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Rubber Legs And White-Tail Hairs
Muldoon in Love
Afterwards, I felt bad for a while about Miss Deets, but Mom told me to stop fretting about it. She said the problem was Miss Deets had just been too delicate to teach third grade in our part of the country.
Besides being delicate, Miss Deets must have also been rich. I don't recall ever seeing her wear the same dress two days in a row. To mention the other extreme, Mr. Craw, one of the seventh-grade teachers at Delmore Blight Grade School, wore the same suit every day for thirty years. Once, when Mr. Craw was sick, the suit came to school by itself and taught his classes, but only Skip Moseby noticed that Mr. Craw wasn't inside the suit. Skip said the suit did a fair job of explaining dangling participles, which turned out to be a kind of South American lizard. I would have liked to hear the suit's lecture, because at the time I was particularly interested in lizards. But I digress from Miss Deets.
No one could understand why a rich and genteel lady like Miss Deets would want to teach third grade at Delmore Blight, but on the first day of school, there she was, smellingof perfume and money, her auburn hair piled on top of her head, her spectacles hanging by a cord around her long, slender, delicate neck. We stood there gawking at her, scarcely believing our good fortune in getting this beautiful lady as our very own third-grade teacher.
We boys all fell instantly in love with Miss Deets, but none more than my best friend, Crazy Eddie Muldoon. I loved her quite a bit myself at first, but Eddie would volunteer to skip recess so he could clean the blackboard erasers, whether they needed cleaning or not. For the first month of school, the third grade must have had the cleanest blackboard erasers in the entire history of Delmore Blight Grade School. For me, love was one thing, recess another. God had not intended the two to interfere with each other. But Crazy Eddie now skipped almost every recess in order to help Miss Deets with little chores around the classroom. She was depriving me of my best friend's company, and bit by bit I began to hate her. I wished Miss Deets would go away and never come back.
Worse yet, in his continuing efforts to prove his love for Miss Deets, Eddie started studying. He soon became the champion of our weekly spelling bees. "Wonderful, Edward!" Miss Deets would exclaim, when Eddie correctly spelled some stupid word nobody in the entire class would ever have reason to use. Then she would pin a ridiculous little paper star on the front of his shirt, the reward for being the last person standing in the spelling bee. It disgusted me to think Eddie would do all that work, learning how to spell all those words, for nothing more than having Miss Deets pin a ridiculous little paper star on his shirt.
Then one day Miss Deets made her fateful error. "Now, pupils," she announced, "I think it important for all youngladies and gentlemen to be able to speak in front of groups. So for the next few weeks we are going to have Show and Tell. Each day, one of you will bring one of your more interesting possessions to school, show it to the class, and then tell us all about it. Doesn't that sound like fun?"
Three-fourths of the class, including myself, cringed in horror. We didn't own any possessions, let alone interesting ones! Miss Deets looked at me and smiled. "Patrick, would you like to be first?"
I put on my thoughtful expression, as though mentally sorting through all my fascinating possessions to select just the one with which to enthrall the class. My insides, though, churned in terror and embarrassment. What could I possibly bring to Show and Tell? The only thing that came to mind was the family post-hole digger. I imagined myself standing up in front of the class and saying, "This is my post-hole digger. I dig post holes with it." No, Miss Deets probably had a longer speech in mind. I glanced around the room. Several hands of the rich kids from town were waving frantically for attention.
"Uh, I need more time," I told Miss Deets. Like about fifteen years, I thought, but I didn't tell her that.
"All right, then, Lester?" Miss Deets said to one of the rich kids. "You may be first."
The next day Lester brought his stamp collection to Show and Tell, and held forth on it for about an hour. An enterprising person could have cut the tedium into blocks and sold it for ice. But Miss Deets didn't seem to notice. "That's wonderful, Lester!" she cried. "Oh, I do think stamp collecting is such a rewarding hobby! Thank you very much, Lester, for such a fine and educational presentation. Would you like to clean the blackboard erasers during recess?"
I glanced at Crazy Eddie. He was yawning. Eddie had a habit of yawning to conceal his occasional moments of maniacal rage. Good, I thought.
At recess, Eddie refused to play. He stood with his hands jammed in his pockets, watching Lester on the third-grade fire escape, smugly pounding the blackboard erasers together. "Did you ever see anything more boring than that stupid stamp collection of Lester's?" he said to me.
"I think I did once," I said. "But it was so boring I forget what it was."
"I've got to come up with something for Show and Tell, something really good," Eddie said. "What do you think about a post-hole digger?"
Lester's stamp collection, however, was merely the beginning of a competition that was to escalate daily as each succeeding rich kid tried to top the one before. There were coin collections, doll collections, baseball-card collections, model airplanes powered by their own little engines, electric trains that could chew your heart out just looking at them, and on and on until we had exhausted the supply of rich kids in class. We were now down to us country kids, among whom there were no volunteers for Show and Tell. Miss Deets thought we were merely shy. She didn't realize we had nothing to show and tell about.
Rudy Griddle, ordered by Miss Deets to be the first of us to make a presentation, shuffled to the front of the class, his violent shaking surrounding him with a mist of cold sweat. He opened a battered cigar box and tilted it up so we could see the contents. "This here's my collection of cigarette butts," he said. "I pick 'em up along the road. You'll notice there ain't any shorter than an inch. If they's an inch or longer they's keepers. Some folks pick up cigarette butts tosmoke, but I don't. I just collect them for educational purposes. Thank you." He returned to his desk and sat down.
The class turned to look at Miss Deets. Her mouth was twisted in revulsion. Suddenly, someone started clapping! Crazy Eddie Muldoon was applauding! And somebody else called out, "Yay, good job, Rudy!" The rest of us country kids joined in the applause and cheering and gave Rudy a standing ovation. He deserved it. After all, he had shown us the way. From now on, Show and Tell would really be interesting.
Farley Karp brought in the skunk hide he had tanned himself and gave a very interesting talk on the process, even admitting that he had made a few mistakes, but after all, it was the first skunk hide he had ever tanned. He said he figured from what he had learned on the first one, the next skunk hide he tanned he probably could cut the smell by a good 50 percent, which would be considerable.
Bill Stanton brought in his collection of dried wildlife droppings, which he had glued to a pine board in a tasteful display and varnished. It was a fine collection, with each item labeled as to its source.
Manny Fogg, who had been unable to think of a single thing to bring to Show and Tell, was fortunate enough to cut his foot with a double-bitted ax three days before his presentation and was able to come in and unwrap the bandages and show us the wound, which his mother had sewed shut with gut leader. It was totally ghastly but also very interesting, and educational too, particularly if you chopped firewood with a double-bitted ax, as most of us did.
Show and Tell had begun to tell on Miss Deets. Her face took on a wan and haunted look, and she became cross and jumpy. Once I think she went into the cloakroom and cried,because when she returned, her eyes were all red and glassy. That was the time Laura Ann Struddel brought in the chicken that all the other Struddel chickens had pecked half the feathers off of. Laura Ann had set the chicken on Miss Deets's desk and was using a pointer to explain the phenomenon. The chicken, looking pleased to be on leave from the other chickens, but also a little excited at being the subject of Show and Tell, committed a small indiscretion right there on Miss Deets's desk.
"Oh, my gahhh ..." Miss Deets gasped, her face going as red as dewberry wine, while we third-graders had a good laugh. This, after all, was the first humor introduced into Show and Tell. From then on, those of us who still had to do Show and Tell tried to work a little comedy into our presentations, but nobody topped the chicken.
So many great things had been brought to Show and Tell by the other country kids that I had become desperate to find something of equal interest. Finally, I went with my road-killed toad, explaining how it had been flattened by a truck and afterwards had dried on the pavement, until I came along and peeled it up to save for posterity. The toad went over fairly well, and I even got a couple of laughs out of it, which is about all you can expect from a toad. Even so, Miss Deets chose not to compliment me on my performance. She just sat there slumped in her chair, fanning herself with a sheaf of arithmetic papers. I thought she looked a tad green, but that could have been my imagination.
Now only Margaret Fisher and Crazy Eddie were left to do their Show and Tells. I knew Eddie was planning to use several pig organs from a recent butchering, provided they hadn't spoiled too much by the time he got to use them. But Margaret changed his plans.
She brought in a cardboard box and proudly carried it to the front of the room. Miss Deets backed off to a far corner, her hands fluttering nervously about her mouth, as Margaret pried up the lid of the box. A mother cat and four cute baby kittens stuck out their heads. Everyone oohed and aahed. Miss Deets went over and picked up one of the kittens and told Margaret what a wonderful idea she had had, to bring in the kittens, and would Margaret like to clean the blackboard erasers at recess?
At recess, Eddie was frantic. "I can't use the pig stuff now," he said. "I got to come up with something live that has cute babies."
"How about using Henry?" I suggested.
"Yeah, Henry's cute, all right, but he don't have no babies."
"Hey, I've got an idea!" I said. "I know some things we can use and just say they're his babies. But you'd better call Henry a girl's name. Heck, Miss Deets won't know the difference."
Eddie smiled. I knew he was thinking he would soon have back his old job of cleaning the blackboard erasers for Miss Deets.
Everyone in third grade counted on Crazy Eddie Muldoon to come up with a spectacular grand finale for Show and Tell. An air of great expectation filled the room as Eddie, carrying a lard pail, marched up to make his presentation. Even Miss Deets seemed to be looking forward to the event, possibly because it was the last of Show and Tell, but no doubt also because she expected one of her favorite pupils to come up with something memorable.
With the flair of the natural showman, Eddie deftly flipped off the lid of the lard pail, in which he had punched air holes. "And now, ladies and gentlemen," he announced,"here is Henrietta Muldoon ... my pet garter snake." He held up the writhing Henry.
Miss Deets sucked in her breath with such force she stirred papers on desks clear across the room.
"And that's not all," Crazy Eddie continued, although it was plain from the look on Miss Deets's face that Henry all by himself was excessive. Beaming, Eddie thrust his other hand into the pail.
"Here, ladies and gentlemen, are her babies!"
He held up the squirming mass of nightcrawlers we had collected the evening before.
At first I thought the sound was the distant wail of a fire siren, a defective one, with a somewhat higher pitch than normal. It rose slowly and steadily in volume, quavering, piercing, until it vibrated the glass in the windows and set every hair of every third-grader straining at its follicle. We were stunned to learn that human vocal cords could produce such an unearthly sound, and those of a third-grade teacher at that.
Mr. Cobb, the principal, came and led Miss Deets away, and we never saw her again. We heard later that she had gone back to teach school in the city, where all the kids were rich and she could lead a peaceful and productive life.
As the door closed behind her, I turned to Eddie and said, "I think you've cleaned your last blackboard eraser for Miss Deets."
"Yeah, I suspect you're right," he said sadly. Then he brightened. "But you got to admit that was one whale of a Show and Tell!"
Copyright © 1987 by Patrick F. McManus All rights reserved.