I seldom got into trouble with my teacher. I was far too cautious for that. And I didn’t really do anything today. But trouble found me anyhow.
My eighth-grade teacher in Mineral Point, Mrs. Bertha Day, was the first teacher to get me excited about learning. She’d take marvelous trips to exciting places and bring back slide pictures that she’d show to us in class: pictures of Mayan temples in the Yucatan Peninsula and the Temple of the Great Jaguar in Guatemala. She’d explain the architecture and tell us the history while showing her interesting slides.
Mrs. Day also taught my favorite classes—English, history, and civics—and she taught in a way that held my attention and built a foundation that propelled me forward.
Mrs. Day also directed a school play each year. This year, the play was Pinocchio, and she’d selected me to play Geppetto, Pinocchio’s creator and father. We held a dress rehearsal, with a few parents in the audience so we could experience a real performance’s atmosphere. All went well until I made a lame-brained suggestion.
I stood behind the curtain with eight or ten classmates. Pinocchio, my friend Paul Humbert, was on stage and was backing toward the curtain. He’d slip off the stage, and I’d make my entrance. As he bent over to do a bow before stepping back through the curtain, his butt slipped through the gap in the curtain.
And that’s when I said those dad-blasted words, “I wish I had a pin,” and I motioned as if I’d stick it into that bottom that protruded through the curtain in front of me. Quicker than I could say Pinocchio, our class “black sheep” pulled a pin from his trousers and stabbed it into that soft bottom. He must have struck pay dirt, because Pinocchio let out a scream and flew forward, almost into the laps of those parents in the front row.
I knew we were in trouble, but I didn’t know that it would completely ruin my day. Mrs. Day gathered those of us who’d been behind the curtain into her little side classroom and questioned us one by one. “Did you do it?” “No.” Then she moved to the next student. “Did you do it?” “No.” She finally got to me. Completely discombobulated, I couldn’t think of any excuse, so I told the truth. “I didn’t do it, but it was my idea.” I was hopeful that when she got to the perpetrator, he’d get me off the hook. But he didn’t. No one admitted to this horrible crime.
After my last classmate uttered “No,” Mrs. Day turned to me and proclaimed, “Harold, I hold you guilty until you can prove your innocence. Your penalty will be staying after school and copying words from the dictionary.”
I knew that was going to be a very long day. I wanted to shout out, “Mrs. Day, that’s not what you taught us.” But I remained silent this time. I learned a lesson that day. Sometimes it’s best to keep your good ideas to yourself.
I still loved Mrs. Day—but not quite as much as I had that morning.