|Recent graffiti vandalism in the men's room at our neighborhood pool.|
My life as a vandal was short lived. The graffiti that I left in my father's copy of W.C. Fields: His Follies and Fortunes was probably not intended to deface blank pages as much as my attempt to enhance them. No one else had used those pages yet so why shouldn't I leave my legacy of artistic expression?
Since there had apparently been no discernible memory of any repercussions from my marring the pages of my father's book, I presumably did not see anything wrong with leaving my art wherever and whenever I felt like it. Not to say I was an indiscriminate vandal who was tagging every blank space in sight. On the contrary, I'm not sure I ever did anything else other than a few minor attempts at wall art which was quickly put in check by my mother.
Then came the incident in first grade that would open my eyes to the horror and disgrace of graffiti and defacement of public property. The immense shame I experienced from this incident would cure me of trying to leave my mark of having been in a place.
It was 1956. I was attending Garfield Elementary School in Cleveland, Ohio. My first grade teacher was the dreaded and much feared Mrs. Goldbach. She was the oldest, meanest, wrinkliest, and scariest teacher a kid could ever have. No nefarious Nazi villain, frightful movie monster, or dark ghoul from one of my grandmother's stories was half as terrifying as Mrs. Goldbach.
After an idyllic year in kindergarten with the benevolent Mrs. Benham, I had grown to like school a great deal. When my incarceration in the first grade came about I was downcast to learn who my teacher would be. We had all heard the rumors that turned out to be true. Mrs. Goldbach was a terrifying tyrant.
I don't remember much about the first grade except for the day that would be seared into my memories. In absent minded reverie I guess I was dreaming of a place far away from this classroom prison. I pictured myself in a peaceful setting. In my vision I saw a sailboat on calm water lazily drifting under cloud mottled skies. I decided to actualize my vision in pencil on my desk.
It was an old desk after all, and many students before me had left their initials and doodles. I was going to be leaving artwork to be enjoyed by students in the future. Distractedly I began drawing the bestest, most beautifulest sailboat that any kid anywhere had ever drawn on a school desk. As I sat admiring my work, I suddenly sensed the presence behind me. I gasped and shuddered in terror when I realized Mrs. Goldbach was hulking over me with a disapproving scowl.
With all eyes of my classmates turned in my direction, Mrs. Goldbach began to lecture me about the evil that I had done. I don't remember exactly what she said, but I do recall the punishment that she meted out to me. Since I walked the block and a half home for lunch, she instructed me to return with a bucket of soapy water and a rag so I could clean off the desk. I sulked in silence as my inner sense of rebellion mounted.
As I walked home for lunch I began to picture myself returning to school lugging the galvanized steel bucket sloshing with soapy water. I knew how heavy a bucket of water could be and realized that carrying one for a block and a half would be difficult for a kid my size. I fretted and seethed inwardly as I made my way home with laden steps.
When I got home I immediately informed my mother that I didn't feel good. It wasn't a lie because I didn't feel very well. My mother had me lie down and took my temperature. She informed me that I was running a fever and could stay home the rest of the day.
I had escaped the unjust punishment of Mrs. Goldbach, but my inappropriate actions were brought to my mother's attention when my teacher called later that day and told her what I had done. My mother reprimanded me, but I could tell that she also thought that the suggested punishment was a bit extreme. When I went back to school the next day my artwork was gone.
Nowadays a teacher couldn't get away with some of the things that Mrs. Goldbach did, but we were probably more well-behaved and more respectful than students are today. Why my teacher didn't just have the janitor bring a bucket of water down to the class and have me scrub my desk in front of my classmates I don't know. That would have been humiliating enough and the lesson would have been made clear to all of us.
I do have happy memories of the first grade, but there are none that I relate to Mrs. Goldbach. She was the stuff of my childhood nightmares. On the other hand, to her great credit, she was the teacher who taught me to read. And she did teach me about the wrongness of defacing property.
Do you have memories of a teacher who instilled terror in you? What types of things did you get in trouble for at school? What do you think of graffiti--vandalism or expression?
I'm not the only one with a story about Mrs. Goldbach. When I was writing this I did a Google search because I was not sure about the spelling of her name. I found this wonderful story by Susan Trausch about Olive A. Goldbach. You might get a kick out off her take on this.