible students forfeited their right to a scholarship in a state school in order to enroll in a more prestigious college.  When my name came up I was thrilled. The state scholarship paid for everything but my books, if I lived at home.  I chose to study chemistry because being a woman in the sciences would be advantageous – and my choice proved to be a good one.  The classes were hard but Grandpa P. was awesome in calculus and chemistry, and he was pleased to help me.  Then, my senior year in college Grandpa dropped over dead the week before Thanksgiving and my world came crashing down.  I couldn’t think of anything but Grandpa and failed an exam in my major, thus I failed the course and failed to graduate.  This was all the more disturbing because I was far too shy and withdrawn to get a job.  For a year I grieved, sleeping all day and reading by night.

One day I took the car keys without permission and drove the family car out to an area, south of town, intending to smash it into a tree.  As I negotiated the first curve and accelerated I heard a voice saying gently, “Joyce, don’t do that.”  The road was gravel, so I put the car into a skid to avoid the telephone pole I was approaching and drove on home.  In all that time no one ever spoke to me about my grief and depression, but my high walls didn’t keep out God’s tender voice – He knew the weeping child within who needed comfort.

After a year of withdrawal I felt stronger and decided to take a state test to get a provisional teacher’s certificate.  I passed easily and taught chemistry, biology, general science, algebra, geometry and solid geometry as well as trigonometry my first year in 1962-63.  My first year of teaching was difficult but I loved it.  While teaching I made application to our church Mission Board as a missionary.  Meanwhile, I carefully saved my money to pay my way for a year of college in Oklahoma – the best small premed college in the United States at that time – I wanted to be a doctor.

Back in College

A professor in beginning chemistry allowed me to grade papers since I had teaching experience.  As a graduate assistant I marked papers and assigned grades. I didn’t accept excuses for poor or missing work so the girls told the college president that I was a lesbian.  I went to see the man and asked him how anyone who didn’t know me could be so sure of my character.  Then I suggested that he ask the Lord about me since I had nothing to hide.  The next day he said he had prayed and I was indeed guilty.  I was shocked. Up until then I had thought that those in spiritual leadership always knew the mind of God, but this man missed the Lord. Badly!

Several of the Mission Board members were located near the college and they declined to even interview me.  They warned me in an antiseptic letter that when I was thirty-two I had better reapply because no missionaries were accepted after that.  After thirty-two, one was too old and inflexible to learn a foreign language.  Since I was just climbing out of the deep emotional hole I fell into at Grandpa’s death, I decided this wasn’t worth another breakdown.  By God’s grace and compassion I met another missionary candidate in the girls’ dorm just returning from her interview.

“Have you been interviewed?” she asked.  “I heard that you were turned down. I want to give you some encouragement by telling you what happened at my interview.”

Then she proceeded to tell me she had worked two years in Haiti as a registered nurse with another mission.  She had come back to the States to update her knowledge of diseases in Haiti and planned to return.  The Mission Board said they didn’t need more nurses in Haiti, however, and insisted on assigning her elsewhere.  This slightly built but spunky little lady assured those august men that they didn’t speak for God!  She was called to Haiti and which mission she went with mattered less than her obedience to God.  I was impressed with her singleness of purpose and the memory of our conversation has steadied me many times in my adult life!