A pinch for not wearing green is a much-celebrated part of St. Patrick’s Day.
Time hasn’t dimmed the memory of my first grade teacher’s chubby fingers pinching me hard enough to bring tears to my eyes and indignation to my little heart.
I’ve written about Miss Forgey before when I related how she chastised me for wanting a pet monkey.
First grade was a challenging time for this little girl who had a very big teacher. She was taught to be polite, so tried not to stare, but Miss Forgey was very large and very stern. That’s the perfect writer’s word to describe the woman who stared little children into learning their alphabets, and spelling “mother” and “father” and “said” correctly. Stern. She had iron gray curls, like old women do, but she wasn’t large and happy and squishy like Melinda’s Gramma. She was just large and solid and stern.
You can read the rest of this sob story here.
You know what? Decades later I still don’t want a dog or a cat. If I ever get a pet, it will be a monkey.
Anyhoo, back to the pinch.
I attended Jefferson Elementary School in Helena, Montana. It’s a traditional drab, rectangular, one-story building in an established neighborhood, nestled between local landmarks. To the south are the small hills kids climb after school, Sugar Loaf and Meat Loaf. To the west is the beautiful state capital, also a playground if you’re quiet when roaming the hallways admiring the art and architecture. Way to the far north is the Sleeping Giant, a mountain range that looks like a giant walked through Montana, took a nap, and never woke up.
On St. Patrick’s 1972 I took care to wear green so I wouldn’t be pinched, especially by the older kids who took pleasure in both carrying my little 35-pound self around the playground and chasing me.
A scraggly line of kids fidgeted at the teacher’s desk waiting for help. I didn’t need help, just a closer view. Ever since I pushed through the heavy wooden glass-paned door in the morning I hadn’t spotted any green on my teacher.
On cat feet I tiptoed to her desk for a closer inspection. Her cardboard-colored shift dress was a heavy polyester rectangle with sleeves. I suspected her thick tan nylons were attached to a garter belt like my gramma wore. Sensible black shoes were tied on above thick ankles.
Not a dot.
Not a stripe.
Not even a speck.
I held my breath and reached out. My petite thumb and index finger could only grip a tiny portion of her stout upper arm. Besides, I didn’t want to hurt her, I wanted to remind her she forgot to wear green. Every first grader knew to wear green. Except her.
Her response was quick and calculated, pinching my arm so hard it brought tears to my eyes.
“But, you’re not wearing any green!” Even in a 6-year old body I was all about rules and order and righteousness. If she didn’t wear green, she deserved a pinch.
“Yes, I am.”
On her ample bosom a tiny silver teardrop cut with facets like a prism hung on a fragile chain. She twirled the teardrop between her fingers and all the colors of the rainbow reflected in the florescent light overhead. Underneath a smug smile I finally saw her teeth. Then I saw a tiny flash of green.
But, miniscule flashes of green were still green. I’d been fooled and foiled.
It was so unfair. As I pouted back to my desk, hoisted myself into the too-big desk, and dangled my feet from my too-high chair, I realized she’d done that on purpose.
That made me madder than the pinch.
I don’t celebrate St. Patrick’s Day by wearing green and eating corned beef and cabbage.
I celebrate by remembering the pinch from my first-grade teacher.
And I still don’t think the necklace counted as wearing green…