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.