Mrs. Driver was my 8th grade science teacher. I don’t remember much about science but I could tell you a lot about Mrs. Driver who appeared quite average. She was of medium height with mousey brown hair that hung to her shoulders and was clipped back with a black, short bobby-pin. On the heavy side, she was full of bosom and tummy yet wore white short-sleeved acetate blouses that buttoned down the front, accentuating her breasts, with tight straight skirts that fell below the kneecap, usually in tans or greens. The skirts pulled against her tummy making it appear even larger than it was and showing to us all that it must have been uncomfortable as her waist was often unbuttoned, the band being held in place by a rubber band that had circled through the buttonhole and then doubled back to fasten around the button.
I thought Mrs. Driver was at least ninety but I realize today that she must have been in her early or middle fifties. She always stood facing the class with her left hand resting on her desk as if for support. In 1953 student’s desks were made of wood and featured a desk/seat combination which had a shelf for books built in underneath the seat. The desk part was a large wooden paddle that extended out in front of the seat on the right hand side for writing – don’t ask me what left-handed pupils did – I guess they learned to write with their other hand.
Everyone made fun of Mrs. Driver but I always liked her. Of course, I didn’t let anyone else know this, for fear of not being accepted I suppose, but I think Mrs. Driver knew that I liked her because she always said my name “Nancy” softly and with a smile on her face.
I remember well her compassion when my dog JET died – the very first dog that I was ever allowed as a pet. I was twelve, and only lived with my parents and Jimmy, my younger brother, when JET wandered into our yard. He was a mutt as anyone could see - small and black – a little larger than a dachshund and with longer legs – and could easily fit in my lap. Since he was a male and I wanted for his name to be special, so I named him after my father James Emmett Terrell – or JET. Mother kindly explained to me that when I wrote his name I must make sure to capitalize all of the letters as they all stood for proper names. Just the spelling of his name made JET special and I loved him as if I had given birth to him all by myself.
We went everywhere together, JET and I, always with his tale wagging in delight as he followed me around with my best friend, Betsy Manning. Our mothers were best friends also; they lived directly behind us and we could all four visit by simply walking back and forth across the alley that divided our back yards. We each had garages that faced the alley with small rooms for storage or work, and with doors opening to the back yards. Betsy and I had a clubhouse in our storage room where no one was allowed in, especially Jimmy. JET could come in though.
I had just celebrated my birthday with a party including all of my friends at Highland Park Junior High; I wore a taffeta light blue dress with white socks and Mary Jane shoes. My mother even gave me a corsage in honor of my special event and my girlfriends also dressed up as if they were going to a wedding of one of their family members; however, I was still very much a tomboy – I rode horses with my friends on Saturday mornings, after listening to “The Squeaking Door” on the radio and roller skated down neighborhood sidewalks in the afternoons, usually after school. JET would always trot along after me and would normally be able to keep up even though I would skate so fast that he would be panting.
As my father was always working around the house, making improvements in some fashion, my mother wanted for him to have a tetanus shot so that he would not get Lockjaw (some terrible disease never explained to me) if he should step on a nail. Dutifully, he went to see our family doctor for the shot and had a horrible reaction. He was really ill with Mama bringing him cold compresses every 15 minutes as his fever shot up to 104 degrees.
Jimmy’s and my room was upstairs; we shared a bath that was tiled in large shiny black squares with gold grout – it was really tacky but daddy hadn’t gotten around to changing it yet. Daddy was downstairs in what was described as a near coma. I went up to my room to change my clothes and let out a piercing scream –
“God, I am dying – Mama come quick – I’m dying” I was completely hysterical as anyone would be who went to the bathroom and found her panties full of blood.
Mama then told me to just quiet down that this was a normal thing for girls to do and that this would happen to me every month. She was very calm about the whole thing but I was still hysterical, I screamed and cried – cried and screamed. If this was normal then why in the world hadn’t she told me it was going to happen? It wasn’t normal and I was dying – that was just about all there was to it. This didn’t happen to normal girls – it hadn’t happened to Betsy or any of the girls I was friends with – that I knew of anyway.
Poor Daddy thought I actually was dying. Did Mama ever have her hands full and in my opinion it served her right. Imagine keeping a thing like that secret – I didn’t calm down for the longest time, Daddy was the most ill he had ever been and Jimmy was crying because he thought Daddy and I were both dying. This was all just too much for our sweet JET. Seeing the screen door open he ran out into the yard, then on to the street being instantly killed by a neighbor’s car.
Words cannot describe the despair and sadness that we all felt. JET had been a part of our family although he was most definitely my dog. I wouldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep and continued bleeding although Mama had put this terribly large awful contraption between my legs that was held up by this ugly elastic band around my waist. I was more than miserable and remember missing school for three days, my first absence in years.
Daddy eventually got well and I stopped bleeding but my heart was eternally broken as this was the first animal death I had ever experienced. When I went back to school everyone was so nice to me, especially Mrs. Driver, who held me next to her and actually shed tears when she learned of JET’s death. Evidently, her poodle Mitzi, whom she had owned for over 12 years, had died the month before. Of all of my friends, I knew it was Mrs. Driver who understood my sorrow the most – and she didn’t even know that I had also been bleeding all of the time.