Friday, June 22, 2012

The Secret of Miss Ila Jean

Freddy nervously tucked his hands inside the bib top of his overalls, his fingers brushing against the bare skin just under his chest. Did he just hear his teacher right? Had Miss Ila Jean actually said that?

"Frederick, are you listening to me?" Miss Ila Jean sternly questioned, enunciating each syllable and rolling the r's, her rotund belly bouncing at the effort of each new word.

Freddy pulled his hands out of his overalls and nervously brushed a shock of red hair off his forehead. "Yes'm. I heard you," he replied as he lowered his eyes.

"Fine. I will walk with you home after school and dine with your family, " she trilled in her faux operatic manner, with the same gusto as if she'd proclaimed the Queen of England would be joining them. Miss Ila Jean was a big fan of the talking pictures, and often told them she believed she could be a better actress than those on the big screen.

His ten year old mind tore through different scenarios the rest of the day. Was Miss Ila Jean going to tell Mama and Papa about the time he'd tied Jimmy Singer's shoelaces together on the playground and made him fall on his nose, causing a waterfall of blood to gush forth? Or was she going to let them know about the time he'd been smoking corn silk cigarettes with the older boys? Truth be told, there were several things she could be tattling to his parents about, and although Miss Ila Jean had whaled him good for these offenses, he knew Papa would punish him again with the belt at home if he found out.

His friends gathered round him at lunch and commiserated. "She came to my house and 'bout cleared out the whole table! She even out ate my dad, " his friend Tom told him.

"I hear she just likes free meals, and that's why she goes to her students' houses, 'cause she knows the families will have to feed her, even if she eats enough for an elephant," Jerry shared, drawing laughs from the other boys.

After school, Freddy gathered his Karo Syrup lunch pail and listened as Miss Ila Jean instructed him, " I will gather your brother, Tommy, from the first grade teacher and walk to your house with him. You hurry on ahead and let your mother know I am delighted to dine with you all this evening." She unconsciously licked her lips, no doubt thinking of Mama's well known talents in the kitchen.

By the time he reached home, Mama already had a pot of chicken and dumplings going on the stove and set the table with the mish- mash of cutlery and plates they owned. Though none of it matched, she often reminded them, it was clean and serviceable. Mama sighed wearily when he told her of their self invited guest. "I only have one chicken for this, but I can throw some more dumplings in. We'll cut smaller slices of the pie, although I hear that woman can really eat, " she said in her soft drawl that reached all the way back to her native South Carolina flatlands. "Go call the horses up into the pens, as Papa wants to do some plowing after he eats."

Papa had been forced to take a job at the cotton gin while still making a go of the farm because President Hoover's promises about making the economy prosperous had turned inside out. They were making it, but barely, which was more than could be said for lots of folks in 1930.

Miss Ila Jean soon arrived with Tommy and introduced herself while Mama tried to smooth her hair and brush off her work apron. "I know my students and their families love to meet me, and tonight, it is your turn, " Miss Ila Jean magnanimously declared with all the flourishes of a high school declamation champion, which she often reminded her students she had been.

Papa wasn't home from work yet, and Miss Ila Jean took the opportunity to ask Mama where the necessary room was. "Well, Miss Ila Jean, all we have is an outhouse, and it's right back there, " Mama said gently as she pointed out the back door. And a nice outhouse it was. A two seater, and Papa had recently finished it off with some deluxe wooden shingles. Miss Ila Jean didn't look delighted at the prospect of it, but squared her shoulders and headed out.

Freddy watched her disappear through the wooden door next to the horse pens. Nick, one of the big bay plow horses, swished his tail nearby. He'd developed an affinity for chewing on wooden things, from fence posts to tree branches, and they had to keep an eye on him.

What happened next was something Freddy would remember for the rest of his days. Nick, seeing Miss Ila Jean enter the outhouse, ambled over to it himself, near as it was to his pen. Shortly after Miss Ila Jean had latched the door, Nick spotted the new wooden shingles on top of the outhouse. He took a quick nibble of one, and was so delighted with it that he quickly attacked the rest of the roof with unbridled enthusiasm.

Now, the outhouse only sat on a platform not anchored fully into the ground, to aid in ease of portability when it was time to move it.

Nick's chewings tilted and shook the outhouse, which drew horrified screams from its occupant.

Thinking back on it later, Freddy never could figure out why he didn't move to do something to stop Nick, but he didn't, and Mama was in her bedroom, trying to pretty up, unable to hear the shouts of terror.

Nick heaved one more time at the shingles, yanking upwards with his powerful neck and causing the outhouse to tip forward. A loud thump from inside heralded the latch giving way to Miss Ila Jean's portly body. The door flew open, and Miss Ila Jean rolled out, legs perpendicular to the ground, knickers around her ankles.

When Freddy later told this story to his children and grandchildren, he always mentioned that the last he saw of Miss Ila Jean was her running down the road, screaming and moving as fast as her short, chubby legs could carry her. She handed in her resignation without explanation that night and was never seen in those parts again.

Freddy shared the secret with only Nick for many years, and Freddy often gave Nick an extra carrot or two, just to sweeten the pot.





62 comments:

  1. What a great story - we all love to see pompous people fall on their a$$es, don't we? This time it was literal.
    I also want to say a belated happy birthday to your daughter. She is gorgeous! And if she's as sweet as she is pretty, you have a winner there. Sixteen is an exciting year - so much is before you.
    Also, thank you for your kind comment for my dad. He enjoyed reading every one and then demanded a printout so he could keep it. He is doing well, and all news on his prognosis so far has been good.

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    1. Karen: Great news on your dad! I'm so happy for you all- what a relief.

      Thank you for your kind words- she's a great kid. 16 is such a great age.

      And yes, the law of what goes around, comes around, sometimes to bite a person right in the butt.

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  2. Whatta story, Shelly! (LOL) I remember using outhouses many times as a boy when my family took me to the mountains of Northern Pennsylvania on vacation. I'll never forget the man whose family owned the log cabin where we stayed. Every morning he headed down the dirt path to the outhouse with the newspaper folded under his arm. He typically stayed inside that stinky little shed for close to a half hour, enough time to read the entire paper. I never figured out whether it took him that long to "go" or whether he just enjoyed getting away from his nagging spouse for a while! (LOL) Thank you very much for another very entertaining tale, dear friend, and have a nice weekend!

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    1. Shady: He must have really wanted to escape her to stay in one of those things that long! I miss things from the old days, but I will never miss an outhouse. Thank you, and the same good wishes to you, my friend~

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  3. Hi Shelly. You certainly DO know how to tell a good story, and this is one of the best!! That teacher certainly had her come-uppance, didn't she?! Brilliant.

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    1. Thisisme: It's so good to see you back! Thank you, my friend. One way or another, we always reap what we sow.

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  4. Shelly, another first rate story!

    And your daughter is a "peach". :)

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  5. Freddy and Nick: lifelong bond. What a great friend was that horse. Wonderfully told tale. Thank you, Shelly.

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    1. vanilla: There's nothing like a good old horse to carry your secrets. Thank you~

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    1. esboston: There's a part of me that would have loved to have seen that~

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  7. Shelly that was such a delightful story and I can surely remember life without inside plumbing for a bathroom so the story means even more to me now. You made my evening. thanks

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    1. Odie: I am SO VERY thankful for indoor plumbing. Thank you, my friend~

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  8. That was so funny, I can see the whole thing.. Poor lady, and I bet that story grew over the years.. xxx HUG from me...

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    1. Crystal Mary: It's been passed down in my family and I've always enjoyed hearing it. Hugs back to you, my friend~

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  9. Dearest Shelly,
    Good Morning from Japan and thank you for the wonderful reading(*^_^*) 
    Oh, old memory of Freddy and Nick related with the teacher. I just have to guess about the scene; what it's like the old outhouse and things, haha.
    And thanks to Diane, the the word "comeuppance" is the first for me to know and I thought the same way for her. Well, free meal ; so clever, wasn't she(^^;)
    Have a wonderful weekend my dear friend♡♡♡

    Love you always from east, xoxo Miyako*

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    1. Orchid: I so appreciate how you always dig through the colloquial and idiomatic language I use in some of these stories, even though I know it must be hard to understand. That means a great deal to me, my dear friend Miyako.

      And yes, she figured out a great way to get free, tasty meals, until it backfired on her!

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  10. Oh, the pictures you paint! I have to think that if Freddy's mother had known the truth she too would have given a few extra carrots to Nick. :)

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    1. Nancy: I'm sure she would have! (I know I would-)

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  11. This was PRICELESS - what a great story with a great lesson. I can just picture it and I know some people I wish something like that would happen too! Is that bad? sandie

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    1. Sandie: Ha! The old outhouse treatment might get some people to behaving better, that's for sure!

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  12. Is this a true story Shelly? I love it! That teacher being so self assured of herself to invite herself on the spot to have dinner with her students. So glad the horse happened to be at the right place at the right time!

    betty

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    1. Betty: Yes, it's a story that's been passed down in my family. I can't imagine someone being so brash as to invite themselves over and act like she did, but I guess we still have folks like that these days~

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  13. Great story, and I keep wondering about that last line: an extra carrot or two just to sweeten the pot. This makes me wonder if he orchestrated the whole thing.

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    1. Stephen: It's also passed down in my family that Nick was an uncommonly smart horse, so it wouldn't surprise me!

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  14. I just love this story, Shelly, and you tell it so wonderfully!

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    1. Dr. Kathy: Thank you! I've loved this story for a long time~

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  15. Dear Shelly, in one of your responses to a comment, you said that this story has been passed down in your family. You told it so well because you handle dialogue well and also because you show us, rather than simply tell us, about the teacher so that we truly see her and can relate her to others of her ilk! I think there' a book of stories in you!

    As to outhouses. I grew up on a small Missouri acreage and we had an outhouse and no running water for all those growing up years. My grandmother--who was a somewhat autocratic woman--told me that rattlesnakes hid in the depths of the outhouse and that if I sat down on one of the two seats, a snake would leap up and bite me on my behind. I believed her and so never really sat down. How uncomfortable that was, but in my mind I was playing it safe! My my mom and dad finally found out--I can't remember how--and assured me that no rattlesnake could live in the toxic fumes of that outhouse! Peace.

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    1. Dee: At our family ranch where we used to gather for reunions, there was no running water and an outhouse. It used to scare the dickens out of me because a lizard did jump out of that hole one time! I can so empathize with your story!

      Thank you for your kind, encouraging words. I've never really thought about putting together a package of stories, but that might be kind of a fun thing to do.

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  16. This was such a bloody funny story I could just imagine a chubby woman sitting with her knickers around her ankles and getting the shock of her life when a horse started kicking the outhouse......and running off down the road.....so bloody funny but maybe that is just my odd sense of humour

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    1. Jo-Anne: It has always made me laugh, so we must share the same sense of humor!

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  17. oh my gosh...another reason I could never be a teacher!

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    1. Annemarie Pipa: Not one like her!

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  18. Hi Shelly, I was chortling out loud at this story. I'm also a little surprised that the teacher abandoned her job during such tough economic times, not matter the embarrassment she might have faced. Humble people would have made a public apology and moved on with life. However she probably never would have been able to teach with any authority or respect after that. It seems like Ms. Ila Jean would have been the type to take her position of authority as a reason for obedient learning, instead of inspiring her students with the joy of discovering their potential. I'm so thankful that times have changed.

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    1. Jenny: I think it would HORRIBLE to have a teacher as self centered as she was. I am glad for all those kids that she finally left. There were far too many teachers back in the day who weren't in it for the kids at all. Of course, there still are some today, but at least there is more accountability and overseeing of all teachers.

      There were some good things about the way school was conducted then, but by and large, you are so right. We have come a tremendously long way.

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  19. Hi Shelly, that was a great story. Very well written also. It's nice when people sometimes get what's coming to them!
    Thanks again for signing on at my blog. I came over to check you out and I like what I see. I'm going to tag along also...

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  20. Oh my, Fate and Irony came together in a spectacular way that afternoon! Thanks for the laugh!

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    1. Chantel: Yes, they all came together in the chubby little body of Miss Ila Jean- not that she wanted it, though!

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  21. Haha, great story! And such an unexpected ending. Thanks for the laugh over my morning coffee.

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    1. Jenny: I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall when that happened (of the barn not the outhouse!)

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  22. :-)

    I can only imagine poor Miss Ila Jean's mortification!

    Pearl

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    1. I would have had to change my identity as well as leaving the area!

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  23. Miss Ila's hiney
    Done gone "shiney, shiney, shiney"!

    Loved this great story!

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    1. Sweet Tea: LOL! This totally cracked me up!

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  24. Great story! I could never repeat it, though, as I have never had the ability to retell even the simplest jokes or stories.

    You did a fabulous job telling it!

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    1. Crack You Whip: I love odd little stories like this one- thank you!

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  25. Oh, that's hysterical! And what a voice you used to capture it. Well done, Shelly!

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    1. Theresa: Thank you- I'm so grateful we don't live in the age of outhouses anymore!

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  26. Hilarious!! Sorry I'm so late to the party. This is such a fun story. Once again, you've made me cry, my friend - from laughing this time! :D

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    1. Jenn June: Thank you so much for stopping by- I always love to see a comment from you! Miss Ila Jean- I've always wondered what became of her...

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    1. Romance: Thank you for stopping by!

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  28. Ha, I can see those chubby legs a-running!
    Great piece, thank you!

    (And thank you for your kind words on my blog today.)
    :)

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    1. Lydia: Thank you- I can't imagine how embarrassing that was for her~

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  29. Hilarious! I especially like how it started. I was thinking what did she say to him.

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    1. Missed Periods: I'm so glad I didn't have her as a teacher!

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  30. Miss Shelly!!!

    Now did you make that up?

    (we got our computer back from the shop and it is working some of the time--but not all the time--I need to catch up with you!!!)

    I"ve missed you!

    This story is hilarious, but I feel so bad for the teacher!!! It's not her fault--and his mama, I feel bad for her, wanting to be charitable towards her. (with her time and cooking)

    Now, did you make this up? You are the greatest story teller, writer, you really help with all the details for our imaginations!

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    1. Jamie: I've missed you, too! I just got back in from a conference in Florida and it was so good to see your name here and read your comment. I'm so glad your computer is working better. It's almost like losing a hand or foot when the computer's not working.

      As for the story, it's been passed down in my family, and as far as I know, it is true. I'm so glad I don't live in the time of outhouses!

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