It was 1956 and I was in second grade at William Penn. My teacher was Miss Clark. I can still see her very clearly. Black hair, black horn-rimmed glasses and a wooden leg.
That first week, as we sat stuffily at our desks in starchy new clothes, we tried desperately not to gape and gawk at the leg. We'd all been warned. There was a decided limp as Miss Clark moved up and down the rows to check the accuracy of our work. It was a novelty to be in her class, but we soon settled in and forgot about The Leg.
I didn't feel sorry that she was missing a leg. I felt sorry that she was missing a husband. She was smart and had a good job, no cause for pity. But she was a "Miss" (as in Missing). I was sure her leg was the reason she wasn't married.
We started each day with the pledge of allegiance. I was so glad I wasn't in the classroom across the hall where they had to say a prayer everyday.
One day during a science lesson about weather, Miss Clark asked the class, "Who can tell me what FORCE is?" A pretty girl with very long curly hair raised her hand. "It's when two people are married and then they decide not to be married anymore," she quietly uttered. That was when I learned the definition of DIVORCE which had nothing to do with weather. To that point in my life, I didn't know a husband and wife could get un-married!
This was the year I was absent from school a total of thirty-nine days. I came down every childhood illnesses known to man. Measles, chicken pox, strep throat, colds, stomach flu. It was the year I had my tonsils removed. I remember the sick room at William Penn better than my classroom. It was a dimly lit, narrow room, painted a puke green, with two army cot beds . There was a green-print fabric screen between the beds. The pictures on the fabric were of Japanese men and women with kimonos surrounded by bonsai trees and waterfalls. I had it memorized. I even gave some of the women names.
The ACCIDENT happened while we were playing a game in the classroom--"Simon Says". One of the instructions was to hop to the coat rack--that's when and where everything went terribly wrong. I was shoved (hard) by a large boy into one of the coat hooks and "woke" up on the floor with thirty little heads gazing down at me. A larger head appeared. "Are you all right, Sheri," Miss Clark said with great concern.
The next time I "woke" up was in the sick room waiting for my mom to come get me. I think I threw up. Mrs. Barber, our next door neighbor, woke me the next time. "I'm taking you home. The nurse couldn't find your mom." The next time I woke up was at the Barber's house. I was wandering around trying to find the bathroom, where I promptly threw up again.
Mom finally came to take me to doctor. I just couldn't stay awake. At the clinic, Dr. King shined a bright light in my eyes. He kept saying, "Wake up, Sheri." In a fog, I heard him say, "What did you wear to school today?" I had to think really hard and struggled to stay awake long enough to reply. "I wore my grey jumper and my Red Dress." I was asleep again.
Days later, when I could finally stay awake, my family told me I had a brain concussion. I looked into the mirror and stared at the ugly, purple-tennis-ball sized goose egg on my forehead. It stared back. Easter was just a few days away and I had my very own giant purple egg. It all started coming back to me--what had happened. My parents were supposed to leave on their annual trip to the Masters' Golf Tournament in Las Vegas. My mom was making last minute purchases when the ACCIDENT occurred. I was not asleep all those times, I had been unconscious! I had several seizures and needless to say, my folks cancelled their much anticipated vacation.
When I returned to Miss Clark's class, I was something of a celebrity. Everyone had to touch the purple egg on my head. Miss Clark was happy to see me, "I'm so glad you're okay." I think I replied with-- "I think you're okay, too, Miss Clark!" (wooden leg and all).