Miss Brennenstuhl. My forever favorite teacher. How I even remember how to spell her name is a miracle in of itself. Up until junior high, my teachers would be female.
Miss Brennenstuhl was my 6th grade teacher. She had blonde hair and wore glasses. She was quite angular and thin with long legs. She wore shirt waist dresses with flowing skirts. Her full lips covered a slight overbite and she kept them painted with bright red lipstick and I remember she smiled easily. Oh, and she smelled nice. Was she pretty? I don’t know, but to me she was old, but she had to have been at least 40 and I think I was more fixated on the noticeable amount of makeup and the stylish clothes she wore. To put it simply she was put together quite admirably. Why that impressed me, I have no clue. I was a tomboy. When she wore her hair down, it was slightly longer and fuller on the bottom than Marilyn’s here but same style. Her makeup almost exactly the same. When her hair was up, she was classy.
She was what one would have called, in those days, a spinster. An unmarried “older” woman over 30, yet looking not unlike the above pictures. She wore yellow often.
At times, she could be quite stern and because I was the child that was generally on any teachers bad side, I wasn’t on hers. For some reason, she took to me. Perhaps I was her challenge for the year. The one she made it her goal to impact positively and she did.
School had not been easy for me. In kindergarten, I remember having a teacher, who did not accept that when I asked to go potty, I meant it. I think she thought I was fooling around in the john. Perhaps there were some kids who might have, but I really had to go. Often.
One day, just as we were getting ready to sit on the floor to have our lunch, I asked to be excused, she said, “No”. A few minutes later, she was having to buy lunches for the kids who were unfortunate enough to be sitting near me. From then on, she never said “No”. But she also penalized me for it by holding me back and making me go to pre-first, because I guess lacked the maturity and discipline to move on with the rest of my class. That was such a disappointment to me, but after awhile I made new friends, but I never got over feeling as though I wasn’t good enough.
Then in second grade. I was always getting yelled at and I was always crying and I remember how this teacher could barely look at me and I’d start crying and because she always made me cry, I then got tagged with the moniker “Howling Coyote”. She must have been pretty intimidating and scary to me for whatever reason. But, I was always in trouble in that class and I can’t remember why. On the playground, a young roundish Mexican boy name Bobby Gonzalez would be my worst tormentor and others would then follow suit.
Mrs. McConnell, third grade was of Japanese descent married to an American. I remember her name because it didn’t fit her looks. Behind her back, I recall kids making racial slurs and comments. In retrospect, she was probably as American as I am as well. There was definitely no accent. She was stern, but I remember learning, the alphabet and how to form my letters properly with her. In her class is when I would learn to read so she was okay. I loved reading and penmanship and because of her and the teacher that followed, I had beautifully formed letters. Of course, I know I wasn’t the only one with good penmanship because it was stressed to us in those days. Sadly, this would not continue because as the years have past, young people today can hardly write cursive at all. I noticed too that girls were generally better than boys at cursive and boys tended to print better. I knew a few boys who could do both equally well, but that wasn’t the norm.
I remember my 4th grade teachers vaguely. That year I started out the year in Alabama and finished it in California. My 4th grade teacher had also been my fathers. I think her name was Mrs. Foote. and then I had Mrs. Newman in California. Nothing terribly exciting there except again, Bobby Gonzalez. He quit calling me “howling coyote” but would tease me about my newly acquired southern drawl, exaggerating it by just calling out “y’all”. Why he hadn’t noticed my accent before I don’t know other than perhaps it got stronger that year I was away.
School districts were divided and Bobby would be no more until junior high. These next years were when I remember learning about and growing fond of the library.
My 5th grade teacher was also strict but I’m not sure fair, perhaps she was but I couldn’t tell. I know I wasn’t a favorite. Sometimes I thought she liked me fine but at other times not so much. However, she was the one who discovered I could draw when she asked all the kids to draw a picture for Veterans Day, in addition to writing an essay to go along with it. She would then enter it in a competition. I painted a field of poppies on a hill. Myself and Alex Rapach, a new boy in school, won top honors for our art and essays. He was a great artist and always knew he would grow up to be an architect. Knowing what I know now about architects, it was no wonder, he was a natural. During recess, he would make me hanky mice, while I played jacks. He then taught me how to make them myself, a skill I have long since forgotten, but he was my first crush and because of that I was always trying to keep up. Until that year I never realized I could be good at drawing or painting. I enjoy them both, but the truth of it is, I’m just okay at it. I accidentally finish something worthwhile, but it’s rare and those all belong to other people now. Mostly because they loved them, so they were gifted. Whaaat? Isn’t that what it’s all about?
By 6th grade, our love had faded and then came Miss Brennenstuhl, who would further cultivate my artistic nature. I’m not sure I was liked that well at first because I am a talker, a fault that aggravated all my teachers actually, but we connected through my art, which she encouraged and through music and stories. She loved reading to us and she did so so well, that I was able to see those stories play out in my mind like I was there with the characters. Between those two teachers my love for books and reading grew exponentially. If anything could shut me up, it would be a book. That year I would become lost and feral in Alaska with Buck and I would learn about the trials of Anne Frank for the first time.
What connected us and made Miss Brennenstuhl stand out was dance. I think I may have really wanted to impress her because one day, I mentioned I had an Arthur Murray Way record on dancing. It came complete with diagrams for foot placement. She asked if I could bring it and I supposed I could and did. I think my mom bought it in hopes dad would learn to dance and maybe take her dancing, but I believe I was the one who got the most use out of it.
With me as her guinea pig, I say that because the one thing I don’t have is rhythm, but she was patient with me and she and I would demonstrate to the rest of the class, the steps to the Samba, the Foxtrot, box step and the Tango. I was a klutz, but I always got to be the first one to try a new routine with her. Boy did she light up when she danced and it was thrilling to see. I was quite tickled and pleased.
Another time, for art class, I drew a huge Bird of Paradise that turned out magnificently. It’s pose was similar to the second photo below but it’s tail spread like the first, it was beautiful if I may say so. She loved it and hung it up in her classroom for the remainder of the year. At the end of the school year, she asked if I would mind if she kept it. I gladly gave it to her and when I went to visit her several years later, it was still up in her room. I don’t know if anyone can relate to this, but she built me up in so many ways. Most importantly, she proved to me that she hadn’t lied when she said she liked it. Do you know how that would make a kid who got beat up and knocked around at home feel? She made me feel valued and that meant the world to me.
Later on, I would look back at the teachers I had and the ones I liked the most were not necessarily the easy going ones, but the ones that had structure. I remember a teacher that goofed off all the time in class and I nearly failed her class. There were no guidelines, I never felt like I knew what was expected of me. I remember my boyfriend getting straight A’s in her class, but not me. He was one of those that never studied either and boy was I surprised when he graduated with honors.
Since then I have figured out, judging by my son that I may have had ADD. I wasn’t stupid, just needing that structure. I remember when we moved to a different area, the school he would have been assigned to would be open concept, a no walls classroom. So we drove him elsewhere, we knew he would never be able to focus in that environment. Even to this day, I’m a tell me what you want and don’t beat around the bush kind of girl, because if you don’t make it clear, you can bet, I won’t get it. I’m also the gaze out the window kinda girl, easily distracted. I’ve gotten better, but it wasn’t easy growing up.
If you were to watch me clean house, you’d see that in action. If you remember the diagram of Billy in Family Circus, taking the long way to get from point A to point B? That’s me. I’m sure I’d make the average person dizzy watching me work. But… I get the job done and I can be OCD … I like a place for everything and everything its place.
Have a good “Lockdown Day”! Be kind to someone and give them a call or just say “Hi”
I caught my neighbor outside yesterday and we yakked for awhile. He lives alone, so imagined he’d be lonely, so from 40 feet, we talked, keeping our social distance. I think he appreciated it.