April 7, 1997 Monday
In one month will be our real last day of actual school (the official last week is Senior Week). One month. I don’t know a senior who isn’t ready to graduate. A goal I have for myself is to take my French teacher Mrs. Spacey the rest of the way around the bend. Today I asked her what she thought of Sigmund Frued’s theory of “out of sight, out of existence.” You see, I am now convinced Mrs. Spacey is just a figment of everyone’s imagination, floating around like a timid, loony apparition. Perhaps all of the world’s vapidity is being channeled into the making a physical being, that somehow dug a teaching license out from the bottom of her morning cereal. One that shows up to our class first hour, often after we do, from some aging mushroom commune. So far I haven’t been able to make my figment disappear.
The following portion I have entitled Bushels of Corncob Memories. It is meant to record my favorite (and infamous) moments of our lives at school, and perhaps Elmwood in general. I hope to put one in each regular entry, hopefully at times from voices other than mine. I’ll go first.
Bushels of Corncob Memories As told by Will Carlson
Mrs. Spacey is only the second teacher to draw my ire as a student for dereliction (overall the teachers at Elmwood have been great!). Here was the first:
Our freshman year we had an English teacher named Mary Rowen. Mrs. Rowen was just as insane as Mrs. Spacey, and maybe a bit more. We made her life miserable. Willa and Jake Pruitt would lead most of the pin-pricking misery. Jake is understandable, as being a jokester is in his blood, but the fact that our valevictroain-in-the-running was also bedeviling Mrs. Rowen lends credence that this educator was out of her depths.
They once taped her entire briefcase to the wall, and at another time they stapled her grade book to her desk. Will Davies killed her plant with salt. Spitballs littered her ceiling. Why? Here is just one example of what drew on such a bullseye: Early in our freshman year we were sitting in class, at the end of first hour, and the passing bell rang. Mrs. Rowen hadn’t heard it. Even though everyone else in the school was in the hallway, swarms of students now going past her door, she wouldn’t let us leave because she thought everyone was playing a trick on her!
We also watched the 1968 version of Romeo and Juliet at another part of the year, after reading the play. I can vividly see Mrs. Rowen from my second row seat, stopping the VHS tape just after the marriage scene. Her mission of great concern and concentration–that we were clueless about–was to fast-forward past the briefest of nudity concerning actress Olivia Hussey. Instead, she hit “play” right on it, to our shock. She did the same thing in the other classes, too.
Now, Mrs. Rowen was pretty old. And her short-cropped hair was brown with a slight tinge of grey. You could imagine our stunned expressions (and inability to contain our laughter), when we walked into class one Monday morning, there she sat at her desk, her hair now jet black with a tinge of purple. Several of us (myself included) had trouble going into the room. We attempted it more than once, but we continually failed, Hoke and I returning to the hallway to laugh ourselves to red-faced, crying messes.
As a final remembrance of Mrs. Rowen, one day we were not paying attention (more than usual),and without warning she did something we never would have guessed. She was standing in front of us all, and directly in front of me. Suddenly, I guess fed up with the distractions, she began to hit herself in the head, saying something like she wasn’t qualified to teach us. Even if no picture exists I will always have the image of my English teacher slapping her own face in front of her students. We, the Class of 1997, like to think we drove Mrs. Rowen crazy. To Mrs. Rowen, you are qualified to be a charter member in the Teachers Hall of Shame.
Mrs. Rowen retired at the close of that year.
*From 2016: As a now-former Illinois secondary teacher myself, of English, U.S. History, Civics and more, after reading these memories again after many years I am very glad, in a way, to have not taught my high school class. …She was batty though.