Old Granny Herwer

This is a part of a chapter of the book where I talk about how much Keven hated school. Its kinda funny - kinda not!

Some people think I’m exaggerating when I describe some things teachers got away with in the 60s. Old Granny Herwer stood in front of my 4th grade class with her steel gray hair cut short and an angry sneer on her face. I don’t recall ever seeing her smile. She was wearing a drab colored dress with sensible shoes, like she did every day. Heading to the green chalkboard, she started tapping it with the pointer stick she kept by her side at all times. You never knew when a kid was going to need to be bonked on the head with it, which was gentle compared to most of her tactics.


She turned her back to us and started writing on the board, “Class, today we will discuss the history of California…” Old Granny Herwer turned around in a flash and raised the pointer up in the air “WHO SAID THAT?” she demanded. I’d heard it too. Someone whispered a snarky sounding comment, but I couldn’t tell what they said.


She stood in front of the class, waiting for someone to raise their hand and receive their punishment. It took a brave soul to speak out in her class and a braver one to admit to it. No one said a word. She strolled up and down each aisle, her sensible shoes squeaking with each step. “Did YOU do it, Maxwell?” She addressed each of us by name while glaring at us with her beady, dark eyes. I was a ball of nerves waiting at my desk for my turn to be questioned. She knew I was shy to a fault and had never disobeyed her or made a peep in class. The thought of it scared the crap out of me - not literally. But poor Francine across from me did literally have the pee scared out of her a few times which was another very stressful situation, I took on her humiliation as if it were my own and would turn bright red, I’d cry in bed that night thinking of her and how the mean kids teased her.


No one fessed up to making the comment, so she got out her roll of silver duct tape. Back up and down each row she went, taping each of our mouths closed. This was the standard punishment for speaking out in class. We were all disciplined in hopes to teach the lesson that you did NOT speak in class unless you were spoken to.


Poor Maxwell Barrett was her least favorite pupil. We all knew it because she took him into the coat closet for a “spanking” more often than any other boy. Girls were too scared of her to risk a spanking. When Old Granny Herwer and Maxwell were back in the closet, I’d sit at my desk imagining the horror of what he was going through and trying not to cry. Back then I didn’t know what it meant to be empathetic, but I sure knew how it felt.


The worst punishment she gave us was the knuckle smack. This would be brought on by something terrible - like throwing a paper airplane in class or getting caught chewing gum. Each child would place their hands at the edge of their desk so that all the fingers were sticking straight out. Then one by one she’d smack us across the knuckles with her yardstick. It hurt!


Because of Old Granny Herwer, I would often cry at night or pretend I was sick with a stomachache so I could miss school. My parents were old school - we didn’t discuss feelings or have conversations about life. I was expected to behave in class and never talk back to an adult. When my anguish showed up as vomiting after dinner every night, my mom took me to our family doctor, he prescribed medication for my “ulcer”. Years later, I was told that I never had an ulcer and the pills were made of sugar. And sure enough, the placebo effect worked. I was never so happy for summer to arrive as I was back in 4th grade.


This is a draft so please feel to point out a typo if you see one! Thanks!


Peace, Love and Hope,


Barbara