Petting Zoos, Methodists, and Misbehavior

The petting zoo has come to BookPeople!

Consequently, the average age in the coffee shop–aka my office–is considerably lower than usual. I estimate it at approximately two.

Normally I filter out noise and activity to concentrate on writing. The ability to hyperfocus is a gift.

Today, however, what’s going on around me is more interesting than the story to be revised.

Behind and to the right, a little-bitty with black eyes and a pixie cut sings, “E-I-E-I-OOOOO.” She began in atonal mode but soon picked up the melody.

Directly behind me, a little boy I imagine as blond protested. “I don’t like to sit down.” Then he shrieked and wailed.

“OoooooooooooooooooOoooooooooooooooooOooooooooooooooo.” Finally he settled down to snuffling. I assume at some point, probably while the Ooooooooos were wearing down, he sat. Now he’s either resigned to his fate or he’s left the store.

There’s been a lot of wailing today. I don’t know why, considering the petting zoo is here. Maybe it’s tension. Maybe it’s that little kids are like adults: some days you get out of bed in a snit and you just have to share it.

Mothers have changed since I was a child. In my day, a mother would have taken the child outside and given him a choice: behave or go home and not get to see the animals or have a cookie or whatever special treat has been promised. I don’t know a child who was actually hauled home, and I don’t know a parent who meant what she–or he–said, but generally things quieted down a bit.

Something similar happened to me when I was a child. But I wasn’t offered a choice. And I wasn’t hauled home. I imagine a lot of people wished I had been.

At church one Sunday, the Methodist little-bitties–or, as one of my teacher friends calls them, ankle-biters–were all decked out to stand at the front and sing a song. Our teacher, who should have known better, had seated us in a pew, side-by-side. While the adults were doing their thing, Helen Ruth and I took the opportunity to converse.

My parents sat in the pew right behind us. They disapproved of talking during the service. My father picked me up, took me out on the front porch, and gave me a swat.

137
First United Methodist Church of Fentress, 2015. By MKW.

Ours was a small country church, and Daddy and I were maybe twenty feet from the back pew, so the congregation got the full benefit of my caterwauling.

And when we returned to the sanctuary, I refused to perform with the rest of the class.

Have I mentioned I don’t remember any of this?

Talking in church got me in trouble, but the swat got Daddy in trouble.

Because Mother blamed him for my declining to stand in front of the communion rail and be cute–and she was right; no way would I display myself in front of a bunch of people who’d heard that swat–and she stayed righteously indignant for the rest of her life. Periodically, she would say, “I was so mad at your father. All he had to do was lean over and say, ‘Girls, stop talking.'”

What really got her goat was that I refused to perform in Sunday school programs for several years thereafter.

I can’t fault my father, however. An inexperienced parent, he was trying to do the right thing.

Knowing what I do about myself, I’m sure I was angry and embarrassed. I was an eminently embarrassable child. I was also obstinate.

I know something else, too.

Years later my parents and I were sitting in the First Methodist Church in San Marcos, waiting for the choir to perform selections from The Messiah, when Daddy said, “I haven’t been in this church since I was ten years old.” That was 1925. “I went to Sunday school with Johnny Graham [a cousin], and they made me stand up and say my name and where I was from, and I never went back again.”

So there you are. Embarrassable is hereditary. So is obstinacy.

It gives me satisfaction to know that if my father had been removed to the front porch and given a swat, he wouldn’t have just refused to sing with his Sunday school class.

My father would have waited fifty years before he darkened that Methodist door.

 ***

I started this post for the purpose of telling a personal anecdote about a petting zoo but somehow got off onto Methodists and lost my way back. Because I have much more experience with Methodists–and Presbyterians and Baptists–than I do with petting zoos, it’ll be a while before I return to the animals. But that’s okay, because the church stories are a lot more interesting. And you won’t read them anywhere else.

The Tale of Kerwin, Part II: Ostracism

In yesterday’s post, I introduced my first best teaching story, that of Kerwin. Tonight brings that story’s stirring conclusion.

If you have not read Part I, please do so now. Part II will pack a much harder punch if you know what came before.

Since publishing Part I, I’ve realized I failed to name the librarian who serves as our main character. For convenience, I shall call her Mary.

And before beginning, I once again emphasize that although I know every detail of this story, and that Mary’s every thought and emotion resonates with me as if it were mine alone–even so, the story is not mine. The fact that Mary is my name as well as hers is mere coincidence.

Now to resume.

You recall that Mary has been stressed almost to the point of saying a word she has never said. And that it is the Class from Hail that she fears she will say it to.

I will not identify the C from H except to say that its students were old enough to know better. Period.

Mary and the C from H had maintained a peaceful coexistence for several months without incident. Mary had simply begun carrying a strong antacid in her purse on their class day.

On the day we meet them, Mary has prepared a lesson on reference books. She has made a set of transparencies. She plans to lecture. She plans to assign class work. She has great expectations. In the next forty-five minutes, she will turn the C from H into crack encyclopedia users.

Things did not go as Mary planned. Students came barreling across campus from the gymnasium. They were jiggly. They were wild. They did not care to sit and listen. Every time Mary opened her mouth, one of the C from H opened his or her mouth and spoke a gross irrelevancy. Mary thought about the antacid in her purse.

When, after eight or ten interruptions, Mary thought she had things under control, she began her lecture–again–but here came Kerwin. Late. Loud. Fully aware of the production he was making of himself.

Mary stopped, got Kerwin settled in his chair, got him settled again, got everybody settled again. Then she began–how many times now?–her talk.

For some reason, Kerwin decided he needed to move his chair. Halfway across the room. He stood, reached between his legs, took the seat of the chair in hand, and scooted it backwards across the carpet.

Now for another digression. I have described Mary as soft-spoken, polite, well-mannered. She was. But when pushed too far, Mary sometimes snapped. She increased in height. She became majestic. She spoke–not loudly–but even more softly, but in majestic, measured tones. She became Maya Angelou, Dame Edith Evans, John Gielgud, and the Incredible Hulk, all rolled into one. She was a most impressive sight.

And when Kerwin and his chair went scooting across the room, Mary snapped.

She strode over to Kerwin and took him oh-so-gently by the nape of the neck.

“Come with me,” she said. She turned and marched Kerwin to the door to the front room.

She had no idea where she was going or what she was going to do when she got there.

Once in the front room, she saw a chair by the front door. She marched Kerwin over to it.

“Sit there and don’t move,” she said.

She waved to the computer teacher to let her know Kerwin was there. Then she walked–majestically–back to the C from H.

When she walked in, the C from H were sitting at their tables. They were hushed. Their eyes were enormous.

Mary walked to the overhead projector, switched it on, pointed to the first transparency, and defined encyclopedia. She talked and talked and talked about the encyclopedia.

The C from H sat and stared with their great big eyes.

Finally, one of the C from H mustered enough courage to speak.

“Where’s Kerwin?” he said.

Mary answered, as if she’d never even heard of an antacid, “Kerwin has been ostracized.”

And in the little silence that followed, she saw one member of the C from H lean toward his neighbor and heard him whisper:

“She castrated him?”

If Mary’s career had a high point, this was it. Because she kept her cool. She got right back to her lecture.

She did not smile. She did not laugh. She did not fall on the floor and have a first-class case of hysterics.

She maintained her dignity.

When the time came, she escorted her class to the back door and shooed them out. Then she packed up her transparencies, shelved some books, did whatever had to be done before leaving campus.

Twenty minutes later, when she walked into the front room to return a reference book, she found Kerwin, still sitting in the chair by the door.

She’d forgotten to dismiss him.

He hadn’t moved a muscle.