Do you ever have memories from childhood that just stick in your head?
I was seven in 1957 and I was not crazy about adding and subtracting in Grade 2 in Miss Robinson’s room in Read School in North Camden, but it was okay. She wrote problems on the blackboard in white chalk and we copied them on that arithmetic paper that has little chunks of wood and would stop the pencil. I knew math facts because my mother had taught them to us at home and I had a good memory. I flew through the problems because I would have a book in my desk—a book that I hadn’t read or hadn’t finished.
If I recall correctly, Miss Robinson had long low shelves along the wall filled with books. She loved books, I supposed.
I would do the math even faster if I had one of the twins series from those shelves, “The Dutch Twins in Holland,” “The Chinese Twins in China,” The Belgian Twins in Belgium” and so on. I’d finish my work, not worrying if it was sloppy because I couldn’t wait to get to my book.
She was beautiful with her curled white hair, red lipstick and pretty sweaters. She liked to talk about her life and how she had traveled to China. She never married (I guess!) and she lived with a boarder, Mr. Coffee.
Mr. Coffee used to pick her up in his car after school. He was in real estate, I think. (I’m pretty sure that was his name because my dad used to joke and say, “How’s Mr. Tea?”) Sometimes Mr. Coffee would come into the classroom at the end of the day and draw “germs” on the blackboard for us. I remember him as jolly and gentlemanlike in a suit and tie.
Quite distinctly, I remember standing in our kitchen near the back door where the light came in and having my mother brush my long hair with the good ivory-colored brush from the Fuller Brush Man. It was a proud purchase for me by my mother and I never forgot it. My mother was being chatty and friendly about school and I decided to ask her a question that had been buzzing in my mind for some time. “Mom, you know Mr. Coffee, right? He picks up Miss Robinson after school sometimes.”
“Yes. Why?” said Mom.
“Well, is he Miss Robinson’s boyfriend?”
She enunciated. “No, he is her boarder. He just lives in her house.”
That made sense to me that two old lonely people who had white hair should be in the same house. But, perhaps my teacher and her boarder might have been in their forties. Not as many people colored their hair in the 1950’s.
My mother took my hair and twisted it until I felt that I was going blind and she secured the ponytail with a rubber band. She stood to look at the nice job she did with my hair.
I innocently asked one more question. “Do Miss Robinson and Mr. Coffee sleep together in Miss Robinson’s bed?”
My mother smacked me with the good hairbrush that she bought from the Fuller Brush Man.
So much for knowing anything personal about my beloved Miss Robinson except that she could write words in Chinese and talk about her travels… I meant that question in all innocence and didn’t figure out for many years why I got in trouble for that question. I didn’t know that was one of those “none of your business” questions.
Marguerite Ferra, someone who has to write down all these memories while she still has them!