On this day in 1999, my mother passed away peacefully during her afternoon nap. For six months, she’d been suffering from cancer but had been given a good prognosis only a week before. So, her death was a shock to all of us.
She didn’t live to see my first ever published piece, which appeared in SageScript, a literary journal produced by Sheridan College that she once edited. Nor did she witness the publication of my five books and other poems, stories, and essays in various magazines and anthologies, my marriage, my husband’s two strokes, which caused me to be his caregiver for six years, or his passing.
In memory of her, I would like to share that first essay that was published in SageScript in April of 2001. It won second place in a local writing contest in May of that year. It has since been revised. Enjoy!
MR. SMITH’S MISTAKE
by Abbie Johnson Taylor
During the 1940’s when my mother was in the eighth grade, her teacher, Mrs. Gammel, was fond of terrorizing her class with a ruler. When I was in the sixth grade in Sheridan, Wyoming, in 1974, one of my teachers, whom I’ll call Mr. Smith, taught math, not my best subject. Instead of trying to help me understand long division and other difficult concepts, he threatened to hit me with an eighteen-inch ruler if I didn’t improve.
One day, he kept me after school to work on some problems, as he’d done many times. When I ran into trouble, I asked him for help. “Maybe I should hit you right now,” he said, as he reached into his desk drawer.
At that moment, the school secretary entered the room. “Abbie, your mother’s on the phone,” she said. Relieved, I followed her to the office. After that, Mr. Smith never threatened me again.
It’s possible that he could have been singling me out because of my visual impairment. But although he never threatened any of my classmates with an eighteen-inch ruler, he wasn’t always nice to them, either.
Mr. Smith left the elementary school in Sheridan after my sixth grade year. I heard he was driving a truck. He eventually ascended to the position of principal at a school in Casper, Wyoming, approximately 150 miles south of Sheridan.
Years later, an article about me appeared in a newsletter that was produced by the Wyoming Department of Education and distributed to schools and visually impaired people living in the state. At the time, I was working as a registered music therapist in a nursing home. I received a letter from Mr. Smith. I was surprised because it was the first time I’d heard from him since the sixth grade.
In his letter, he said that after reading the article, he admired me and hoped that I remembered him. I wrote him back and said that yes, I definitely remembered that eighteen-inch ruler. After putting the letter in the mail, I thought that would be the end of it.
To my astonishment, he replied, saying that through the years, he realized that he hadn’t been a good teacher. “Corporal punishment isn’t always the answer,” he said. “I hope you’ll forgive me.”
Since he didn’t have my home address, he sent his first letter to me in care of the nursing home, which was mentioned in the article. I had a great relationship with Joan, my supervisor, and since I didn’t want her to think I was in the habit of receiving personal mail at work, I mentioned our correspondence. Jean, one of my co-workers, happened to be in the office when we were talking, and she said, “I’ve never heard of an eighteen-inch ruler. I don’t think there is such a thing.”
“Oh, that’s just too funny,” said Joan. “Maybe the next time I have to go to Casper, you should come with me, and I can drop you off at his school.”
“That’s a great idea,” I said. “I could walk into his office and say, ‘Okay, Mr. Smith, I see your eighteen-inch ruler and raise you a forty-six inch white cane.” We all laughed.
But after giving the issue some thought, I came to the conclusion that teachers make mistakes like everyone else. Mr. Smith never hit me with the ruler. Since I didn’t see it, it may not have existed.
On the other hand, my mother was a victim in the eighth grade. I wonder if Mrs. Gammel ever saw the error of her ways.
By the way, for those of you who use the National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled, The Red Dress is available for download from their site here. No matter how you read it, please be sure to review it wherever you can. That goes for all my books. Thank you for stopping by. Stay safe, happy, and healthy.
New! The Red Dress
Copyright July 2019 by DLD Books
When Eve went to her high school senior prom, she wore a red dress that her mother had made for her. That night, after dancing with the boy of her dreams, she caught him in the act with her best friend. Months later, Eve, a freshman in college, is bullied into giving the dress to her roommate. After her mother finds out, their relationship is never the same again.
Twenty-five years later, Eve, a bestselling author, is happily married with three children. Although her mother suffers from dementia, she still remembers, and Eve still harbors the guilt for giving the dress away. When she receives a Facebook friend request from her old college roommate and an invitation to her twenty-five-year high school class reunion, then meets her former best friend by chance, she must confront the past in order to face the future.