by Jane Doe
What I had learned about organizing in the church, I carried over into my next school year. In learning to organize meetings, people and programs, I had learned to organize myself. Studying took less time, was better done and left me free to engage in more worthwhile activities.
Mary and I were the only ‘real’ Christians in our class. We carried our Bibles with us all the time. For that purpose, and others, we made matching corduroy drawstring purses. Also in our bags we each carried a freshly washed rag folded over a fresh elastic belt, wrapped in a cloth handkerchief and pinned together with two safety pins. Mary carried this kit because she sometimes needed it. I carried it as a charm, hoping I would soon need it. Out of the twenty-two girls in the eighth grade, there were only five who had not yet had their period. When I wasn't evangelizing, I worried about myself. Was I made right down in there? Were all the parts the ones I needed? Why was I so late in starting when other smaller less developed girls than I had had periods for over a year? Was something wrong?
All the long fruit and vegetable canning summer I had had a lot of stomach aches and back aches. Mother, in an unsympathetic way, assured me that I was all right. She said that the little aches and pains where just signs that the organs I needed for my period where growing. Some comfort. She said that often just before the period did start, one felt some discomfort in that area. Everyday I thought that today had to be the day.
One day I caught my little finger in the folds of the garage door as I was closing it. It was pinched badly enough to bleed from under the nail, but wasn't all that painful. Mother was very compassionate about it, letting me out of dishes and bean picking for a few days. Instead of enjoying my freedom, I indulged in morose musing about the fact that the pain in my finger was far less than the backaches and stomachs aches with which I was expected to keep right on working. My black, silent dialogues with my mother reached a new height of eloquence and length that summer. I could not have been pleasant to live with. But, I was a good Christian.
He was a preacher, no less, who was "between churches," as they graciously spoke of it. Rev. Beems was a preacher and not in any way a teacher. He had been hired in the emergency that developed when the English teacher got pregnant. Even though he was a large man with an ecclesiastical stomach that looked more pregnant than the little English teacher did, he constantly had trouble keeping order in his classes. For one thing, he had the most boring subject for the boys. Secondly, he had a sticky softness about his character that the boys immediately picked up on and quite openly joked, "Don't ever let Old Beems offer to help you hold things in the John!" Justly, or unjustly, he got this reputation in the first weeks and could never shake it off the
Mary and I were not concerned with him over this rumor, mostly because he was a preacher and partly because we didn't understand what the boys were referring to. Besides, we thought all the boys in our classes to be brats. As far a sexual matters, they weren't to be trusted. Our mothers had already started telling us that.
The most open problem with Rev. Beems was his temper. In class the boys, and then, even some of the girls, would make sassy remarks to his comments. Line upon line the cruel truths were laid until the whole class would be laughing at, not with, Rev. Beems.
He would grow red in the face. Everything above his tight, white clerical collar swelled so his fatted skin was stretched and taut. On his temple, streaks of blue zing-zagged into where his hair wasn't anymore. At first, he seemed unable to move while the redness and swelling developed. Then, like a dam breaking he'd swoop down on, not the person bugging him, but some innocent by-sitter who happened to be chuckling along with the loud roaring laughter of the rest of the class. It was always one of the smaller boys he picked on. He'd grab the kid out of his seat and nearly out of his shirt, shaking him and bellowing indecent phrases. Just as suddenly, he'd let go of the boy, actually dropping him if the kid had lost his footing during the shaking. Rev. Beems would spin on one foot toward the door, opening it and dashing out.
This bit of theater deeply impressed us. We'd sit there in hushed silence waiting for him to return or have his stroke. Mary and I would close our eyes to pray for him. Minutes later, he'd return, pick up his book and say, "Now as I was expounding on the virtues of an adequate adjective..."
Mary and I looked up all the references in the Bible concerning temper. We prepared ourselves so that when the first color began rising we could raise our hand for permission to sing out. "James 1:19 wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath." "Wrath" was what we thought the King James Version termed Rev. Beems' problem. In our arsenal was also Job 5:2: "For wrath killeth the foolish man and envy slayth the silly one," because we were truly afraid that Rev. Beems would split something in his anger.
His reactions to our campaign were varying. Bewildering, sometimes he went on with his monologue as if we had never spoken, or he hadn't heard. Even when we used Titus 1:7 "For a bishop must be blameless as the steward of God, not self willed, not soon to anger." we thought maybe he would reward us with a smile for calling him a bishop, but his look was as grim as ever. It seemed to us that he hadn't had a temper for several weeks. We thought our efforts were paying off that our prayers were being answered. We were unprepared for:
"Who can give me an example of the genitive case?" Evidently no one, "You don't know what the genitive case is? You should have learned that in the sixth grade! The parts of a sentence are defined on page 19."
No one turned a page,
"I tell you the page where the answer is and you are too lazy to turn to that page to read the response I desire. Donald, Why is that?"
"I dunno. Why should I look it up when you'll tell us what it is sooner or later, anyhow."
"What if I refuse to tell you what an example of the genitive case is, Raymond?"
Bad choice. Ray was a big, surly youth who best understood tractors. "Then I won't tell you either what the thing is."
Twittering was flitting from the sides of the room where Rev. Beem’s glance was not holding the gang in check.
Arthur raised his hand, "Does the genitive case have anything to do with degenerates?" No one caught the joke. Beems ignored Arthur by giving Mary permission to speak.
"Ecclesiastics 7:9, Be not hasty in thy spirit to be angry, for anger resteth in the bosom of fools."
Sputtering silence. Unexpectedly for Mary and me, the kids in the class began laughing behind their hands and bowed heads. Like wildfire, when the boys opened with their laughter, it burst into an explosion of loud guffaws, shaking bodies, and stomping feet. The most timid girls had their lips pressed together, but noises came through their noses. Somebody started to applaud.
"Stop!" screamed Rev. Beems, every inch of his black suit quaking with rage. The bedlam went on. "Class! Order!" We knew what was coming. The laughter was coming and growing until it filled the room so there was no air to breath. Everyone was laughing and choking; gasping for oxygen. The laughter billowed and rolled like clouds of yellow smoke. Mary and I couldn't stop it. But Ray did.
"Sir. Sir?" his already deepening voice boomed out over the roar of the forest fire.
"Quiiiiet! One of your classmates wishes to speak."
"Sir, sir!" Ray was certainly eager to share his thought.
"What is it you wish to say?" shouted Rev. Beems, leaning over the turning heads, straining to hear Ray's voice.
"I know an example of the genitive case!"
"All right class, that's enough!" Beems pounded on the desk with his closed English book. "Ray alone, has the good sense to want to go on with the lesson." Shamed, everyone stopped laughing. The walls, desks and light fixtures were still ringing with the laughter, but above it we all could plainly hear Ray saying, "Bosom of fools, bosom of fools."
The floor went on laughing right out loud. Before the kids could join, Rev. Beems was in his full blown fury and heading for little Keith, who understood little so he smiled a lot to make up for it. Little Keith was used to being picked on by the bigger guys, so by the time Rev. Beems reached for him, he was scuttling for the door. The parts of a second it took Keith to turn the door knob, Beems was right on his heels grabbing for his neck. The door opened, with an outside force, dragging Keith out of Rev. Beems' grasp, into the haven of the hall. This left Rev. Beems and School Superindentent Day face to swollen face. We all froze with embarrassment for Rev. Beems. Beems raised his fist to Superintendent Day. Mr. Day backed away from Beems by opening the door even wider. Rev. Beems whizzed past him. Mr. Day shouted to Beem's disappearing back. "Reverend Beems! go to the teacher's lounge. I'll take over your class for you."
Mr. Day started to shut the door when he remembered he was shutting the lion and the lamb up together alone in the empty hall. He reopened the door to find Keith, white-faced under his freckles and red hair, patiently hoping to be let back in.
Mr. Day stood exactly in the center of the area between the teacher's desk and the blackboard. He planted his feet firmly, with little stomps of authority, folded his arms across his chest to stare down at us with this face someone must teach superintendents to wear. There were faint rustlings as the kids sat up, pulled their feet out of the aisles and tried to lay their hands casually on their desks as if they were painted on the wood just like that.
"All right, I want to know what has been going on here." That wasn't a questions so there was no answer. We looked at him waiting on a question. He looked over the class. Perhaps because of my size, the fact that I sat near the front or he knew me from church, he said, "Jane do you know what happened?"
I had no voice. I clearly saw that part of the fault was lying beside Mary in her brown bag. To protect Mary was to protect myself; to protect the Bible was the job of every good Christian.
"Jane, tell me what was going on here!"
"We were studying the genitive case of nouns."
"Rev. Beems asked us to define it or give an example of one."
"No one knew one."
"Rev. Beems got angry with us."
"Was that all?"
"No." My answers were slowing down.
"Was something said by someone in the class?
I was caught. "Yes."
"By Keith, here?"
"No, Keith didn't say anything. I don't know why Rev. Beems got so angry at him. He didn't do anything. He laughed less than the others."
"Why were the others laughing?"
"Truthfully I don't remember what all was said."
Mr. Day swung back and forth on his feet. He was clearly getting exasperated with me. I had to give him something to hear. "At the end, one student finally gave the example as `bosom of fools'."
"I see. This phrase, had it come up in class before in today's lesson?"
"In a quotation from the Bible." Mr. Day's eyebrow shot up. "Did Rev. Beems quote it? Do you know the whole quote?"
Did he know that I knew all 43 references to anger in the Old and New Testament, by heart - chapter and verse? What could I say that would be true and yet save Mary? I prepared myself to go down with her if I had to. "Ecclesiasticals 7:9."
I heard a snicker like smoke from one ember. I had spoken Ecclesiastics so it rhymed with testicles. Quickly and loudly I went on with my eyes closed by reading the print in my Bible, bright in my mind's eye. "Be not hasty in thy spirit to be angry, for anger resteth in the bosom of fools." That combination of bosom and fools was causing more uncontrolled smiling.
The powder keg was before us again. Mr. Day ignored it and it went away. "In what context was this used?"
"We were trying to remind Rev. Beems that he shouldn't get so angry."
"We? How often was this repeated?" Totally trapped, bound but not gagged, there was no way out. "Mary said the words, but she and I looked up the quotes together."
"Why, I ask you."
Now that there was nothing more to hide, I started explaining the whole incident from our beginning. The bell rang. Evidently Mr. Day had heard enough. Even though I wasn't finished he dismissed us.
A few weeks later, when the six weeks grade cards came out, Mary and I had C's instead of the usual A's in English. We saw it as undeserved retaliation for our trying to be helpful. Grades to us were sacred. They were not something to play revenge with. To have those C's staying on our records forever and ever just because Rev. Beems couldn't control his temper was the wrong use of authority. The longer we thought about it, the more unjust it became. The longer we discussed it between us, the madder we got. We decided to appeal to Mr. Day. We'd ask him to make Rev. Beems give us the grades we deserved on the basis of our tests.
Mr. Day sat behind his mammoth oak desk. The winter sun coming through the venetian blinds slashed across the back of his head and shoulders. He played Solomon in a golden temple.
"I agree that it is wrong for Rev. Beems to put a C on your report cards when I see by all your tests here that you are doing A work. I'll speak to him about changing the grades if you two will promise me something. Promise me that you will not quote any more Bible verses to Rev. Beems about anger. You two were pretty angry yourselves when you came in here today, you know! Do you really think you have the maturity to correct Rev. Beems with verses from the Bibles his specialty?"
"We didn't want to correct him. We tried to help him in the best way we could. We thought that since he is a preacher, and we are Christians, quoting the Bible was the best way to be his friend."
"Then perhaps I have a quote for you." Mr. Day stood up, the sunshine chopping down the spaces around his body. "Proverbs 22:24. Make no friendship with an angry man and with a furious man thou shalt not go."
The Word is truly a double-edged sword.
Copyright © the Estate of Jane Doe 2010