Sex and the Ninth Grade Ninny

The column I wrote for this weekend is a tribute to my middle school teacher who just last week departed this life at the ripe old age of 102. You can see it at right now by clicking here.

In it I told of the English class we had her for and her sweet vexed utterances at all our hi-jinks. (“What AILS you people?” she was always saying to us.) I did not tell how naughty we really were, especially my best friend Kathy and I. For example we had a music teacher named Miss Priest, a maiden lady, young and pale in a cashmere sweater and pearls who disapproved of the two of us, perhaps because we held our violins under our chins in Orchestra and those instruments just shook with our laughter the whole time we were rehearsing up under the sweltering roof of that Civil War-era schoolhouse. Kathy always got assigned the cool complicated part with many curlicues and arpeggios, while I was always given the dumb part that no matter what the tune was went basically “Uh uh, UH uh, uh uh, UH uh…” – just the two sounds, just what you could saw out for the low notes without doing too much violence to the melody. A monkey could have played my part and this was what we found so killingly funny. We laughed all through “Scenes from Carmen” and even, preparing for graduation, through the grave and weighty bars of “Pomp and Circumstance” itself

We thought we didn’t like Miss Priest; probably we had crushes on her. Anyway we found a greeting card designed for an ordination, tore out the real message inside, wrote a new message in a demented-looking scrawl and slipped it under her door. “Thou Art a Priest Forever” the real part of the card said, then in our writing on the inside, “That is, until I crush you in my arms my little PASSION FLOWER ha HAH!” We didn’t get suspended but we sure-enough got caught and so set out to compose a long and earnestly over-the-top letter of apology that made us feel wonderful connected to the side of the angels, just wonderfully forgiven if only by ourselves.

And that wasn’t half as bad as what we did when we found out the youngest male teacher in the school was getting married: We put a jar of Vaseline on his desk which carried the strong implication that of all things he would need in his new conjugal state Vaseline was uppermost – just as if we actually knew Thing One about the marital act, which, uh, we didn’t.

Back in the late-90’s, thirty years and three kids into my own marriage I remember a youth group leader telling the high school kids we both worked with that they really and truly would be a lot better off postponing sex until much later because it was, well… it was just too complicated.

“Complicated?” said one of these sweet kids, looking truly puzzled. “Why complicated?”

“Let’s just say it involves a lot of towels,” she said with a meaningful look.

Dave! I rushed right home and said to my husband, “I think we’re doing it wrong!”

Ah dear…Our old English teacher was great all right but how could she answer the pressing questions of her middle-schoolers? How could anyone have answered them when what we really wondered about was sex which of all things in this wide world is STILL the most mysterious?

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