When I was in third or fourth grade, I remember one day coming in from recess and talking with my friends as I walked down the corridor to my classroom. I remember it was probably a good day; it wasn’t raining or cold and although I don’t remember what my activities were specifically during recess that day, it was probably like most every other day. I would have been playing on the playground with my friends and winding down on the way back to class.
All of a sudden I felt something yank on my shoulder from the back and a loud voice boomed through the corridor. It was the sixth grade teacher, Mr. Elliot. Apparently we were too loud for his liking on that day and I was closest - or perhaps loudest. His class was taking a test in the room I was walking by and I guess somehow we were supposed to know this. I don’t remember seeing a sign or otherwise being informed - there was nothing unusual about this particular day.
It had to have been around 1973 or 1974. It was the “post hippy” era and anyone who was anyone wore blue denim. A blue Levi denim shirt with the big collar and two breast pockets was the epitome of fashion. To have one that was embroidered with butterflies, ladybugs, mushrooms, dragonflies and the like in brightly colored, shiny embroidery thread just kicked the fashion statement up a notch. I don’t remember if they were available so customized at the retail level (if memory serves, they were but they were very expensive), but I have a mother who could do a far superior job and at a fraction of the cost.
I remember how hard she worked on it. I think there were several small designs and a large one on the back. My mom was always doing something crafty and when it comes to sewing (or knitting or crocheting or anything that has to do with the manipulation of string), she is the best there is. It’s still true today. She loved to make things for my siblings and me. When I felt my shoulder yank back that day, and I heard Mr. Elliot’s voice descend from over my head, one other sensation coursed through me.
Rip! I heard it and felt it. He ripped my shirt - my prized shirt - when he grabbed my shoulder. It was the first day I had worn it, my mom had worked on it for what seemed like (and it might have been) weeks. I couldn’t wait to show off my new duds and before the day was half way over, it was ruined. I think Mr. Elliot heard it too. I know my two best friends closest to me did. He let go immediately and said in a much quieter, although still intimidating voice to be quiet… his class was taking a test. I continued on to my classroom quite shaken and not knowing what to do.
They didn’t call my mom or dad to inform them of the incident. Policies regarding such matters might have been different then, but it hardly mattered. My mom is not the type of person to let something like this go. She was mad. Mad that a teacher had dared lay a hand on her son. Mad that a teacher had ruined something she put so much time and love into and furious that I was so profoundly affected by the whole incident. She went to school with me the next day - I went to class and she went to the office.
Later that same day, Mr. Elliot came into my classroom and apologized for ripping my shirt. Of course he made it clear that although the ripping of my shirt was unintentional, his action was justified because we were too loud when his students were testing. In other words it was an accident, as if to say, “Sorry about that,” and that would be that. I remember tears welling up in my eyes and choking out that my mom had just made that shirt. He said the rip wasn’t too bad and it could be fixed… or he would buy a new shirt… or something like that. Regardless, whatever my mom had said kept Mr. Elliot off my back for the next two years. He was a big, imposing figure and my mom is not, but she cut him off at the knees.
It was not the first time my mom had intervened with her considerable power when I had none. It was not the last. I don’t know what ever happened to Mr. Elliot. I know shortly after I left the school for seventh grade, he left the school too. He might be teaching still, although I don’t think he had the temperament for it. I can, however, say with confidence that he learned more from my mom in one day than I ever did from him.