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Tuesday, February 9, 2010

WICKED WITCH OF THE WEST

We moved to Odessa, Texas in 1964 when my father was away during basic training for the Special Forces. My grandmother Edna had a tiny little forty dollar a month rent house on South Washington Street, and we lived there rent free. The living conditions were the worst I think we ever suffered through in all the years I was growing up. It was three rooms with no air conditioning and the gas heater was so old my mother turned it off at night because she was afraid we’d die in our sleep from carbon monoxide poisoning. When the West Texas sandstorms started in late January you could see sand come in from under the door and blow across the old worn linoleum floor. We had only one piece of our furniture from California and that was our coffee table stereo. Money was so tight that one night mother realized she had nothing to feed us kids for dinner, so she used her key to go to my great grandparent’s house next door, who happened to be out of town, and got a can of Tuna fish out of the pantry. She says she still feels guilty to this day because she never replaced it.

Believe it or not, the living conditions weren’t the worst part of living there It was the miserable cunt of a fourth grade teacher I had named Sybil Rutherford. Miss Rutherford was in her mid fifties, but she looked much older. Her hair was dyed red, she dressed in shirt waist dresses, wore short heeled shoes, earrings, bracelets, red lipstick and tons of rouge. She reminded me of the witch from “The Wizard of Oz”, but that witch was “Mary Poppins” compared to her. She hated Mexicans and she hated boys, in fact the only child in the class she did like was a little blond haired girl named Theresa who sat directly in front of her desk. I don’t know how she felt about blacks because the school was segregated, but knowing her she probably would have set up a gallows in the principal’s office for them. Each and every single day she lined up a group of kids to be taken to the principal’s office to be paddled for anything from forgetting their homework to not dressing correctly. I saw one little Hispanic girl have a meltdown on the front lawn before school one morning. She was crying hysterically and rolling around on the grass. I couldn’t understand anything she was saying to her mother who was trying to calm her except the word “Bruja” which she kept repeating. I asked my mother what it meant when I got home and she said it was Spanish for witch. It took at least an hour out of each day for those kids to be paddled and some of them got it every day. It was a poor neighborhood and it wasn’t those children’s fault that sometimes they had broken laces in their shoes or holes in their socks, but that bitch looked for things to punish us for.

One time I was sitting out near the playground at recess talking to this older boy named John. Years later I would know him by his stage name “Amazing Mazine” a big overweight comedy drag queen. John happened to notice I had a red tack in the arch of one of my shoes. He tried to pull it out, but it wouldn’t budge. He told me to take my shoe off and he would get it out for me. I told him not to worry about it I couldn’t feel it, but he insisted. Thank God he did because the next day all hell broke loose. I didn’t know it, but apparently some of the Hispanic boys were putting tacks on the heels and toes of their shoes so they would make a tapping noise. Miss Rutherford had all the kids in the class hold their feet up so she could inspect their shoes and any child who had a tack was send to the principal’s office for punishment. My heart raced at the thought of how close I’d come to getting paddled.

She wrote our homework assignment on the blackboard every day and I carefully wrote it down word for word and re read it over and over. Then when I got home I called my friend Henry and asked him to read it to me again, so I could make sure I’d it written down correctly. I know I drove Henry crazy, but he patiently read it to me every day. I don’t think I ever had that much homework in high school. I would stay up until midnight making my mother check my work over and over because a low grade meant a trip to the office.

I began to get nervous ticks around that time and started showing signs of OCD. I would walk back three times to check and see if I’d locked a door, count steps, count change, count sections of sidewalks and check every five minutes to see if I’d remembered my belt. I worried if I even thought I’d told a lie, couldn’t remember things I’d said and repeated things in my mind over and over. Still I was anxious to please that old bitch. One day when I knew the answer to a question she asked the class I raised my hand energetically and she said, “Oh come on up here before you have a stroke!” When I told Ruby and Agnes about it they said, “Can you imagine saying something like that to a ten year old child?” They urged my mother to call the school and she did, but they just told her even though a lot of parents had complained about Miss Rutherford she had tenure and there was nothing they could do. Today that evil bitch would be on the local news pending an investigation into her conduct and then fired.

She had to take off work for a hysterectomy and we had a lovely young substitute fresh from college who didn’t believe in homework and no one was ever sent to the office. She wore pencil skirts, really high heels, and had black hair which she wore in a huge “Bubble” that was teased so much you could read the blackboard through it. You could feel the tension leave the classroom and all the kids just adored her. She’d been there about six weeks when she said, “Class I have some bad news for you.” Our hearts sank we just knew she was leaving, “Miss Rutherford will be gone for another four weeks.” The whole class erupted in squeals, screams, and applause. By the shocked look on her face you could tell she wasn’t expecting that kind of jubilation. We moved to North Carolina before Miss Rutherford came back and on my last day she gave me a big hug and wished me the best in my new home. She was so sweet, I had tears in my eyes as I walked out of that class.

I found out a few years later from “Amazing Mazine” that Miss Rutherford was a lesbian and was having a relationship with another teacher at the school. I wish I’d known it then I would have told my mother and then all hell would’ve broken loose. I did some research on the Internet a couple of years ago and found out that she didn’t die until 1991. I wish I knew where that evil bitch is buried because I’d drink a case of beer and go piss on her grave.

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