When I was 13 and in the eighth grade, one of the most demanding teachers I’d ever had — and with the most depressing agenda — came to our school. Short, stocky, muscular and well-tanned, she wore a uniform of dark blue short-shorts, gray sweatshirt, white tennis shoes and socks, and her only, and ever-present accessories were a big watch and a silver whistle suspended from a leather cord around her neck.
You’ve probably guessed that she was the new PE teacher. Well, she managed to mess up my life for two whole school years.
Like most youngsters of the era, I was pretty much physically fit since all there was to do was romp and run, walk or bike everywhere you wanted or needed to be, and stay pretty much on the go unless you were at your school desk or reading a book on a mattress in the garage, which your mother wouldn’t let you do 24/7.
But, past puberty, girls could run the risk of getting somewhat out of shape because they were growing to be too ladylike for public exertion and, at least in our small town, there were no school-sponsored sports in which we could participate, not that I, for one, would have. Soccer was an odd game played only by the South American boys at the college down the street.
(To be sure, girls’ basketball was big in some other places — both my mother and future mother-in-law were high school stars in the ‘20s — but back then guards played on one half of the court and the forwards on the other, as it was deemed unlikely that females could actually run the long distance from one goal to another.)
Anyhow, back to Miss Marianne Brown, the PE teacher who made misery. I don’t hesitate to mention her name, because at this time she is either teaching the angels to catch flies and steal bases on the Elysian Fields, or she is heading up the teams from her assisted living complex that will enter the Senior Olympic Games soon to be held.
Miss Brown was so gung-ho that she mandated that we actually break a sweat during class-time calisthenics and then take off all of our clothes at the close of the PE period to wash it off. Before her time we had stripped down to panties and bras and stuck only our arms and legs under the shower. She made us jump up and crouch down, sprint across the gym and climb ropes and perform other exhausting physical feats, timed us with her stopwatch and then recorded our performances on official-looking charts on her official-looking clipboard.
Then she announced that not only were we to endure this kind of nonsense, we were to report to her after school several days a week for competitive softball games. Could she do this? It seemed that she could, and at any rate my well-coordinated mother would be the last to call her up and object.
Memories of these softball games are a painful part of my life that I have largely blocked, remembering only that I scampered skittishly about the outfield, dodging flies that I was certain would break my fingers if caught, and raise a lump on my head if missed. I was easily the team idiot. But I survived, and my teacher survived me.
Interestingly, when my younger sister and her BFF got to junior high, they embraced Miss Brown’s agenda wholeheartedly. They hung out with her in her little office, followed her about the gym and across the playing fields and aped her dress; even took to wearing silver whistles on leather chords around their necks. She must have thought my sister and I had been adopted from different planets.
I got to thinking about all this the other day, when the invitation to “Come and Play” in the Greater New Orleans Senior Olympic Games was issued in the newspaper. Registration deadline is Feb. 16 and the games begin on the 24th.
There will be track and field events, tennis, racquetball, volleyball, swimming, bowling, golf and more. For information call 559-9060; to register call 834-5279 or download and print an entry form online at www.gnoso.net.
See you there? Well, they’ll be wanting someone to watch, won’t they?
Bettye Anding is a former editor of The Times Picayune Living section, for which she wrote Silver Threads until her retirement. Email her at email@example.com.