I began “real” school in first grade. My teacher, Miss Tate, was a short round no-nonsense woman with a white bun at the nape of her neck. She wore long dresses with opaque white stockings and heavy black shoes with thick high heels.
One day my father gave me a tablet of lined paper so I brought it to school and showed it to my friends. Of course each of them wanted a sheet. This was 1949 and the previous years of World War II rationing still made perishables dear. I thought quickly and decided on a qualification. I whispered, "If I give you a paper, you have to write 'I love Dennis' on it.”
“OK.” “OK.” “OK.” “OK.” Four girls quickly agreed. This was not a hard sell because he was the most popular boy in class. I myself favored Robert Ludeman but he was shy, so I was writing of love for Dennis too. Before our work time Miss Tate gave a reading lesson where we all took turns reading aloud. After that we could read further by ourselves or draw pictures. This was the time I had waited for. We five sat at our designated tables and began to write. I was just beginning the “L” when Marianne quietly slipped out of her chair and came to lean over and whisper in my ear, “How do you spell 'love?'”
I obviously hadn't planned ahead. The spelling part hadn't occurred to me. “I don't know,” I admitted after pondering the question. “But I can find out.” So I approached Miss Tate's desk knowing no fear. After all, she was our source of all knowledge. “Miss Tate,”I said as quietly as I could without whispering, “How do you spell 'love'?”
“What? What did you say?” She looked up. “Oh, 'L-O-V-E',” she replied and returned to marking grades in her book.
On my way back to my table, I passed Marianne's table. “It's 'L-O-V-E',” I hissed, then quickly found my seat to continue completing my part in this love hexangle.
Too soon Miss Tate's voice penetrated my concentration as I decorated my love statement. “Please move your arm, Dianne. I want to see what you are working on!”
“Miss Tate! Oh, no. please! Just look at Marianne's paper! She's doing the same thing I'm doing.”
“Yes, I do see what Marianne has written. Just what is this all about, girls?”
“Miss Tate, it's not just Dianne and me, it's Betty and Carolyn too! Alice made us do it.”
Miss Tate turned red and walked to the front of the class. “Alice! Come up here and bring your paper.”
I knew this could be the worst thing that had ever happened to me. It hadn't occurred to me that this would make Miss Tate mad. We were just supposed to become a group of friends sealed by a secret. It shouldn't have had anything to do with Miss Tate. But I had to ask her how to spell 'love'. I brought my paper up to her at the front of the class. I tried to hand her my paper.
She glanced down at it. “No,” She said. “I want you to read it to the class.”
I stood in silent panic. No, no. no! Dennis will think I love him and I don't. Robert will think I love Dennis too when I really love Robert. And my friends will hate me forever.
“Alice! We are waiting!”
I can't. I can't. I can't...
Miss Tate picked up the yardstick from the chalk tray and held it behind me. “Alice!”
She hit me on my rear end with it, but the real pain of humiliation was yet to come.
I couldn't stop my tears.
“I love Dennis.”