On Friday night we watched the opening ceremonies of the Olympics. I love the Olympics and the opening ceremonies is one of my favorite parts. I started to get uncomfortable though. In the cultural presentation portion, when they were celebrating Russia's history, I started feeling uneasy during the part about the Soviets. Our kids thought my reaction was odd so I told them about Mrs. Callahan.
Mrs. Callahan was my fifth grade teacher. She reminds me of a character from a Roald Dahl book. She was mean and tyrannical and gave a lot of homework (way more than I had in high school). It seems like maybe she could be the type of strict teacher that once you got through her crusty exterior she had a heart of gold and loved children and teaching, but I never felt that way. I was afraid of her. And also I didn't like all the homework.
She smoked like a train and was overweight and really unhealthy. She had a blood clot in her leg and missed a good portion of the school year when I was in 5th grade. I felt like it was the best thing that could have happened to me. Mrs. Dalton was our substitute. Mrs. Dalton was benevolent and kind. She read us novels (Mrs. Callahan actually got mad when she found out) and she didn't give us all the homework Mrs. Callahan wanted us to have. The principal would come into the room and solemnly tell us how Mrs. Callahan was doing and that she'd still be gone for awhile and I tried to feign concern but I felt like I'd been given a stay of execution. Mrs. Callahan's illness made me happy.
My clearest memory of 5th grade is the day Mrs. Callahan decided to tell us about the Cold War. I don't know why she felt compelled to do so. I don't know if it was somehow related to our curriculum? I remember her sitting at her podium and telling us about the Russians. They were coming for us. They had nuclear weapons and we had nuclear weapons and they were pointed at each other. She told us that the president had a button in his office and that he could push it at any time and essentially, the world would end.
She also told us that Seattle was a big city and that Russia would certainly target Seattle. She told us we got our weather from Seattle so we would get the nuclear fallout.
(Now that I live in Seattle, it is plain to see not all the weather here makes it to the desert of northeastern Nevada...)
I started having nightmares about Russians landing at our school. They'd chase us down and torture us with ice picks. (Mrs. Callahan didn't supply the ice picks, my imagination did.)
I remember practicing the piano one afternoon and crying from the sheer terror of it all.
I eventually made it out of 5th grade. The Cold War ended and we've reached a somewhat strained peace with Russia. The world's not going to end with Russians landing in the playground and chasing me. Friday night I had scary dreams though, they were vague but the Bad Guys in the dreams all had Russian accents.
Intellectually, I'm not afraid of Russians anymore but there may be a scared 5th grader in me that is still a little terrorized.
Thank you Mrs. Callahan.
*I can't take credit for this title. I saw it on pinterest and it tickled my fancy.