Wednesday, June 16, 2010
My sixth grade teacher was Mr. Rogers.
My 6th grade teacher’s name was Mr. Rogers.
No, not THAT Mr. Rogers; not even close.
My Mr. Rogers was bald, bearded and jiggled like a bowl full of marmalade. (I’d say jelly, but that would imply that he was jolly, which he certainly was not.) My Mr. Rogers did not wear button-up sweaters and he did not have a hand puppet named "Henrietta Pussycat". (That we knew of.)
He may or may not have had a best friend named “Mr. McFeely” but that is no longer relevant to this story.
In 1987 my Mr. Rogers could have been fired for a variety of things: teaching that Adam and Eve were actually black (made sense to me); giving us money and asking us to walk to the drug store four blocks away to buy him a cup of coffee; and of course, giving my buddy Craig a “dunce rock” and making him carry it throughout the day because of a semi-moronic statement he had made in class.
One cold day in February, Mr. Rogers didn’t show up. Instead, we were greeted by our principal at the door. He looked morose and beaten.
Mr. Rogers had a heart attack and passed away that night.
Now, the folks in Montrose, PA hold a crying contest every year and the 6th grade girls are the champions 8 years running. This year, they were fortunate as they barely beat out the Laker fans and the former Biggest Loser contestants for the grand prize.
However, no one could hold a candle to our group of sixth grade crying girls that day. Nobody. (And if you were to try and hold a candle to these girls, it would have likely been put out in seconds flat… on account of all the tears.)
We went through 27 boxes of Kleenex in 3 hours.
I glanced at Craig a few times through the cloud of snotty tissues and the fog of humidified tears. He did not seem too torn up about the whole thing.
He may have carried his undisclosed chagrin a bit too far when, two weeks later, he would be caught humming, “Heart attack! Heart attack! Mr. Rogers had a heart attack!” at recess. (The band "Faker" was very popular at the time.)
The sixth grade gals could not have been more offended. I am pretty sure one of them slapped Craig, right in the face. One girl called him an "ass".
The truth is, Mr. Rogers was at best, a below average teacher. He spent most of his day sitting behind his desk and reading Time and Newsweek magazines. He was really a “read the chapter and answer the questions at the end” kind of dude. Occasionally he would playfully chide a student for a boneheaded comment. Sometimes, if we were lucky, he would have us read a chapter aloud, one student at a time, until the dutiful task fell upon your head.
I once read the word, “catastrophe” - cat-ass-trofe in front of the entire class. He was kind enough to repeat what I said four times: “Cat ass trofe? Did you say cat ass trofe, Abe? Really, please tell us what a cat ass trofe is.” The class roared as I lay my face in my folded arms.
Of course, he made Craig carry that dunce rock around three or four times.
Mr. Rogers was the kind of guy that you would meet at a dinner party, laugh incessantly at his clever jokes, and then gasp in horror when you found out he was teaching eleven year olds about puberty.
Our class decided that to honor Mr. Rogers, we would all run in a 5K race for heart disease. It seemed a fitting tribute. Perhaps we could raise some money so that some other 6th grade class would not have to go through the same horror we had.
We trained. We ran. We all felt better about things. We were even featured on the evening news; something about a class that cared for their fallen teacher. They did not interview Craig, nor did he carry his rock in the race.
The hysteria had hit a record high. There was only one problem: Mr. Rogers hadn’t actually had a heart attack at all. He had committed suicide in his home.
I found out when I was in 8th grade. It seemed like I was the last one in the world to know. I was not shocked or angry. It kinda just felt like someone had given me a painless wedgie.
Craig didn’t take the news as well. However, I am sure the dunce rock now sits on his mantel in the Hamptons as a reminder.