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“With my ambivalent feelings about school, if anyone would have told me that I would become a school teacher, I wouldn’t have believed it. I didn’t care for school. To begin with, my older sister, Millie, was the studious one among us children, whereas my brother, David, and I were content to receive average grades. I did not like history or geography, but I did enjoy my classmates! Interestingly enough, as an adult, I enjoyed teaching geography and at home I constantly pulled out maps.”  Anna Bortel Church

School as an Inconvenience

At age five, Anna Bortel’s parents enrolled her in kindergarten on the campus of Bowling Green Normal school, a teacher-training school, now known as Bowling Green State University. Every afternoon, there was naptime on sundry colored pieces of carpet. “Why do we have to rest when we’re not tired?” She wondered.

Lying still was inconvenient when a myriad of other possibilities existed. Her eyes would run around the room as she waited for the slow clock hands to make twenty minutes pass. Then one day, she found a distraction: a silhouette. Jimmy, a rotund boy lay flat on his back with his legs outstretched. Sunlight streamed in from the windows and accentuated his high, round stomach. For the longest time, the mound remained absolutely still. Then he coughed. The shape heaved up and down, and the legs made sharp jumps. Time went by more quickly as she anticipated his next move.

School as a Tragedy

Anna frequently raised her hand when the teacher asked for a volunteer. One day this resulted in tragedy. It was her turn to clean the fish bowl that held a school of guppies, swimming merrily around in circles. Another student and Anna carefully carried the bowl to a dimly lit basement room. Brooms, mops, and cleaning supplies stood at their sides as they made their way towards a deep sink. Tipping the bowl on its side, they conscientiously held their hands over the lip as the water slowly flowed through their fingers.

When they refilled the bowl, Anna suddenly noticed in horror and exclaimed to my classmate, “There are only three fish left! What happened to the others?”

Sadly, they trudged back to the classroom. “What will we tell teacher?” Anna whispered. Tears filled her eyes. She felt sure she could never be trusted again.

Embarrassing Information Learned at School

One day when the Bortel family had guests for a noon meal, Anna seized the opportunity to share what she thought was a wonderful rhyme that a schoolmate had taught her. She proceeded to repeat,

Mary had an alarm clock

                        She swallowed it one day.

                        Now she’s taking castor oil

                        To pass the time away.

Grinning in delight, she looked around the table. No one laughed. Her parents looked down at the napkins on their laps, although muffled chuckles slipped out from their down-turned faces. Anna sensed something was wrong. Later, when they explained the purpose of taking castor oil, she understood her blunder.

 School and Bullies

Although Anna rode the school bus with David, and at times had stood behind him when fearful, she soon tackled life’s provocations on her own. For a number of days, she found herself confronted by Harry, a plump red-haired boy. Continuous wooden benches, worn smooth and shiny by years of transporting children, ran around the perimeter of the bus. Harry deliberately seated himself at the opposite end of the bench seat from where Anna always sat. Each school day, the scenario was the same. Harry smirked at Anna and gathered up all the force of his stout body. Planting his feet firmly on the floor and pushing off from the bench’s end, he would come blasting towards her. She braced herself, turned her back, and clung to the seat, hoping her fingers wouldn’t get stuck in the gum, commonly disposed of beneath it. Chortling, he would slam into Anna, pushing her toward the front of the bus.

At breakfast one morning, Anna told herself that this would be the last day for such humiliation. When Harry climbed onto the bus, she glared at him. He smirked. She prepared herself as he launched himself towards her. The human cannon ball gained speed. Anna’s heart throbbed in her ears. After the impact, Anna jumped up, grabbed his stringy red hair with one hand and pounded on his head with the other. His freckled face contorted in surprise. He winced. Anna turned red and breathless. When she finally released her grip, he meekly retreated to his spot near the back of the bus. Anna never had trouble with him again.

For years, Anna did have trouble with a guilty conscience for giving him such a beating, even though her take-charge spirit would come in handy when she beat on uncooperative oil stove fuel lines as a school teacher in Alaska.

 

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