I was in the seventh grade at the now non-existent Sparks Intermediate School. Our regular teacher, Mrs. Depoali, left in the early fall for an operation and wasn’t due back until after Christmas. In the interim, our substitute teacher was a Mrs. Fortier.
Mrs. Fortier was undoubtedly the homeliest woman on the face of the Earth. In fact, she gave ugly a whole new meaning. I know this woman was someone’s mother, but she obviously had had a horrible encounter with an ugly stick at some point in her life.
In addition to her lack of looks, she had no control in our class. It was like the didn’t know we were there. She had either given up on us, was deaf or was totally blind.
One day, some of us got in a shoving match in the back of the room, which ended up with desks being knocked over and books scattered everywhere. Mrs. Fortier looked up from her desk and calmly said, “Quiet down back there.”
I don’t think she was on drugs, but nowadays that would be my first answer to why she allowed our class to get so unruly. My behavior was so bad that I actually got bored with misbehaving. I never did believe I would get tired of being bad, but I did.
We got work done, after a fashion, but nowhere near as much as we would have with our regular teacher working with us. Had Mrs. Depaoli been there, more than half of us would have been drawn and quartered immediately.
Mrs. Fortier’s method of keeping peace in class was to give everyone checks after their name in her grade book. I wasn’t the only one to get checks, but I had so many checks I was surely in for a lynching when Mrs. Depoali returned.
The impact of our behavior wasn’t apparent until the week before Christmas vacation. It was then that we began to realize what our screwing around would lead to when the break was over and normalcy once again took over. Mrs. Fortier started to tally the check marks and announced her intention to submit a full report to Mrs. Depoali. My goose was cooked. In fact, it was well done, probably full charcoal to be exact. I had truly been a baaaad boy and had every bit of punishment coming that was going to be meted out. Worst of all, I knew it.
At the close of school before vacation — Mrs. Fortier’s last day with us — she said that although she hadn’t gotten Christmas presents for any of us she was going to erase all of our check marks as a gift to us all. The collective sigh that went up from the class undoubtedly was heard around the world. It’s a wonder we all didn’t faint on the spot.
We never saw Mrs. Fortier ever again. I know she continued to substitute teach, but I never saw her or heard from her again until just about 20 years ago when I read her obituary in the paper. I went to the funeral home and paid my respects and signed her remembrance book. I didn’t realize until those later years that Mrs. Fortier was really a beautiful lady and I really had been a rotten kid. She deserved much more than we had given her and I knew that her death was not the time to atone for my sins against her.
I owed Mrs. Fortier a huge apology for the way I disrespected her. Going to her viewing was the best I could do after she died. Ever since the day she left my classroom, I knew what it meant to get second chances in a new year.
Larry Wilson is a 50-year resident of Sparks and a retired elementary school teacher. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.