In my last blog post, I talked a little about my mother’s childhood and how her experiences growing up with a maid did NOT translate to her adult, married life with six children, one dog, one husband and a large house. WE were the maids… and yes, we’re probably better off for it. Doesn’t mean I don’t wish someone else had done the dusting! Still, our experiences, and our mother’s, have given me great stories to share…
There is a “truth” in my family that my sister remembers everything, particularly those things that happened before I was born. Which is interesting, because I’m two years older. VHS Andy, we call her… although I suppose we should change that to DVR Andy.
Anyway, the point is Andy has a trove of stories about our family life that some of us – most of us – don’t remember the same way she does. As much as I hate to admit it, she probably has it right more often than she doesn’t, so I’m going to say that this version of the story I’m about to relate is exactly what did happen. The fact that I knew this story before she heard it is of little matter – it’s how she heard that helps make it so funny.
To give you a bit of background… we grew up in a small city, two small cities sort of, the “Twin Cities”, and when our parents were kids, the cities were even smaller. Joy was a Kitchener girl, Ross was a Waterloo boy, but as there was only one (public) high school, everyone went to the same school, everyone knew everyone else, and everyone talked about everyone else. And if you were the child of someone who was well-known in the community, you might even be talked about a little bit more. That hadn’t fundamentally changed when the six of went through high school – even though there were many more (I think 7 more) high schools in the two cities than when Joy & Ross were going through school. As a result, not only were we remarked upon as the children of our parents, but in some ways, also of our grandparents. It’s an interesting way to progress through puberty, and certainly isn’t nearly as true now as it was then but still…
Sometimes the acorn doesn’t get the chance to roll away from the tree!
So… close your eyes and pretend it’s a beautiful September day, the first week of September, and you’re a 13-year old girl, excited about being back at school, seeing your friends again, getting into your classes, finding out who your teachers will be, figuring out if you’re going to enjoy being Queen of the Castle as a Grade 8 student. And in this happy, confident mood you walk into Grade 8 Home Economics. And the doors to Hell open.
Your Home Ec teacher is staring at you. As Andy explains, it was a glare that could paralyze. You’re ordered to come to the front of the room and demanded to tell your mother’s name. “Mrs. Staines.” And what is her first name? “Joy” And before she was married? “Musselman” By now, your friends – and everyone else in the classroom – is staring at you, too. Staring at both you and this short, angry, older teacher who can hardly hold back her contempt. There is a very long pause, and then you are commanded to sit at the front of the room. A desperate attempt to argue your friends are over there, at the back of the classroom, where your staring at me might not be so frightening, is ignored and you are forced to sit down, in the front row, first seat, to be watched. Stared at. Contemplated as if you were the subject of her next vivisection project.
It was a cooking day and as a class, the girls made tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. It’s not easy cooking with a short, angry teacher attached to your elbow, intently watching everything you do, making sarcastic comments about knowing how to turn on a stove. It’s not easy, and just a little embarrassing.
Frankly, I think it’s a lot embarrassing, but then, I had my own problems with Home Ec. Anyway, Andy is not a happy camper and somehow it all has to do with Joy and her Home Ec experiences 26 years earlier. This could be the only day all year there is no dawdling after school….
So you run home, into the kitchen where Joy is sitting on her stool, in the corner, cigarette lit, coffee at her elbow, book on the counter. “What did you do to my Home Ec teacher, Miss Waite? What did you do??? She hates me and it’s all your fault!!”
Joy had an uncanny ability to be perfectly still, perfectly silent, so that you couldn’t tell, couldn’t begin to figure out what she was going to say, what she was going to do. Until she started laughing, laughing so hard and so long that tears ran down her cheek. This is not making you happy, you are not laughing. Your entire Grade 8 experience seems to be headed up shit creek and your mother has the paddle. “What did you do??!!”
So while wiping up the tears and occasionally still chuckling, Joy explains, explains that 26 years ago Miss Waite was Joy Musselman’s Home Ec teacher, trying to teach the girls in the class how to make a bed with nurse’s corners. They had to learn to make the bed properly, they were marked on it, it was part of the curriculum, it was required. Only, well, Joy refused.
She didn’t have to make her bed at home, she told Miss Waite. The maid did all the beds at home, and she certainly wasn’t going to do at school what she didn’t have to do at home. You can imagine how that went over, that that argument worked even less well than the one about having friends to sit with at the back of the classroom.
Joy was given detention that day… and the next day when she refused to make the bed… and the day after that when the damn bed was still not made. In fact, she was told there would be a one hour detention every day after school, until she made the bed.
On the third day of not making the bed and having to sit through detention with an unmade bed and an angry teacher, Joy arrived home after her father, the man from whom she learned the word “stubborn”. When questioned as to why she was getting home so late, she told him about the bed, the nurse’s corners, the detentions. She asked if she had to go to detention the next day and was told she did.
Now for the fourth day, the Home Ec teacher, the school girl and the bed are all in the classroom, Miss Waite watching Joy, Joy watching Miss Waite, the bed just sitting there waiting for someone to pull up the blankets. And then there’s a knock on the door. Miss Waite opens it, to a woman in a uniform and crisp white apron.
“May I help you?” asks Miss Waite.
“Is this Miss Joy’s classroom?” is the response.
A little bristling and the uniformed woman is told Joy is in a detention and asked why she was there.
“I’m the maid. I’m here to make the bed and take Miss Joy home.”