Mrs. Martha Ferguson
Miss Rebecca Elliott
Miss Rebecca Elliott
In December of 1968 I turned the magical age of ten and found myself firmly planted in the 5th grade. On a daily basis I was under the watchful eye of an attractive black woman who earlier that summer had been chosen to be my teacher. She was tall, sported dark wavy hair and even on the sunniest of days could be seen in a lightweight wool coat and patent leather shoes. She was an awesome story teller, loved savoring butterscotch candy, and before the passing of another year of innocence she would successfully point my feet in the right direction.
Mrs. Martha Ferguson was a stern lady. Even so, I could tell she liked me. She did not, however, take kindly to the simple fact that I was a talker and on more than one occasion would disrupt her class with my mindless prattle. Plainly stated, I would rather wile away my classroom hours day-dreaming about this and that (or whisper pleasantries with my closest friend, Laura) than complete the assignments placed before me. Mrs. Ferguson rarely smiled, but…nor did she frown. She was just…well, agreeable. And even though I was scolded on a daily basis for SOMETHING that always started with the opening of my mouth, she was never TOO terribly hard on me. That is, except for the time she very firmly demanded I immediately stop doing two things…
1. Flirting with Doyle Griffith, the cute boy who sat next to me (and the one, if not for my chattering voice, would never have even known I was alive)…
2. Twirling my hair ribbon around my fingers (instead of leaving it tied up in my hair)...
Life during fifth grade brought with it lots of discoveries. It was the year I first recall being taught that teasing other children was a dreadful thing to do and the year I promised myself I would never do it. But, that was only after hearing someone call one of the McMurray twins “Dead Fish” and then watching silently as their words resulted in a visit to the Principle’s Office for a bumm whoopin'. I’d been bullied enough over my own imperfections and wanted no part of the cruelty and could certainly live without the sure-to-be-had paddlin'...
I fully understood during fifth grade that I wasn’t one of the “it girls”. It was also the year I realized that money was powerful and that some of my classmates had a lot of it and some… well, like me, did not. During the months of fifth grade I came to believe my gaped teeth made me ugly (notice the closed-mouth smile) and my mousy brown hair would certainly have looked a little more desirable had it been blond.
It was during that fifth year at Bixby I was to learn that no matter how hard I tried I was never going to beat Sally Jewel at Tether-Ball (she was a bruiser of a girl so I figured it was OK) and the year I discovered I was truly terrible at mathematics. It was the year I learned I “kinda” loved English, was dreadful at Geography, fairly good in Spelling and the year my heart embraced anything and everything that had to do ART. Be it drawing, painting, gluing, glittering, papier-mâché or pottery, I was in for the long haul.
And thanks to the film about…um…well…you know…I learned (frighteningly so) I wouldn’t always be a LITTLE girl….
It was also the year I learned that teachers can cry.
I cannot say just why I stayed inside during my recess on that early spring afternoon, my memory isn’t that good. What I do remember is witnessing the teacher I had grown to love and admire as she sat quietly behind her desk dabbing away the tears that rolled down her cheeks. I couldn’t resist the urge to focus my eyes upon her as truthfully I’d never seen a teacher really cry. She was deeply troubled by what I clearly understood as being something “grown-up” and I knew better than to disturb her. The seconds ticked by as I tried to complete my assignments…I didn’t dare look up again for I feared she would find me staring at her and that would be uncomfortable for both of us. Several minutes passed before I felt her presence standing next to my tiny chair.
“Becky” she said, quietly kneeling down beside me.
“Listen to me!”
“Listen to me!”
She gently pushed my hair from my face and then began...
“I need to tell you something that is just for you! You are a very smart girl! Don’t let anyone else ever tell you your not good enough, smart enough, pretty enough or talented enough! Work hard! That’s the key! If you do, you WILL make it! Remember, it matters not if you are Red, Yellow, BLACK or White…”
With that, she stood up and walked back to her desk.
We were never to speak about her tears or her instruction, and I never again saw Mrs. Ferguson cry. My final memory is of her standing tall in her dark colored jacket as I snapped her picture for my photo album. It would be the last day I was to ever sit inside a classroom at Bixby Elementary School. It would be the very last time I would ever see the face of the woman who would forever remain my favorite teacher and the one who helped change the course of so much of my life.
Years would fly by before I would recall again the pocket-sized memory I had so neatly tucked away. I was never to know the reason for Mrs. Ferguson’s sadness or the source of her tears. I suspect it had something to do with some sort of racial discord, but I can’t be sure. What I understood then and know to be true even today is that through her own sadness and sufferings she didn’t hesitate to offer up the needed encouragement and acceptance to a small girl wandering aimlessly in a garden that rarely bloomed.
“Bless you, Mrs. Ferguson, beautiful Teacher! I wish I could find you…”
“Death and life are in the power of the tongue: and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof.” Proverbs 18:21
“Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the heavens. Ephesians 4:29
Blessings to you as you encourage those around you and teach those who are willing to listen…Rebecca