Someone taped a sprig of mistletoe over the doorway to our 8th grade classroom before Thanksgiving break. It probably wasn't even mistletoe, but a small piece of a local weed. However, everyone knew what it symbolized.
Back in the 70's, the thought of a boy kissing a girl under the mistletoe in class wasn't politically incorrect. It hadn't actually been carried out yet in our school, but the secret danger and thrill of that possibility made for exciting dashes into and out of the room.
Our teacher, Miss Gidden, was built like an offensive lineman. Her neck seemed to have disappeared somewhere along the way and her small head sat atop an over sized body. Her thin hair radiated the luminous glow of her scalp when she stood under the light. Her belly protruded far enough that it could have housed a full term pregnancy, but Miss Gidden was already in her sixties and had never been married, nay, had never even had a boyfriend, according to something she let slip once. After we read a sad story about a husband who died, she proudly declared, "Men- don't need them! I've done fine my whole life without one- never even had a boyfriend!"
These features, along with the perpetual frown and accompanying lines etched into her face could have gone unnoticed by our class, but her meanness and gruff manner exacerbated her physical traits into frequent playground fodder.
"Hey- didja hear they found that first grader that went missing last week?", one of the boys would whisper.
Another would answer, "Where was he?"
The first boy would shoot back, "Under the folds of old lady Gidden's belly rolls!"
It continued in that vein. I'm sure she must have heard some of it, which couldn't have helped her moods any.
This was back in the days when paddling was used frequently in the classrooms, and her paddle swung high and wide on the guilty and innocent alike. Most students hesitated to breathe too loudly in her presence for fear of invoking her wrath. Most, but that didn't include Lenny. He came to our rural school from exotic New York, a place we'd heard existed but thought perhaps was mythical, like Atlantis. He was born to challenge authority and won the respect of the boys with his bravado in baiting Miss Gidden and the casualness with which he accepted his punishments. His dark eyes, worn Levis, and coolly wrinkled t-shirts won the attention of the girls. He showed no fear, ever.
One morning, when we spilled out of the bus at school, we heard someone calling out from a distance. The voice laughed as we searched for the source. Finally we looked up, and there was Lenny, perched at the highest peak of the school roof, waving.
Another time, he led an after school raid on the cafeteria kitchen and like Robin Hood in steel toed boots, passed out ice cream cups from the freezer that had been reserved for teachers.
The morning of the last day of school before Christmas break we waited in the classroom for the first bell to ring. A slight boy with buck teeth approached Lenny. "I dare you, " he intoned with the gravity of Caesar, "in front of everyone, to kiss the first person who walks under the mistletoe through that door, whether it's a girl or boy!"
Everyone in our small group drew a breath and looked at Lenny. He was motionless for a moment, then said, "You got it."
The bell rang. We quickly made our way to our seats. Only a few stragglers weren't already in the class and Miss Gidden usually made her appearance a few minutes late, owing it to finishing up her coffee in the teachers' lounge.
We heard voices down the hall. Would it be Francie, who was cute and shy? Would it be Sandra, who would probably sock Lenny in the nose if he kissed her? Or worse, would it be Kenny, a boy with obnoxiously bad breath?
Lenny waited by the door. Steps neared and we all sat straight, straining to see who it would be. A form stepped into the doorway. Lenny jumped into place in front of the form, and moving at a speed so fast he couldn't be stopped, grabbed the person in his arms and planted a big one, smack on the lips.
He pulled away, and the shock registered on his face as he saw the recipient of his smooch. The light gleamed off her scalp as she jerked her head back.
'Wha, wha, whatttttt?" Miss Gidden stammered.
Lenny's face turned ashen. He swayed.
Marie, a simple girl with a wide grin, yelled out, "You were under the mistletoe!"
The rest of the class remained hushed. I closed my eyes, not wanting to see the wrath of the paddle I knew would be next for Lenny.
I heard nothing, so I opened them again.
Instead of storming to the desk for her paddle, Miss Gidden stood with her hand to her mouth and a pink color flooding her cheeks. "Well, I never, uh, my goodness...," she fumbled for words. Her hand left her mouth and primped her hair. The other hand went to her hip and she stammered more.
"Well, well, now boys and girls." She looked at all of us, then at Lenny, and giggled. Giggled. This woman who wielded a paddle like a lumberjack wielded an axe was giggling like she was 13 again.
I don't remember all the particulars of the rest of that day, but I do know that Miss Gidden changed after that kiss. She was a little softer, a little lighter in her manner with us. And Lenny, the challenger of all authority, was the teacher's pet, a position he didn't want, but accepted as perhaps his punishment.
A little mistletoe can go a long way.