Monday, October 22, 2012

Forbidden Fruit

First grade. Late October. Art class.

Assignment: Draw a pumpkin. Not any pumpkin, but the "follow-the-teacher's-instructions-EXACTLY-so-they-all-look-the-same" kind of pumpkin.

Little parochial-school me did as she was told. I'm a fairly decent artist, so my pumpkin actually resembled the ripe orange fruit. But that pumpkin looked so lonely sitting there in the middle of the page. A page with room along the margins. Plenty of room for me, lover of words that I was even then, to prove that I not only knew how to draw a pumpkin, but I could spell it.


I scrawled beneath that merry orange globe.

It looked so cool.

So cool that Robert, sitting next to me, wrote the same thing on his.

The teacher, however, did not think it cool.

Remember, this was forty-odd years ago, back when "invented spelling" was not tolerated, much less encouraged.

Besides, I had not only disobeyed the teacher's instructions, I had tempted a classmate into sin. (Did I mention my middle name is Eve?) Had I been older, I'm sure she would have marched me right off to confession.

Instead, she took my paper and Robert's and tore them to pieces in front of the entire class. A strident warning to any of the other students who might have contemplated following us down the path of verbal insurrection.

The mute, proper pumpkins she hung the around the perimeter of the room. For the next few weeks, every time I looked up I was reminded of my transgression. Forgive me, Father, for I have misspelled.

But I didn't care. For the first time in my life, I had used the written word to declare my independence. I had refused to let the expectations of others stifle me. It was a heady feeling.

I look back on that incident and frankly, I'm surprised. Surprised that teacher didn't scare my love of words right out of me. Surprised I ever had the guts to pick up a pen--or crayon--again.

If anything, it only made me more determined to use them.

Perhaps my quest for publication is nothing more than a desire to prove to Miss Fitzgibbons that now I can spell. But I don't think so. It's more than that. It's a declaration of who I am.

I'll prove the naysayers wrong. Someday, I'll hold a published novel in my hand and this time they won't be able to wrest if from me.

I wonder whatever happened to Robert. I don't remember his last name.
Maybe it was Ludlum.

photo credit: Evan Swigart


"SCHOOL" was the prompt Susan Spann suggested to our writing group this week. The other members' posts can be found here, here,  here, here, here, and here. Join us! Link back to your own memory of or meditation on school.


Heather Webb said...

I don't know whether to give you a hug or laugh. Great story and no, your writing isn't just proof that you can spell. You're just a talented girl---I look forward to the day that you make waves in the publishing world. Oh, and my daughter spells pumkin the way you do. :)

Julianne Douglas said...

Thanks, Heather! I can always count on you for a boost. :)

Marci said...

I felt like crying for you, too! But I'm so glad she didn't crush your determination - we WILL see your book in print darling!!! And we can't wait!!!

Julianne Douglas said...

Thank you, Marci dear!

Susan Spann said...

What a great story. Your poor, dismembered 'pumkin' - at least it died for a noble cause!

Amanda said...

Love this story!!! Between "Forgive me Father, I have misspelled" and the fact that your teacher's name was Fitzgibbons and SHE of all people flipped out over an innocent misspelling, I feel like this could be a scene in A Christmas Story :-) Great school memory.

Anonymous said...

That is so cool, Julianne! And I agree-- I'm really surprised your teacher didn't notice, even then, how precocious you were. Oh well--you are gonna SO show that old bat when you get published, right?? :)

Julianne Douglas said...

Gosh, I don't mean to disrespect my poor teacher... I'm sure she thought she was helping me in the long run (and she probably did!). I just find it amazing how much teaching philosophy in regards to language has changed in just a few decades. Nowadays, most children are encouraged to make up spellings as they acquire writing skills!

Anonymous said...

You reckless writer, you! I'm glad that one act didn't crush your spirit. When one of our teachers tore up a student's paper like that in class, it bred a bed of contention between the students and the teacher. Unfortunately the poor student didn't make it out unscathed. He had to repeat the grade. Amazing story. I'm glad you shared!

Julianne Douglas said...

Wow, repeat the grade? That's harsh!

Thanks for reading!

Lisa Cohen said...

Coming to the party late, here, but this is a brilliant post. I'm so glad you didn't let that ignorant teacher terrorize you out of writing. {{{hugs}}}