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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Authority Figures: Teacher, Mrs. C, Conclusion

     “Who knows how the way Sojourner said the word b e e n is different from the way you and I say it?” Different? Different! What is she talking about? I sat down without being given permission, confused as much as embarrassed. “Sojourner pronounced the word been like we would pronounce the word bean, didn’t she?”

     “But, Mrs. C, Sojourner always says it like that.” The lone voice was, immediately,  joined by a chorus of kids as one after another they spoke out their confirmation to the waiting teacher, who was not sitting now but was smiling. Could it get worse? Yes, it could and did.

     “Ye-e-es, but do you know why she always says it like that?” The kids were busy looking at one another for an answer and no one was actually looking at me, which was my only comfort.

     “Hey, Sojourner, do you know the answer she is wanting:” the girl in the desk behind whispered to the back of my head. I shook my head ever-so slightly. I was totally clueless.

     “It is because her mother is not an American. She comes from a foreign country and has taught Sojourner to talk like that.” The kids all looked at me and, when the teacher began to laugh, so did the class. Well, I can tell you one thing that happened at that exact moment in time that never left my memory. My humiliation at being singled out exploded into a vicious, protective rage. To my young mind, the whole class was laughing at my mother. I shot to my feet as though propelled out of a canon.

     “Stop it! Stop laughing at my mother! She is too an American. You don’t know what you’re talking about.” My face was crimson and felt hot enough to sizzle if someone dared to touch my cheek. Suddenly, the room was totally silent, save for my sobbing.

     “Oh, Sojourner, we aren’t laughing at you or your mother. I didn’t know your mother had gained citizenship in this country. Your mother was born and raised in Australia, wasn’t she? I just wanted the children to notice that different countries may pronounce words in a slightly different way, even though they are spelled and mean the same. The way you and your mother pronounce the word is not wrong; it is just not the American way.” Mrs. C. clapped her hands and directed the children to pick up their books again. She was ready to move on, while I was ready to bolt. I had never ever noticed any difference in the way I pronounced any words. I did sound like my mother, but I did not know that what she said was different either. Did my sisters also sound like us? Did my father, who was born and raised in Montana sound like us? We were a family; of course, we must sound the same, mustn’t we?

     For the remainder of that particular English class, these were the questions over-riding whatever anyone else might be saying. I never found out what happened to Farmer Bob and his wife, or even if he finally finished milking those cows. I just wanted to go home and listen to my family talk.

     This particular subject was never raised again in Mrs. C’s English class, neither did she ever mention it to me. Mrs. C knew English very well; but, sadly, she did not know much about kids. I would have some exceptional English teachers in subsequent years. Not until my last year of university studies, did I experience another painful event at the hands, literally, of my English teacher. It was one of those “put out or flunk” situations. But, then, that is a story for another day when I will share memories from the 20’s decade, eh? Suffice it to say, Dr. B had no idea just who he had threatened!

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