I’m receiving a wonderful honor today. I’m the first author to be featured as the Always Buying Books Author of the Week. I was thrilled to be asked and will be recording my author video at the bookstore today.
Always Buying Books is a local bookstore that supports local authors with a zest that touches my heart and those of many of my author friends. Bob and Alyse go above and beyond to support our local talent, and this author is most grateful. They keep a few of the books in which my work appears, and those of other local authors, in stock.
I decided the best way to celebrate being ABB’s Author of the Week would be to thank them, which I will do, and share one of my stories.
“My Ugly Chair” is a creative nonfiction piece that I wrote in high school during Advanced Creative Writing. I’ve done some light editing, but this story is still much the same as when I wrote it in 1989.
The interesting thing about this story is that my mom never knew a thing about this incident until she read about it many years after the fact. Back then, the teachers handled things at school and expected the parents to handle things at home.
An earlier version of this story was published by Z Publishing in Missouri’s Emerging Writers in 2018. I hope you enjoy my little memoir, “My Ugly Chair,” in which I have changed the names to protect the innocent.
My Ugly Chair
I’ve always liked pretty things. I grew up watching my mom cover ugly upholstered furniture with colorful slipcovers and paint wooden furniture that had lost its luster. She always told me that she was making it pretty.
When I was in kindergarten, I had the ugliest chair in existence. It was almost the color of a pig, but not quite. In all of my five years on Earth, I had never seen such an ugly color. I remember telling Lisa, the girl with whom I shared the heavy ancient two person wooden desk, “Some red or purple would be prettier.”
Then it hit me. The chair in front of me had streaks of orange on the back where someone had drawn. I could do that. I could color my ugly chair! The more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea.
After I had said my ABC’s for Mrs. Davis, I set to work. I got out my crayons and looked at what I had. I was one of the lucky ones. My mommy had bought me a box with 64 crayons, so I had no shortage of color.
The more I thought about it, silver would be prettier. I put my crayon box on the shelf between my work space and Lisa’s, taking out my Pug book, so Mrs. Davis wouldn’t think there was anything going on. I put Pug on my desk and turned the pages with my right hand while I reached behind me with my left hand and started to color the back of my chair silver.
“Recess time,” Mrs. Davis announced as she rang the little silver bell that she kept on her desk.
The tinkling of the recess bell was my favorite sound. The sound meant it was time go outside and let my imagination run wild with my friends. That day Sally and I pretended we were super heroes. I was Wonder Woman and she was Super Girl. Our mission was to save the world.
Mrs. Davis blew the whistle indicating that recess was over, and we all lined up to go back inside. We returned to the classroom and as I was grabbing my crayons, Mrs. Davis called me up to her desk.
She gave me a green pencil and told me to write the letter “S.” I wrote an “S,” but it was backwards. She told me to write an “F.” I wrote a backward “F.” She gave me a piece of paper that had all of my ABC’s on it with a bunch of lines.
“Ruthie,” Mrs. Davis began, “be sure to write each letter five times.” She held up five fingers. Her red nail polish glistened in the sunlight from the window as she wiggled her fingers. “Be sure to put your name on it, and get to work.”
I didn’t want to practice my letters, so I took out my red crayon and colored the back of my chair some more. When my arm got tired of being behind my back, I finally wrote my letters. I was very careful with “F” and “S.” When I was finished, I took my paper up to her desk where she looked it over. She told me that I did a good job and could go get the milk with Allen.
Allen and I went down to the kitchen and loaded our basket with milk. We returned to the classroom with our burden, and set it down, taking our own cartons with us. One by one, everyone was allowed to go grab a milk carton. We all loved Milk Time. While I was drinking my milk and talking to Lisa, my arm was behind me coloring away.
“Ruthie, what do you have behind your back? Show me what’s in your hand.” Mrs. Davis stood with her hands on her hips and her head tilted to one side.
“A red crayon.” I held my hand out for her to see and ducked my head in embarrassment.
She came to my desk and looked at me. “What are you coloring?”
“My chair, Mrs. Davis,” I said. “I want to make it pretty.”
“Ruthie, we don’t just color things that we think are ugly. We only color on paper that is made for coloring. What you have done is deface school property. It’s very wrong to do that. The chair doesn’t belong to you, so you can’t change anything about it.” Mrs. Davis looked like she was thinking about going to get the dreaded red paddle from the office.
“It is almost time to go,” she said with a sigh. “You’ll have to clean it all off tomorrow.”
“Class, throw your milk cartons in the trash, and get your things ready to go home.” Mrs. Davis ordered.
The bell rang indicating that it was time to line up. The girls lined up on the right side of the door, and the boys lined up on the left side. The school day was finally over, and I was safe for a little while.
The next morning I sat with Lisa on the bus. She said I should have been careful not to get caught. “If you had told me what you were doing, I could have stood guard.” I thought Lisa must have seen too many movies.
When we arrived at our old country school at end of a gravel road in the tiny town of Asbury, Missouri, everyone stared at me, but no one said anything. I was terrified. The old red brick schoolhouse seemed to grow and reach for me like in those scary movies where kids go in and are never heard from again.
We walked into the classroom where Mrs. Davis met us at the door. “Class, take your seats.”
My chair was in the old art sink beside the door. The sink was a relic left from bygone days before the school had a kindergarten class and the room had been the art and music room. With no chair to sit upon, I sat on my desk. Lisa said it bothered her to have me sitting on the desk, but everything bothered her.
“Class, take out your Pug books,” Mrs. Davis said.
“Ruthie, come here,” Mrs. Davis ordered.
Here it was. I just knew she was going to use the red paddle on me. Everyone knew about the red paddle. It was made special so it would hurt more than a regular paddle. It had been painted red so the teachers would never lose it and it would forever haunt the dreams of any child disciplined.
“Class, turn to page five of your books. Grace, please begin reading aloud,” Mrs. Davis said pointing to Grace. She was the only one who could read well enough to please Mrs. Davis.
“See Pug run. See Pug jump,” Grace began.
“Ruthie, I’m very disappointed in you,” Mrs. Davis scolded me. “You’ve never been in trouble before. Tell me, why did you color your chair?”
“It was ugly, and I tried to make it pretty.” I could feel the tears spring to my eyes, but I fought them. If I cried, everybody would call me a bawl-baby. That was a fate worse than the red paddle.
“Well, you have to wash it,” Mrs. Davis said. She gave me a sponge with squirt of dish soap and told me to scrub that chair until it was clean.
It was a shame to wash away my creative artwork, but I was already in plenty of trouble and didn’t argue. I scrubbed the entire time Grace was reading and during four people counting to 20. When it was finally clean, my fingers looked like white and pink raisins.
Mrs. Davis inspected my work thoroughly. When she was satisfied that the chair was clean, she told me to get some paper towels from the restroom because her paper towel dispenser was empty.
I almost ran to the restroom to get those paper towels. When I returned with my paper towels, she had taken the chair out of the sink.
“Dry it,” she ordered. “Don’t ever do that again. Dry it well. When you finish drying the chair, take it back to your desk and try to catch up with the rest of the class.”
I dried my chair and took it to my desk. Reading time was over, and everyone was working on numbers. I practiced my numbers for a while, then walked up to Mrs. Davis’ desk and told her that I was ready to count to 20. She looked like she was going to hit me. She was truly out of patience with me.
She stood up and said, “Class, Ruthie is going to try to count to 20. I don’t want to hear anyone laughing if she doesn’t make it. Go ahead, Ruthie.”
I looked at my classmates nervously. No one had ever had to count in front of the whole class before! She must have hated me. I started, “1 . . . 2 . . . 3 . . . 4 . . . ,” I watched everybody’s faces as I counted. They were proud of me for being brave enough to do such a thing. “18 . . . 19 . . . 20.” I did it!
Everybody cheered except for Mrs. Davis. She just turned back to her desk and rang the recess bell. We all happily went outside where several kids told me that I did a good job.
Pleased with my bravery, I climbed on the monkey bars with the rest of the girls. We all sat in a circle and sang silly songs. When we went back inside from recess, it was just a normal day. Pug still ran, I still made some of my letters backward, and my chair was still ugly. However, I never defaced school property again.
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