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Monday, February 6, 2012

And That's One Point for Me

While I’ve never been entirely comfortable with my athletic capacities outside of, say, running madly from scary things and the ability to square dance like a crazy person, I am quite comfortable with my brain.

I like my brain; and while those who have witnessed my efforts to pickle it on occasion may disagree, I persist in believing that I act in its best interest.

It’s a good brain; and despite what you may hear from an unfriendly press, I have had opportunity to use it several times.

Apart from enjoying my brain, however, I have not always been happy about being smart; and at one point in elementary school, whilst moving, once again, from one small town to another, I pretended that I was not.

Raise my hand? Who? Me?

I went from jamming my entire arm into the air every time the teacher asked a question to feigning ignorance to just about everything.

What? Answer a question? Me? Nope. I’m just the new kid.

We stayed at that particular school for a year and then moved again. Tired of pretending that I didn’t know anything, I resumed my question-answering ways.

In my late-20s, I returned to school to become a court reporter; and while there I took several classes I didn’t really need, one of which was shorthand.

The shorthand class was part of the Secretarial Sciences program, a one-year course designed to turn recent high school graduates into employment-worthy receptionists, secretaries, and administrative assistants.

It was, of course, difficult to simultaneously learn two forms of shorthand at once; but I cleverly retained the majority of the manual shorthand for a period of perhaps three years, tops, whereupon I purged it from my brain in favor of more crucial information such as memorizing drink recipes and who played guitar in what band.

The shorthand teacher was a tall, bird-like woman intensely devoted to her students; and the day I walked into class, her bright little eyes positively shone with excitement.

Poor Miz Bird. She was competitive, a Lucille Ball sort of character in her belted dresses and high heels; and it pained her that a court reporting student was taking her class. She very much wanted one of her students to outshine me – not for personal reasons, you understand, as she didn’t know me – but in a we-got-spirit-yes-we-do-we-got-spirit-how-about-YOU? sort of way.

Poor Miz Bird. Her students were, across the board, 18 years old and hung-over on a daily basis. The freedom of leaving home and attending a community college was heady stuff; and they celebrated, nightly.

Me? As a single 28-year-old with a six-year-old at home, I needed this degree.

Miz Bird gave us spelling words every Monday.

It was important that we were well-rounded.

“I know we’re all looking forward to Friday’s test,” she chirped one day. “And I hope that my girls are going to show our little court reporter here how we do it in the Secretarial Sciences!”

Full-time school, child at home, part-time work, I didn’t have a chance to look at the words until Wednesday night; and while I would not say I am psychic, I had a strange feeling about one of the words. I had heard of it, I knew how to spell it, but I didn’t know what it meant. Suspicious and dead tired, I looked the word up and promptly fell asleep on the couch.

In the morning, Miz Bird hopped, excitedly, from one desk to another.

She had a surprise for us.

We weren’t going to have the spelling test tomorrow. In fact, it wasn’t a spelling test at all! It was a vocabulary test and we were having it today! Surprise!

Judging from the looks on the faces of the other gals in the room – and judging by the way they all turned to look at me – the only one in the class that was surprised was me.

The test was aloud.

Missy, what does “nubile” mean? Patti, what is the meaning of the word “desultory”?

Oddly enough, Missy and Patti, best known for their having lip-synched to Pat Benatar’s “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” at October’s Fall Dance and Cow Patty Bingo Extravaganza, knew both words.

I would’ve bet against it.

“Pearl?”

I looked up.

“Perhaps you can tell the class the meaning of the word “apogee”?”

It was the word. The word I had looked up last night.

The bright young faces in the class, smiling expectantly, turned to look at me, the Old Lady in the Room. There were only 28 women in the Secretarial Sciences program, and I wasn’t one of them.

“Apogee,” I repeated thoughtfully. “I believe that’s the highest point in an arc, isn’t it? The summit?”

Miz Bird’s face fell, as did the rest of the class’s.

It was a triumph, even if it was a small one.

And I had really needed a triumph.

40 comments:

Susan in the Boonies said...

Take that, Miz Bird Brain. And all your little baby birds, too.

Glen said...

There's nothing like a good old fashioned fluke exam question. We all need a bit of luck now and again and when it comes at atime like that? Beautiful

mybabyjohn/Delores said...

Suspicion...one of the more important landmarks on the educational horizon.

R. Jacob said...

Not being put in your place is a large victory of the moment but I am guessing she laid in wait trying to get you once again. Education, is it worth it?

Pearl said...

Susan, I actually kinda felt for her: you could smell the booze on most of them. At 28, I was far and away the oldest person in her class -- and probably the only sober one as well...

Glen, it was a tough time to be me. :-) I learned a ton, though, and one of the things I learned was just how much work you can do when you need to.

Delores, I always go with my gut!!

R., she secretly liked me, I think. She just really wanted to like "her girls" more and they were a tough group to be proud of. :-)

SparkleFarkle said...

What a stimulating read this one has been! From this day forward, I shall aspire to be a the best “apogee” I can be! After achieving that and while still hanging there, I will paint myself red, the highest colour on the Rainbow of Life. Then, I guess I will shout, "WHAT'S FOR SUPPER?!" Because, isn't the sky the limit?

Thank-you, Pearlie, you are my inspiration! And, Miss Bird, God bless you.

Pearl said...

Sparkle, that's fabulous. :-) Inspriring you? I'm tickled!!

Shelly said...

Heeheee! Loved this. A victory like this is most satisfying to me. Good for you!

Leenie said...

I don't know which is more impressive: your mastering of multitasking, your intuition, or SparkleFarkle's comment.

Pearl said...

Shelly, I'm glad. :-)

Leenie, well, the multitasking I inherited from my mother, and I've always trusted my instincts, but Sparkle is consistently amusing, so I'm just gonna throw a big "holla!" in her direction. :-)

esbboston said...

That is cool that you got to have an apogee moment with apogee.

Did your parents give you lots of books and encyclopedias and National Geographics? I hated school, but loved all my things at home, loved to learn. I finally had a great science teacher or two who inspired me to make good grades and become a scientist.

Pearl said...

esb, my paternal grandmother had National Geographics, and I believe we had Readers Digest. :-) We didn't have a lot of books actually, but I fell in love with libraries at an early age and still get dizzy with excitement when I walk into one!

jenny_o said...

Yay for you! I'm glad you got your triumph!

Shame on Miz Bird. There are ways to encourage poor students without setting up a fake competition against the good ones.

jenny_o said...

... and Cow Patty Bingo Extravaganza... heh

Suldog said...

Interesting about the feigning of ignorance. I did much the same in early grades. My Mom had taught me the rudiments of reading before I entered kindergarten, so I was way ahead of my classmates in that skill. When called upon to read aloud, I would sometimes stumble on purpose. This was because I didn't want to embarrass the other kids via reading so much more easily than they were able.

Joanne said...

I recalled your fun. When I had to get a degree to get a job to support two kids they threw in some stupid sociology requirement. I was the grading systems' curve buster, which I thought at least some of those simpering 18 year olds should have aspired to.

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Friko said...

Attagirl! I don't like dunces, I am quite open about it, but I do like bright people. And words are definitely a sign of a whole electricity sub-station illumination bright.

Not only bright, but funny. I'm in heaven.

Amy Saia said...

I really loved reading this. Karma was on your side that day. Love it.

CarrieBoo said...

Boo-yacka! In yer face! I can just picture Miz Bird features.

P.S. I'm not convinced a sloth could pull off intermediate yoga... ;)

Rita said...

In her own way she was probably trying to motivate her girls with some competition. Funny how some people's minds work. Glad you knew the answer! Not that it sounds like any of those girls cared one way or the other--LOL! ;)

Daisy said...

We like your brain too, Pearl, and all the imagination, humour, stories, that it produces!

JohnD said...

Serendipitous viva voce LOL.

At High School, we had a last class of the day geography exam - name 15 rivers in New South Wales that flow into the Murray-Darling. Next day, last class, we got the results. To my Geography teachers great dismay only one person in the whole class got them al correct - Yep, little ol' me!. I was allowed to leave on-time and the rest of the class was detained for 30 minutes of Geography revision.

I was ecstatic! My father didn't believe me! (:

Belle said...

How I wish you had been in my university English class and answered a question from my prof. He was always trying to trip students up. Loved the story.

Susan Flett Swiderski said...

Our sons dropped out of college and then went back later to finish their degrees ... and completely wrecked the grading curve for their younger, and considerably less motivated classmates. HA! I say, good for them and good for you!

Jo-Anne's Rambling said...

When I was at school I often knew the answers but I would not raise my hand instead I told my best friend and she raised her hand and answered the question so did the teachers know it was me tell her the answers yes they did............

I also tried to learn shorthand but just couldn't get my head around it......I really sucked at it.......

Dee said...

Dear Pearl,
I have a deep, philosophical problem with teachers who try to "trip up" their students. Respect is essential between student and teacher. And the teacher, I believe, needs to be the first giver.

So while this story is funny in one way. Even a little magical. It got my dander up for that 28-year-old young mother who had to define apogee.

Peace.

JeannetteLS said...

Now, see, I think your brain is, as we said in the seventies, a trip. A GOOD trip. And it's strange, but all the teachers I had in the community college where I learned computer graphics were RELIEVED to have an older student because we were there to LEARN. Too bad she didn't use your dedication to motivate.

Feh, as I am prone to saying. Fitting that that was your word, I think. You sat right atop the learning curve, didn't you!

I pretended I was a bit slow for one quarter in school, but it was BORING. And I found I didn't like the kids who devalued smart.

Anyway, this was interesting to read on several levels for me.

Here's to YOUR BRAIN!

SherilinR said...

cheers to you for being the smart, hardworking mama in the class! smart sure beats stupid any day.

HermanTurnip said...

That is awesome. The stars aligned just right for you that day :-)

You should have taken a bow...

The Elephant's Child said...

A win for the good guys.

Diane said...

Okay, I learned something today. (It's really not as unbelievable as it sounds . . .) Apogee. I always thought it was one of the spell words used by the witch (Angela Lansbury) on Bedknobs and Broomsticks. Really. It's probably a good thing it was you in that class instead of me. I would have taken their scorn to new heights.

The Jules said...

Lovely post, as per blinking usual! Wish I had opportunity to comment more often.

I like those little victories.

Reminded me of when I was fifteen and our new Phys Ed teacher made me play him at badminton in bare feet because my trainers had a small blue flash on the side, contravening the schools all-white policy (on sports footwear, not pupils).

Expecting to embarrass me in front of the class as a warning to us all, I absolutely thrashed him. In bare feet.

My dad had decided he liked badminton and we'd been members of the local club for years.

Still makes me grin 25 years on.

Crystal Pistol said...

I don't like Miz Bird. I don't like her one bit. But I'll bet I would have loved her wardrobe. I love the whole Bev Cleaver bit... with a twist, of course.

Why must people feel so smug when someone fails? Why would one wish that on another? I truly do not understand that part of the human psyche. Nor do I ever wish to.

River said...

I learned apogee when it was the answer to a crossword clue. I had no idea, so checked the paper the next day to see what the answer was, then looked it up in my dictionary. I've never forgotten it. This happened quite a lot and it's how I learnt new words. Apart from that, I'm not the brightest bulb in the chandelier, but I'm not the dimmest either.

jabblog said...

I take my hat off to you, Pearl. What was Miz Bird thinking? You're right, though - she liked you because you made her job worthwhile.

esbboston said...

I love the library parts to the movie Matilda and her discovery of a bigger richer world of the real and unreal, discovering her power within. And the line about her favorite author, Darryl Chickens.

Pat said...

Drat! You got me with apogee!

On My Soapbox said...

Nothing like a passive-aggressive teacher. Ughhhhh.

Eva Gallant said...

Good for you! That bitch had it coming!