part two of two parts. Link for part one.
Miss Taras, the second grade teacher of St. John's was a ruthless disciplinarian. Enduring a year in her class was to have looked terror directly in the face, and survived. It made one stronger, and gave us something to talk about later in life.
Over the course of the year, she told us stories of her childhood, and the more I think about these, the more different it was than the childhood of her typical student. (with some exceptions). She had two sisters, and grew up in a very strict household, in the Great Depression (the one in the twentieth century, not the Obamanation) in a very poor section of town. (which town? possibly Watertown, WI? we never found out) Her stories of her childhood were populated by dangerous late-night walks home, "tramps", "darkies", and various unsavory characters that God and the Angels protected her from.
All her life, Miss Taras lived with her two sisters, until they died. She never married - teaching, the church, and her sisters were her entire life.
I remember one night when we were in high school (our grade school class stayed together and played together through the Lutheran Youth Group). I noticed that the light was still on in the 2nd grade class room. I ventured up there, to see what was going on. Miss Taras was in there, working away at re-organizing a cabinet in the back of the classroom. After I accounted for myself, very respectable after all those years, I noticed that she was crying. I asked if there was anything I could help her with, noticing boxes on the top shelf of the cabinet. She said that she was trying to get a box down, but the chair kept sliding. I told her to hold on, I was the right man for the job! Got the box down, and we talked; she asked me if I might be interested in working for the church library, which she oversaw. I loved the church library, with all those old concordances, Horatio Alger stories, and German books. And, so I became an assistant church librarian, one or two nights a week.
As the years went by, I went off to college, Miss Taras got closer to retirement age. There were factional disputes about a Synod reorganization at the time, and the church was never quite the same - a faction detached itself and started a new congregation. Many of the people I knew went to the new church, and, in the whole mess, it came time for Miss Taras to retire.
I remember the "retirement party" Pastor Kay had for her. After a Sunday morning service, as some of the congregation was already leaving, he announced that Miss Taras was retiring, blah blah blah, and would she please come forward at this time to receive a token of our appreciation. She walked up, slowly. Years of working on her feet had made it difficult for her to get around. She received her PLAQUE, and turned to the congregation, and stood in the aisle. Pastor Kay didn't even offer her a damn microphone. Her closing remarks I could barely hear, delivered in the soft low voice that I remembered from the classroom, but people jostling out the door made it inaudible. Not even a sheet cake in the school basement. Good bye, Miss Taras. Thanks for all your faithful service.
More years passed. I came home for a weekend from college. My mother told me that Miss Taras was in Beverly Terrace, a skilled-care center, recovering from a broken bone. I talked my friend Norman, who was also in her second-grade class, into going with me. Miss Taras was delighted to have two visitors from the past who thought of her. We stayed for hours. Here is part of Norm's account of the visit:
"She told us a bit about growing up in a strict home, her dad, explaining WHY she'd been so strict. It's all so Twilight Zone. But I remember losing all my resentment that day, and feeling sorry for a woman who had lived her whole life in service to the church....and children most of all. The day was a gift. There was more to the woman than a seemingly bitter child hater. And who also knew that we had been wrong about her. But as 7 year olds we never got the facts."
One thing Miss Taras said, as best as Norman and I can construct the exact wording:
"...looking back, I've only got one regret that,
I think I could have been a little less strict with my students"
Thanks for listening and contributing. I'd love to hear from you.