1967-68 was not a good year to be in the sixth grade at Enosburg Falls Elementary School. It was Mrs. Wheeler’s first assignment as a brand-new teacher, and right from the start, the boys in the class took it into their heads that it would be a grand adventure to make her days in the classroom as miserable as possible by being as rude, disrespectful, and disruptive as possible in as many different ways as possible, to include stuffing worms in the pencil sharpener.
The only way Mrs. Wheeler could keep any kind of order in the class was by reading Cheaper by the Dozen aloud to us. I liked being read to, but I couldn’t understand how or why the world order of the classroom could be turned completely on its head, and the grown-up was powerless to stop it.
At the end of the school year, in June of 1968, presidential candidate Robert Kennedy was shot. I clearly remember Mrs. Wheeler bringing the school television into the room the next day so that we could follow the news reports of his condition. As various neurologists explained the nature of his injuries, Mrs. Wheeler expressed hope that he would live, but even as a sixth-grader, I knew there was no surviving that kind of damage to one’s brain.
Mrs. Wheeler did not return to Enosburg Falls Elementary the following school year. Time went by, and her class grew up. Then Columbine happened, utterly inconceivable to children whose idea of disrupting the world order was stuffing worms in the pencil sharpener.
Note: Since I tried to get cute in an early post by heading a damaged photo of my great-grandmother “Evidence of a Serial Killer?” I should explain that I Xed out two of my classmates’ faces to indicate that they had moved away and were no longer in my class. No animosity intended.