Friday, June 19, 2015

"Each one sees what he carries in his heart."  ~  Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

The phone rang, and Mom answered it.

"Yes… OK, I'll be there tomorrow. 9AM… OK.  Thank you.  Goodbye…"


"Yes, Mom…"

"That was your school counselor on the phone. She wants to see me tomorrow morning… about YOU! Terry, what have you done?"

"My counselor… I don't have a counselor… which one is it?" I whispered.

What had I done? I didn't even know any of the Stamford High School counselors by name. Why would the shyest kid in the whole junior class of over 600 students know a counselor unless she was in trouble…BIG TROUBLE?

The next day at school was torturous for me. My actual MOTHER was summoned to school about ME! I never saw Mom come into school or go out of it that day, but when I got home and crept in the front door, I sure didn't let it slam shut.


"What, Mom?"

"Sit down… I have something to tell you. I saw your school counselor today, and she told me that your grades and your tests have made you eligible for the honors English class..."

WOW! I thought, silently. Me! Honors! WOW…

"But, you are not going to be placed in the honors English class, Terry. The teacher and the counselor decided that you were just too shy and quiet to be a part of that class. She said that honors students discuss and talk and argue, and they were afraid that you would just sit there in class and never say a word. They said that it was a large class, and you would just be lost in it."

…and I thought to myself, Well, at least I was smart enough to be considered for honors English…

And then I thought some more… The cutest boy in school in my eyes sat right next to me in my English class, and that was a gooood thing. He never talked to me, but I could sneak peeks at him during class when I got bored… so all was well.

My junior year passed, and then, in my senior year of high school, it was time to take the college entrance tests, and so I did.  I sat all morning taking those exams… just me and 1/2 of our senior class of 687 students. Then I sat some more in the afternoon taking the writing tests for entrance to the university. The writing tests were optional, but I loved to write, and who knew… it might be just the thing that would catch the eye of some college or university chooser-person. I wasn't scared of the writing test, I was just very tired that afternoon…

It took a long time to get the results of those entrance tests, and I hadn't heard a thing. But somehow, my English teacher, Miss Favroe, had found them out. I was scuttling down the hall, on my way to some class, and there was Miss Favroe.

"Terry, come walk with me." So I did. "Your scores on the College Boards are high, Terry. You can be accepted to Smith, my college, with those scores. I hope you will think about it." And she clomped away in those heavy black shoes she wore, wearing that long black dress that reached nearly to the tops of those shoes, her hair pinned up in an unruly bun on top of her head, and her black mustache intact.

Well, no, I wasn't going to go to that legendary all-women's college. I chose the University of Nebraska where my Dad had worked at the Cornhusker Hotel dining room to make enough money to attend UNL for one year. My father's family all lived in Nebraska, and I was glad of that. Home for me would be about 1300 miles away, and it would be nice to have some family nearby for some of those university holidays when I couldn't afford to be flying all that way back to Stamford, Connecticut.

But one day that senior summer they sent me my schedule of freshman classes, and there it was: Honors English! And so I went off to University, "scared spitless," as my Mom used to say.

The first day that I walked into that freshman honors English class and sat down in the second row, I found that only about 18 or 20 students made up the entire class, and that included me. The professor wandered in, nearly on time, looked us over one-by-one, and that was my beginning. I didn't speak out or anything, but I read… and I read and I read and I read. I listened, too, and smiled and reacted, but I was very quiet. I was the mouse of the class.

And then came Geoffrey Chaucer and his tales. That meant that we'd read The Wife of Bath's tale, among others. And the Wife of Bath was the one that the professor decided to spend time with in our honors class that day. By this time I had actually moved to the front row of seats in our classroom. In fact, I had even added a comment or two in the weeks before this "Wife of Bath" day.

"She was quite an old woman!" said the Prof. "She got around… Know what I mean…" And he chuckled in a way that guys do when they talk about things that women weren't supposed to hear.

"She was gap-toothed!" he grinned. "You know what that means…"

What HE didn't know is that my two front teeth had a major gap between them. I'd practiced and practiced my tight, timid smile so that no one would see that awful gap. I never ate apples in public unless I was with good friends. What if a chunk got caught in that gap? How could I possibly gouge that out in public?

"… It means that she was… hmmmmm… let's see… attractive to men! Get it...?"

Did he mean that boys found a gap-toothed smile pretty? I wondered…

I didn't hear the rest of the prof's lecture-discussion, though, the part when he began to explain just who this old bag of a woman was, and what her gap-toothiness really meant. I was lost in thought… pleasant thoughts… gap-toothed thoughts.

All at once our tiny English Honors class was laughing at something the prof said that I hadn't heard… something about Chaucer's use of double entendres… or whatever. I smiled, though, a mouth-opened smile. And then I laughed and laughed and laughed, my gap-teeth exposed publicly for the first time since I'd turned 13 years old!

Of course, later I didn't do well on that essay test question about The Wife of Bath. But on Saturday night I had a date with the only good-looking guy in our honors class. And later that Saturday night I had to set him straight about the fact that the Middle Ages' ideas about gap-teeth women were NOT the same as the 20th century's facts about gap-toothed girls… yes, I did!

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