Friday, March 18, 2011

Historic Confession

I knitted this sweater in 1962.

Twice today I was reminded of Mr. Neff, my seventh grade history teacher. In a roundabout way, he might be responsible for me becoming a writer.

I was a new teenager, excited to learn the important facts of life, and third period was where putting on makeup was taught. While Mr. Neff droned on about Father Escalante and his Spanish explorers, the girls hid behind desks propped open with mirrors and applied turquoise eyeshadow and white lipstick. Occasionally someone was caught, and Mr. Neff hauled her to the front of the class (by the ear) and drew a little circle on the blackboard where she had to put her nose. Mostly, though, he was lost in his own 18th century world.

Our entire grade was based on The Report. Rather than hand in homework every day, we put our assignments in a folder to keep until the end of the term. The first few months I was fairly diligent and when the time came, I got a B+ on my report. Not too shabby for shoddy writing. We had to take it home, have a parent sign it, and hand it back in to Mr. Neff.

Unfortunately, the second term corresponded with a lot of important stuff in my life—Mom said if I licked all her S & H green stamps and put them in books, I could use them to get a clock radio. History homework took a back seat. I planned to catch up over Christmas, but that was the year I learned to play Nertz and it took all my vacation time. When the due date came, I didn't hand in a report.

Uh-oh. It dawned on me that I was going to get an F and I realized Dad wouldn't appreciate my expertise with a mascara wand. Suddenly history became real to me. The guillotine was about to fall and I was Anne Boleyn. The terrors of the Spanish Inquisition would take place in my house with me as victim. How could I have let this happen? Would I be standing at the blackboard with my nose in a circle the rest of the year?

It was the day before grades came out when Mr. Neff passed back the reports. Red-faced with shame, I was hiding inside my desk when he called "Martha Bagley" and handed me a folder. What? This was too good to be true! Had someone done my homework anonymously? Had Father Escalante sent me a miracle?

When I opened the report I saw an A- circled in red with a little note that said, "Good writing!" I read a few paragraphs before I recognized my work. Thumbing to the back page I saw my mom's signature next to last term's B+. Mr. Neff had graded my old report for a second time and improved my score!

I wish this story had a better ending. I didn't do the honest thing. I celebrated my good luck, and took my unearned grade triumphantly home to my proud parents, secretly sneering at Mr. Neff. Isn't it interesting, though, that I still remember my guilt vividly after almost fifty years?
I also remember that he complimented my writing.

Do you have something you'd like to confess?
Write a story from your childhood that shows your colorful side.


kenju said...

I can't see where you did anything wrong. If he re-read it and decided it was better than he first thought - where's the harm?

I suspect that if teachers routinely re-read kid's work they would change the grades at least half of the time.

Diane said...

Isn't it funny what sticks in our memories? Three years in junior high, and I have about 10 clear memories. I call it the black hole of my life.

Christie said...

That is hilarious! It would have been funny to point it out just to demand the higher grade the first time. Though, doubtful he would have given it to you. :-) Hannah says you are NAUGHTY!

Grandma Cebe said...

Oh, true confessions time. I'm sure this post will get me thinking about something I need to confess on "Back in the Olden Days". One quick one though. I usually took my lunch to school. But on one occasion, I had to buy school lunch. I avoided getting canned peas put on my tray because I said I was allergic to them. Nope - not allergic, just hated peas in any form.

Vicki said...

So ashamed to admit this. As a kid I frequently picked on one of my younger sister's friends. Finally grew up and regretted being such a jerk.

Several years ago (I was in my late fifties by then), after debating the need to apologize and excusing myself on the basis I would never locate her after 40+ years, I decided I should at least make an effort to find her. I tracked down her 84 year old mother and requested Kathy's address. I then sat down and immediately composed and sent off an apology.

Never got a response. (Like what would I expect her to say?). I like to think she didn't remember me or my behavior. My sister's take on it was different.
"She probably assumes you became an alcoholic and are now working your 12 step program and 'making amends'."

Michelle said...

I love your story. It's hilarious.

Raejean said...

I shared a childhood confession on today's blog post at

Thanks for the story and getting us involved!

Alana said...

I was around for the writing assignment days. I still read your blog but have been lazy about commenting. Your blog is still my favorite to read and I look forward to it every day. It's the most entertaining writing, I love it! So funny... my favorite part..."Had someone done my homework anonymously? Had Father Escalante sent me a miracle?" I love the humor and heart in your writing!

Susan Adcox said...

I remember in junior school hearing lots of people talking about cheating. I decided that I would make some cheat notes for an upcoming test. By the time I finished making the notes, I realized that I knew everything that I had written down, so I threw them away. I wish I could report that I threw them away because I realized that cheating is wrong, but that would be inaccurate. What I learned instead might be just as important, however. I learned to trust my ability to do the work and learn the material.

Tracy said...

EEEGADS! I once got kicked out of Sunday School and hid in the stairwell and my mom never knew until I moved away after college...that is a confession that sticks in my mind...
thanks for bringing the memory to the surface and I had to laugh at Mr. Neff; perhaps he just couldn't fail got you working, didn't it?