But I Digress
I notice that my gorgeous if-I-do-say-so-myself cursive handwriting begins to falter whenever I veer off into diatribe, eventually becoming decipherable only to me and veterans of the Bletchley Circle. Penmanship is about the only thing in the world that triggers memories of my 3rd grade three teacher, Mrs. Fergus. My handwriting would slow to a snail’s pace whenever I sensed her hovering nearby. And when I wrote slowly, my script tended to get a little bumpy. I feel safe talking about her now, knowing that she couldn’t possible still be alive. If she were, I surely would have read about her in the annals of freakish longevity.
My handwriting does not waver when I digress I noticed. And I’m inclined to digress wildly whenever my memory gets cast back to when I first began to take notice of the people in my life. It allows me to consider what I might have missed when I was having to deal with them in my day to day existence. I surprise myself with the stuff I remember, most of which I’m surprised I was even vaguely aware of at the time.
Mrs. Fergus had a twin sister who was also a teacher but only on a substitute basis. They lived in a house a mere block and a half up the street from me. They were both Mrs. even though there were no husbands in sight and how crazy would that have been anyway. They were both stout women, as my mother would respectfully say of them; same short bobs, identical hush puppies, thick brown hosiery, there was even overlap in their given names. Agnes was my teacher; her sister, also a teacher but only on a supply basis, was Nessie, which I came to realize was a derivation of Agnes.
The more I remember about these women the more I feel that this is a story that must be told. It only now occurs to me that I could well have been taught by both of them. Agnes might have had Nessie go in whenever she was feeling under the weather. They would have had to clear it with the office, but not with us. “Hello, I’ll be filling in for Mrs. Fergus today; my name is Mrs. Fergus.” We kids would have been confused to the point of tears.
My best friend who sat across the aisle from me had very good penmanship except he wrote backhand. The first time I saw it I thought that I would like to write like that. But then I’d see Mrs. Fergus get after him about slanting his letters in the wrong direction. I thought, as a gesture of support for my friend, I’d turn in an assignment in backhand. I might have tried to persuade others to do the same but that would have been out of my range as a social activist.
Mrs. Fergus gave me a zero on the assignment. A zero! And I didn’t say anything, which made me even madder. I couldn’t wait till the bell rang so that I could go outside and let the world know that Mrs. Fergus was a miserable tub of lard. But how do I know it wasn’t her sister who was that?
Zero is like getting no desert. Not because there is no desert but because you did something you were warned not to and that calls for some kind of punishment. And if the insolence occurred at the dinner table, desert and not getting any would be a convenient punishment. Of course the degree of harshness would depend on what the desert was. My Auntie Faith would threaten to withhold desert. She was my mother’s older sister, probably the one who did all the household work when she was growing up as it would have been an outlet for her nervous energy. My Mother likely didn’t have to work as hard because she was a beauty queen and somehow that was contribution enough. Auntie Faith would fill in for my mom whenever my mom was feeling that child rearing was just not her thing.
Auntie Faith wasn’t a happy woman. The was evident in her handwriting. She sometimes write letters to my mother while holidaying in some foreign country where everyone did everything all wrong, at least by her standards. Her script was tiny. Probably an 8 in terms of today’s fonts. As well, it was all bumpy as though Mrs. Fergus was hovering nearby.
Whenever Aunt Faith cracked a joke, she’d look at us pleadingly; but I could never force a laugh. I’d throw back my head as though I were about to laugh but then I’d notice how clean the ceiling was, up there where we kids were not allowed to walk and I would forget about the egg on her face. If she were alive today, I’d try and write something for her, guaranteed to excite laughter. I’d be careful to write it in my best handwriting so she could appreciate the authority that excellent penmanship imparts.