From the Relief Society Magazine, August 1943 –
By Ruby Scranton Jones
Lois Sinclaire, first grade teacher at the West Side School, waited impatiently for the children to remove their galoshes.
“Sit straight,” she said sharply and, giving the pitch, began the morning song.
Some minutes after the tardy bell had rung, Robin Marshall hurried in and slipped into his seat.
“Late again,” Lois announced. “This will never do, Robin. You bring down our record.”
Robin hung his head.
“He’s always clean, at least,” Lois thought as she noticed his nicely ironed blue coveralls with the folded handkerchief peeping from the breast pocket, and his blond curls brushed smooth. She couldn’t say as much for most of her pupils. There was no excuse for letting children come to school dirty with their shoes untied and their hair not combed. She could hardly bear to look at some of them and nothing could have induced her to touch them.
“Readers – page 6,” she commanded. Then began the monotonous repetition, ‘I see the dog. The dog can run. I see the cat. The cat can jump.”
When he did not begin, Lois looked at him in surprise. He never lost the place and he was a good reader.
“Robin,” she repeated.
“The cat,” he began, “c– can – ”
She looked more closely. Big tears were falling on his book.
“Carl,” she said out loud, but she thought, “The big baby. Oh, why did I ever accept this job? I don’t know anything about children of this age. Why didn’t they put me in high school where I belong?”
Lois got through the day somehow. Everything seemed to go wrong. Again and again Robin failed to recite. “The child must be sick,” she thought. Usually he was all enthusiasm and smiles.
When she came back from escorting the children to the door that afternoon, Lois sat down wearily, her head in her hands. This school had the reputation of being the least desirable school in town and it seemed to Lois that it was living up to its reputation.
Miss Thomas, the second grade teacher, a woman past thirty-five, came in to borrow some colored chalk.
“How do you stand it?” Lois stormed. “You’ve been here ten years.”
“Oh, it’s a job,” Miss Thomas answered listlessly. “Not much is expected here.” She helped herself from the box on the desk.
“Well, I don’t intend to waste my life on such children,” Lois went on. “I’ll make such a record that the supervisor will notice and transfer me.”
She took up some pictures she had brought that morning and began to tack them to the wall. One was of a rosy-cheeked boy sliding downhill on his sled. His happy smile made her think of Robin again.
What was the matter with the child, anyway? He was the one bright spot in her day, usually, but lately he had failed her. If she was going to make a record, she had better begin with him.
Lois put on her new squirrel coat and pulled her scarlet tam over her dark curls. Going back to the desk, she turned through her roll book and found Robin’s address – 318 Sherman Street – not too far to walk. She would go and have a talk with his mother.
Lois walked rapidly, for the wind was cold. As she approached the railroad tracks, she noticed that the snow got dirtier and dirtier and scraps of paper blew about. A shrill whistle sounded, and gates appeared from nowhere across her path. A long freight train moved by.
Could a train have delayed Robin, she wondered? She must remember to caution the children. She had better not urge them to hurry.
By the time the street was clear again, Lois was cold. She walked rapidly and soon found the number she sought. The porch was covered with muddy dog tracks. An old woman opened the door a few inches.
“I’m looking for Mrs. Marshall,” Lois explained.
“She lives at the back,” the woman snapped, and closed the door.
Lois went round the house. The snow had been cleared away but there was no pavement. Seeing a door at the side, she knocked.
The door was opened by a young woman scarcely older than Lois. She smiled and Lois said confidently, “You are Robin’s mother.”
“And you are his teacher.” The woman stepped back courteously. “He has told me about your lovely coat. Come in – won’t you?”
Lois stepped in and was immediately sorry she had not taken off her galoshes for the bare floor was spotless.
Mrs. Marshall drew a plain wooden rocker towards the range.
“Sir here,” she said, “you must be cold.”
Lois noticed that the room, though small, served as kitchen, dining room and living room. There was very little furniture. Some clothes hung on a line over the stove.
“Won’t you take off your coat?” Mrs. Marshall asked as she put a shovel of coal on the fire.
“No,” Lois answered,. “I can’t stay. I just came to ask why Robin has been tardy so often lately.”
Just then a wail came from the clothes basket on the table. Mrs. Marshall took out a tiny baby and held it to her shoulder. Then she began.
“Well – you see – I’m very sorry. It’s my fault, I suppose – not managing.” She stopped and fussed with the baby’s blanket.
“It must be hard to get small children up in the morning,” Lois offered.
“Oh, that isn’t it.” Again a pause followed. “It’s just that it’s so hard to dry his coveralls.”
“I don’t understand,” Lois said.
“Well, you see, I can’t wash them till he goes to bed. It was all right when I could hang them out but now they don’t get dry.”
The baby cried again so the young mother walked back and forth. Lois waited because she did not know what to say.
Hesitatingly Mrs. Marshall continued, “We’ve been short of coal lately. Right after the baby came John broke his leg so we’ve had doctor bills to pay. When the children are asleep, we let the fire go out. The clothes don’t dry much till John makes the fire in the morning.”
Still Lois could think of nothing to say.
“And then, you see, I have to iron them before Robin can get up.”
She closed the ashpit door with her foot and sat down.
“I guess I’m fussy – but I’m afraid of damp clothes. Robin has never been very strong.”
Suddenly Lois felt dazed and weak. She wondered if she would be able to stand. Her one desire was to get up and rush out.
At last she said in a meek, low tone, “I see. Don’t worry about it.” She got to her feet. “It doesn’t matter if he is late. I’m sorry I made him feel bad today.” She stopped because she could not keep her voice steady.
Mrs. Marshall got up, too. She said, “Robin is so happy in school. He loves you. He tells me all about your pretty clothes, even the color of your handkerchiefs. John and I sometimes tease him by calling you ‘The Princess.’”
Then she looked a little embarrassed. “Only in fun, you know. We think the public school is the greatest thing in the world. It gives our child everything.”
“No,” Lois said, shaking her head. “No,” more firmly, “it couldn’t give him his sweet smile. You are the one who gave him that. And the schools couldn’t do much either without homes like yours to back them up. It’s people like you that have made America great.”
She took hold of the doorknob, then turned back to Mrs. Marshall. Touching the baby’s cheek lightly with her finger, she looked up suddenly into the mother’s eyes, her own swimming. “And I think you have everything, too,” she said. “Everything a woman wants most.”
Hastily she went out, closing the door softly. “Oh, God!” she prayed. “Make me worthy to be their Princess.”