The only positive memory I have of my third grade teacher, Miss Sargent, involves her wardrobe. Everyday she wore solid colored suits with spiked high heels of matching colors. I can remember being impressed at how her shoe color always matched her suits. Lilac suit meant lilac shoes. Yellow shoes, yellow suit. Red suit, yep you guessed it, red shoes. I don't know how she did it but when I was eight years old I always thought it would be cool to have a closet full of matching suits and shoes. Now it is 42 years later and I am lucky to find two shoes that match each other, never mind having them match any of my outfits.
One of Miss Sargent's responsibilities was to teach us cursive handwriting. We third graders equated learning how to write in cursive with being a grown-up. We pretty much figured we could do anything we wanted as soon as we mastered the fancy squiggles and wiggles that were involved in cursive writing.
Miss Sargent ruled with an iron fist. When it was penmanship time, we sat at attention. "Sit with your spine straight, both feet flat on the floor." Our pencil tips were so sharp they could pierce an earlobe. The blank paper was passed out to each student and we waited for the Drill Sargent, I mean Miss Sargent,to give further directions.
"Students, when writing cursive you will slant your papers to the right so your pencil can flow across the paper and you will create the perfect squiggles and wiggles. You will hold your pencil lightly between these fingers - just like this - and then you will let your pencil glide across the paper. Now practice what I have just shown you."
I couldn't wait to get started. I was almost teary as I prepared to write for the first time in cursive. I sat up straight at my desk, trying to make my feet reach the floor. I chewed on my bottom lip as I guided my pencil onto the blank page. I was seconds away from becoming a grown-up.
Miss Sargent reached for my paper from behind. "Debra, you are left- handed. You must position your paper this way," and she slanted my paper in the opposite direction from everyone else in the classroom. "Debra, you are left -handed. You must not hold your pencil in the graceful position. You must grip it and then turn your hand and arm in an awkward position - a position which is very uncomfortable."
No way. I am not going to hold my paper differently than my right handed classmates. I will not turn my entire arm inside out. I feel like every eyeball is staring at me. I turn my paper back to its original position - just like everyone else. There. I once again hold the pencil lightly and gracefully. I prepare to create a perfect squiggle on my paper.
I can feel her standing behind me before I see her. She clears her throat. I continue as though I were right-handed and hard of hearing. Maybe if I write fast she will see the potential I have as a wanna-be right handed cursive writer but... no. She once again reaches over my shoulder, repositions my paper and tells me once again how to grip my pencil in my fist.
I look over at my best friend, Shelley, and watch as she creates perfect squiggles and wiggles on her paper. She is writing beautiful cursive letters across the page. She looks up from her masterpiece and glances over at me. I stare back down at my empty piece of paper.
I decide I was going down with a fight. There was no way I was backing down. Even though I am left handed I have rights. No one can tell me how to hold my paper. This is a free country. Miss Sargent tapped the ruler on the corner of my desk. What the heck.
Now, she never hit me with the ruler. I am sure she wouldn't dare after reading my school records. I was hoping she had read about what happened to me in kindergarten. That would probably make her think twice about slapping me with the ruler, I hoped. Now you might be wondering what in the world happened in kindergarten class. Well, it was the first day of school and my mom left me there - in the classroom with my strange teacher and all of these strange children and I became very scared. So I started crying, well, maybe it would be classified as screaming. Then I threw myself onto the floor and was kicking my legs around. I probably should have had a little more self-control since I was wearing a dress. Anyway, the teacher made the mistake of trying to calm me down and somehow, by mistake, I bit her on the ankle. She called my mother to come and pick me up - immediately. I was so happy to see my mom walk through those doors -although I quickly learned that my mom was not as happy to see me.
So... I figured Miss Sargent probably knew I was a biter so I didn't think she would tap me with the ruler but I was smart enough not to take any chances. I caved in.
I turned the paper in the appropriate position for left handed people. I gripped my pencil and grimaced as I turned my arm into the awkward curved position. I looked up at Miss Sargent and met her stare. We glared at each other -and then I wrote my first letters in cursive writing, cursing the fact that I was left handed. I felt like an outsider.
And now, Miss Sargent, I head for India. Out of respect to their customs, I will not eat with my left hand, only my right. I have been practicing for months and I am getting pretty good at using my right hand, Miss Sargent. I have the proper position and am quite at ease. I think I might be ambidextrous. But there is a time in India when it is appropriate to use my left hand, Miss Sargent, and when I do, I will think of you !