Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Hortense the Horrible Hag

When I was in third grade I had this awful teacher who I'm pretty sure was a witch. She was old, ugly and evil. She was the kind of mean spiteful teacher that you see in Roald Dahl story. Think Miss Trunchbull from Matilda. No, she never put me in the Chokey, but she made my entire third grade year feel like a Chokey. She even had a Roald Dahl villain name, Hortense Hair. Perhaps being given a name like that is apart of the reason why she turned out to be such a terrible teacher. I imagine she had a favorite student to pick on every year but in 1994/1995, I was her target. Other students noticed and made comments to me privately about how they also weren't sure why she treated me differently, but they dare not have spoken out about it. She had a general meanness that no kid wanted to aggravate.

Last night I went to a local arcade that's been around since the late 70's called Funland with my Mom and two little cousins. It's known for being covered wall to wall with loud neon clown imagery. Being there reminded me of a Hortense the Horrible Hag story, which inevitably leads to me reminisce about all of them. Being a 10 year old mortal enemies with a 70 year woman should be a thing of fairy tales not a daily routine that will haunt the child well into her 20's. One day we had an assignment that I guess I misunderstood. It was writing project about a clown. I can't remember his name, but let's call him "Jacko". There was a list of words and were supposed to write a short story using those words. I was under the impression that "Jacko" was an example and that we were supposed to write our own original story. So I wrote about a subject I always like, GIRL clowns, which there aren't enough of. I always thought that women seem less menacing and fewer people would be scared of lady clowns so why is it so rare you see them? I was still at an age where I loved clowns so it seemed like an appropriate subject. I wrote a story about Sassy the Clown, because she was Sassay. She had unicorns, living teddy bears, hot pink yarn hair and was always on the outs with the boy clowns. Well, I was wrong about the project. Everyone else wrote about "Jacko", and rather than just taking points of or GOD FORBID letting it slide since I still used all of the same words in my (much more imaginative) story. She proceeded to scowl at me while reading it allowed to the entire class making a point to repeatedly say that the person *shifts crooked eyes at me* who wrote this obviously doesn't know how to follow directions, before inevitably drawing a big red 0 on it. I believe that was the day I asked her after school why she hated me, she kept her eyes down at her desk and brushed off my question with an "I don't know what you're talking about". Like that's a proper way to respond to a question like that anyway.

Perhaps this should be a story for my private journal but I felt like sharing it here since it's about witches and clowns. I've built the life I live around imagination. Those aspects of my personality which were still in early stages of development were under attack. Maybe I had my head in the clouds, but why shouldn't I have? Your 10 year old school career shouldn't play out like a rigid boot camp. And your teacher shouldn't act like the fucking Gestapo. My interests at the time included India, the vintage stuffed animal collection I had just started, building forts, pretending to be a princess, writing in my diary and drawing mermaids. Having a personality was strictly verboten. I was a burdenless kid and I felt like she wanted to tear that down. I suppose she failed, though she left me with a lot to think about. Mostly about what I hoped to never be.

Thinking about all of this reminded me another Hortense Hair story that makes me smile. It was around Halloween and we were given a worksheet with a witch on it. And wouldn't you know, the witch was named "Hortense the Horrible Hag"! I was one of the few students who knew her first name because my Mom had to call her to bitch her out so many times. After she gave the instructions she asked if anyone had any questions. Not even knowing what I was going to say, I raised my hand as knee jerk reaction. She glared at me with the wrath of Satan himself, scrunched up her shriveled lips and shook her head "NO!". She knew exactly what I was thinking. Perhaps this is why she hated me? Maybe I was the only one who knew she was a witch.

Things that come up when you google image search for "Hortense Hair"....


And BEST of all....

This looks JUST like her. Amazing.

So how did it end? She was old and died of natural causes a few years later. I wasn't really effected by that obituary. I was glad she didn't have some terrible ailment but there was a strange sense of relief that she wouldn't be around to torment anymore children. Is that wrong? How do you mourn the Hitler of elementary school teachers?

I grew up and managed to forget everything I learned in that class except a few lessons of morality based on the strange isolation and punishment I had to endure. It's amazing how a a great teacher can effect you in wonderful ways. You remember their warmth and take it with you. A bad teacher leaves you with an antipathy that you won't forget. People like that are the example of what I know will never be so in that respect Hortense Hair served her purpose in my life and can now be filed back away in my memory bank along with Sassy the Clown.

1 comment:

  1. "How do you mourn the Hitler of elementary school teachers?" Public rejoicing. Dancing in the street.