Tuesday, February 4, 2014
I’m surprised they let Mrs. McDonald teach us crippled children at the Chicago Public elementary school for cripples. I’m surprised no parents started a petition drive to get rid of her. Surely someone must have suspected her of being a “spinster.” Where I come from, that’s what they called old lesbians in the 1960s. “Spinsters.” A young lesbian was a tomboy. I’m not sure where one crossed the line from one to the other. I think a tomboy officially became a “spinster” when it became clear she was never going to grow out of it.
“Spinsters.” And the way the adults put the word in quotes when spoken was by casting down eyebrows or whispering. Wink wink. A known “spinster” had a hard time getting a job as a teacher back then, let alone a job teaching crippled children. Children, after all, are our most vulnerable citizens and crippled children are the most vulnerable of the most vulnerable.
Mrs. Mc Donald was the first women I ever saw in person who seemed like she just might be one of those “spinster” types. First off, she had a “spinster” haircut: short, straight, no nonsense. And she never changed her hairdo. But here was the biggest flashing arrow of all: she taught shop!
“This tool is called an awl,” Mrs. McDonald said to the crippled boys in shop class. “Everybody say it with me. Aaaaawwwwwwwwllll.”
But there were also two reasons why people might have given Mrs. McDonald the benefit of the doubt about being a “spinster.” One, she also taught home economics to the crippled girls. This meant she wasn’t completely butch. She hadn’t completely asphyxiated her feminine side. So maybe she wasn’t a “spinster.” Maybe she was just “versatile.”
And the other reason people might have given Mrs. McDonald the benefit of the doubt was that she made frequent mention of a Mr. McDonald. I didn’t know if there ever was an actual confirmed sighting of this Mr. McDonald. But I did know in my seventh-grade mind that if there really was a Mr. McDonald, he had to be the most happily-married SOB ever. He had a wife who could change his tire and cook him a soufflé. And of course that necessarily meant that she was also a wildcat in bed.
As far as I could tell there were no men teaching at the cripple school who could be suspected of being a “confirmed bachelor.” That was the polite word for the male equivalent of a “spinster.” I don’t think a “confirmed bachelor” could have gotten away with teaching both home ec and shop like Mrs. Mc Donald did. Because if he behaved in a manner that left little doubt that he was a “confirmed bachelor,” they would never have let him teach shop. But if he didn’t behave in a manner that left little doubt that he was a “confirmed bachelor,” they never would have let him teach home ec. Even today on those TV shows where a guy helps a bride plan her wedding or pick out the perfect gown, the guy seems to be required to behave in a manner that leaves little doubt that he is a “confirmed bachelor.” But he’s never flaming. He behaves in a manner that leaves little doubt that he is a “confirmed bachelor” just enough to give him the necessary street cred to host the show. So even if a guy is the most talented wedding planner or gown picker-outer or homemaker that ever lived, he won’t get far if he acts like a Marine drill sergeant. You just can’t bust into a home ec classroom and blurt, “All right listen up! Today we’re gonna make snickerdoodles! Now look alive!”