It’s Not Nice to be Mean – Guest Post Adela Crandell Durkee – Painting Prose

Adela’s Once A Little Girl was one of the first blogs I stumbled upon as I began my blogging habit. I’ve been hooked ever since! She’s made me laugh out loud on several occasions, and then in the middle of my laughter, she’s brought a catch in my voice with a point driven home.  Adela’s words are written with such nostalgia and her voice brings me back to so many sweet memories. She is also the first blogger I found who lived in the same metropolis as I do…and we’re even meeting up at a writer’s conference soon! Needless to say, I can’t wait to hug her neck. I’m sure you will enjoy writing as much as I have!

When I was a little girl it was important to be nice.  Captain Kangaroo told me the magic words:  “Abracadabra, Please and Thank you.”  If I forgot, Mom or Dad reminded me, “Now what are the magic words?”
When I was in Kindergarten, I had a bunch of teachers, one at a time, most of the names I forgot, but I remember Mrs. Brown.  She was mean.  My older sister, Deanna, had Mrs. Markley; she was just like a grandma, so nice.  For some reason Mrs. Markley was out of school when I got to Kindergarten, I never figured out why; I thought maybe she died, ’cause teachers lived in the school, so if she wasn’t there, she must have died.  But the next year, Mrs. Markley was back; all the rest of the kids in my family had Mrs. Markley. I wondered where she went the year I started school.
The new teacher, Mrs. Brown was not nice; she was mean. Mrs. Brown told me I had to drink white milk, no chocolate milk, even if that’s what Mom wrote down for me to order.   “We don’t need to bother Mr. Rex with all these special orders.”  Mrs. Brown told the class.  Mr Rex always smiled when he delivered the milk. He was in charge of the whole school, he had a chain hooked to his belt with keys to every door in the entire school,  and he was super-nice.  Mr. Rex was the janitor.

Mrs. Brown had big “bowls” that hung way down below her waist; when she bent over they brushed on the table, and she kept a wrinkly hankie tucked in her belt.  I think she used the same hankie all week.  Her face was all pinched and grumpy like her hair got pulled back in her bun too tight so she was starting to get a headache, and she smelled like cottage cheese and boiled eggs.  One day she passed out brown construction paper with a picture of a leaf on it.
“You can color your leaf any color you want, because fall leaves are colorful.”  she told us.  I colored mine yellow, like the hickory tree in the field behind my house; Mom put hickory nuts in the cookies she baked.  Dale colored his leaf green.  Mrs. Brown picked up Dale’s leaf and held it up for everyone to see.  I thought she was gonna tell us how beautiful it was, ’cause everything he did was the best; I loved Dale.
“Children.”  she said.  Mrs. Brown always called us ‘children’, I don’t think she knew our real names.
“Look at this leaf.”  she pulled her eyebrows down low and together, so they touched each other.  That was not a nice face to pull, I knew that.
“No Fall leaves are green.”  Now she was shouting and Dale looked like he wanted to cry, except he knew that big boys don’t cry, and he wanted everyone to know he was a big boy.  It’s okay for big girls to cry.  No one told me that, but I saw Mom cry lots of times, sometimes she even cried what she called happy tears, like when Dad gave her something nice on Mother’s Day when she thought he forgot,  and me and Bonita had already made her mad by picking lilacs and breaking some of the branches down, and she tried hard to act happy.  So I knew big girls cry for all kinds of reasons, but not big boys, they never cry.  If big boys feel like crying they just swallow hard, till the feeling goes away.  Dale was  swallowing  so hard pretty soon he was going to have a stomach ache.
I piped right up, ’cause I had a really good memory.  “You said we could color them any color we wanted.  Remember?”  I probably don’t need to tell you that my helping made things a whole lot worse.
That night after supper, I told Dad that Mrs. Brown was mean.  He sat me on his lap and listened to the whole story.  One really good thing about my Dad, he was a very good listener.  He listened to every bit:  about the milk, about the coloring the leaves,  about Dale swallowing hard, and about me reminding Mrs. Brown.  I left out the part about how I loved Dale, but he might have known anyway.  Sometimes he knew stuff, the way Mom did, although his powers were a bit weaker.
“Maybe she just had a bad day.’ he offered.
“If that was it, she has an awful lot of bad days.  Like every day.”  I looked up into his blue eyes; they were calm and clear, like her was figuring out an arithmetic problem in his head.
“Well, tomorrow, I want you to go right up to Mrs. Brown, put on your best smile and say, ‘Good morning, Mrs. Brown.  How are you today?’  I bet that will get her day off to a good start, and things will go a whole lot better.”  I must have looked doubtful, ’cause then he said, “You’ve got the best smile I ever saw.  That smile will charm the socks right off Mrs. Brown.”
I still had my doubts, and I wasn’t that interested in seeing Mrs. Brown’s feet, but the idea of her socks flying off was pretty funny, so I started to laugh. Besides that, Dad knew a lot, like how to tell arrowheads from rocks and how to tie a hook on a fishing line, so I trusted him.  The next day, I marched right up to Mrs. Brown, and said just like Dad told me:  “Good morning Mrs. Brown.  How are you today?”
She smiled right down at me and said.  “Now, don’t dawdle, go hang your coat up.”  I was thinking about saying “Abracadabra, please and thank you.”  but I wanted that smile to stay right where it was, so I stayed quiet.
A couple of weeks later, Mrs. Brown was gone, and we had a new teacher, who must have been nice, because I would have remembered another mean one.  I found out years later, that the principal asked Mrs. Brown to “step down’ and she did.  I heard she suffered from depression, which in those days, went undiagnosed for most people.  I’m glad that Dad gave me the advice he did; I got to feel like I had a little control, while the parents worked things out behind the scene.    Of course I’m not always nice;  it’s good to know I have a (w)itch  in my tool belt when I really need her,  but I prefer to be nice.  I feel a lot better about myself and I end up feeling better about whatever meanie I come up against.  And I try to keep in mind, that the meanie might be dealing with problems that are far beyond my comprehension. Besides, smiling is infectious, and I love smiling.

Drop a note in the comment section to let Adela know how much you enjoyed hearing about her childhood.

If this is your first time here, let me explain what we are all about. We are a community started by Emily Wierenga. It was called Imperfect Prose. She is on a bit of a vacation as she has some extra responsibilities at the moment.

If you are new, please check out Emily’s blog. It is one of the most beautiful places on earth, and you need to be acquainted with the woman who made all of this happen!


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23 thoughts on “It’s Not Nice to be Mean – Guest Post Adela Crandell Durkee – Painting Prose

  1. i just loved this. i felt like i was in the classroom with Mrs. Brown and little Adela. i had a teacher that was mean like this, one of the few negative memories i have of elementary school. i raised my hand in music class and said, “i don’t get it.” she replied angrily, “what? what? you don’t get?” I was totally confused until she said the proper thing to say was understand. now you have me wondering if she didn’t suffer with a mental illness.
    wonderful post.

  2. My kids have both had a teacher that is known for being cruel in the classroom. She has had countless complaints from parents but year after year, she still teaches seventh grade science. It has been a life lesson for my children on how not to treat people and to pray for people that you don’t like. And we often have discussions about what we don’t know about people that make them behave unkindly. Your story was sweet, nice to meet you here.

    • You are so right. I think one of the less touted lessons of the classroom is getting along with people we don’t understand. Later on it serves us with a difficult boss or co-worker, or just someone standing in line in front of us.

      I was in a long line with my grown daughter, with a loud, grumpy (and big) man behind us. “Here, you can go ahead of me. It looks like you need to get out of here more than I do,” she said.

      Later she told me she likes to do that just to see the look of bewilderment on the grouse’s face. Besides, he had a cart full of cold medication. He probably didn’t feel well.

      It is a fun thing to do. Plus, an act of kindness.

  3. It hurts when I think about all the things I didn’t/couldn’t understand as a child. And how many things children don’t/can’t understand about me now. We all need grace for the journey. You had a wise father. Thanks for sharing this beautiful story.

    • Well, look at that picture…What’s not to love? I was adorable, but it took a whole lot of wisdom and patience to be my parents.

      Once a friend told me he would love to have a clone. “Think how wonderful it would be to raise yourself. You’d understand everything about the child.”

      I was aghast and failed to censor myself. “Oh my, no,” I blurted out. “I would NEVER want to raise myself, it’s hard enough to be me. I wouldn’t want to raise me.”

      Adorable? Yes. A challenge? Double-yes.

  4. What a wise man your daddy is, knowing that everyone is fighting a battle of some kind. So much in this piece brought back rich memories–lilacs, hickory trees, Captain Kangaroo, and the descriptive detail of your teacher. I think I recognized a few of my grade school teachers in her. And, I could have sworn that the janitor and his wife lived in the basement of my elementary school.

    Beautiful piece. Thanks, KD, for featuring Adela here.

    • It is such a treat to be featured here. Thank you for the positive feedback. Besides the lessons in compassion, Dad’s advice taught me that I had some control over how my day unfolded. I often wonder how much he worried that his advice would backfire. Then again, who can resist a child’s smile?

  5. I’m here late this week, but I’m so glad I came! That was just awesome. We’ve all had a mean Mrs. Brown somewhere in our childhood, and my heart aches for her and young Dale. Thank you for sharing this story with us, and the lessons within.

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