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Saturday, April 01 2017

Green cowshit splashes against the gravel as the dozen or so steers stand at the driveway gate, stomping with impatience, waiting to be let inside. Their tails whip back and forth like windshield wipers slinging a green shitty slime against the gate and each other. They are not happy. They want in. They are not my cows.

The neighbor has turned these steers out on the rich pasture next door and they are just a tad bit confused as to where they belong. No worries. Life in the country. But I have to manually open and close that gate every time I leave the house, so I don't want it looking like the loading chute at a cattle auction, therefore I dispatch a dog to take care of the problem.

I have multiple dogs who could handle the task, but using one of the Border Collies for this was like using a fine wood chisel to open a paint can. The Blue Heeler, who isn't much good for any kind of cow work that requires finesse, is perfect for this job. The chore demands little more than rushing the fence and barking like a madman. Right up his alley.

The short fat blue dog puffs with pride as cattle back off in surprise. He feels so good about himself. He'll never be as talented as the Border Collies. But today. Right here. In the moment. He can do this. And he feels good about himself.

I watch him and make mental note to select him more often for these tasks that he can do which make him feel good. When surrounded by Border Collies, it's easy to feel like a failure. As the cattle stare from a respectful distance he parades back and forth in front of the gate with a jaunty Barney Fife swagger and I am reminded of myself in an 8th Grade Algebra class.

I hated Math. Sucked at it, in fact. Sitting in a Middle School Algebra class, I was a little fat Blue Heeler dog surrounded by Border Collies. A country kid, I had just moved to a new town and was still overwhelmed by it all when I was plopped down in Mrs Pauline Thorogood's 7th grade Algebra class. The woman scared the shit out of me.

She was a tiny, wiry thing who chainsmoked and with the confident air of a Border Collie used to understanding everything, she tried in vain to teach Algebra to a country kid who didn't understand that numbers could be combined with letters.  It was a dismal failure. The one positive thing to come from that first year was my new best friend, Neecy Buchanan. We had three things in common: we lived in the same neighborhood, we both sucked at Algebra, and we both scared witless of Pauline Thorogood.

Like survivors of a shipwreck, clinging to each other in a lifeboat that was tossed around by the high seas of Algebra, we barely passed 7th Grade.

But guess what?

Eight Grade Algebra was also taught by Pauline Thorogood.

And we sucked at it too.

We were two little fat Blue Heeler Dogs in another class of Border Collies. Our expectations were lower that year so it wasn't as bad. Keep your head down. Hold onto your life raft. Weather the storm.  It wasn't pretty but on the last day of the 8th Grade, we were two little fat Blue Heelers confident that we had Ds in Algebra. It was enough to get us into 9th grade and out from underneath the withering disappointment of Mrs Pauline Thorogood.

And so there we sat, on the last day of school just trying to blend in and not be noticed as Mrs Pauline Thorogood handpicked students to leave the classroom for minor end of the year clean-up tasks. Run these papers here. Collect these Math books and take them to this work room. Have the Guidance Counselor sign this. Hands shot up in the air as volunteers eagerly leapt at the opportunity to help.

Pauline Thorogood's gaze swept across the classroom like a security search light at a prison before it landed on me. I think she saw me breathe.

"You! You and you! I haven't given you anything but trouble all year. You two can go do this for me."

And as Neecy Buchanan and I stood in front of Mrs Pauline Thorogood to pick up our assigned task, I did something I probably hadn't done in two years. I look Mrs Pauline Thorogood in the eye.

She smiled back at me warmly.

And in that moment, I realized that Mrs Thorogood didn't hate me because I sucked at Math. She didn't hate me at all.  And I didn't really hate Mrs Thorogood because I sucked at Math. For the first time in two years it occurred to me that Mrs Thorogood might actually like her two little fat Blue Heelers in a room full of Border Collies. Away from Algebra, and the fear of having to slink up to the front of a classroom and be handed a piece of chalk to finish a math problem that may as well have been written in ancient Hebrew, Mrs Thorogood might be a pretty okay person.

So we finished the day, and 8th Grade, basking in the glow of Mrs Thorogood's smile. And instead of remembering how terrified I was of her, I would carry the memory that I had misjudged Mrs Throrogood. But that lesson, like so many others, would probably have been lost had it not been for one thing.

The explosion rocked our neighborhood on that summer day.

Neecy Buchanan and I stopped pedaling our bikes and just stood with bare feet on hot pavement gaping as black smoke billowed into the distant sky.

The next day the newspaper would report that our Algebra teacher and three friends had been killed in a freak accident. We were all in shock. Even the Angel of Death should have been afraid of Mrs Thorogood. As only an 8th Grade girl can do, I put a lot of thought into it, and though the details of the tragedy still horrified me, I found a bit of comfort in one thing.

My memory of Mrs Pauline Thorogood would not be one of fear, or a hatred of Algebra, but of that one act of kindness when she said, "I haven't given you anything but trouble all year."

For in that act, she acknowledged a relationship I was too shy to change. And in that one act, she became, not a chainsmoking dragon, but a person who perhaps didn't understand the deep-rooted fears of a shy child. She was just a Border Collie trying to understand a Blue Heeler.

It wasn't until college that Algebra made sense. The instructor was not a mathmatician but a grad student from another field who just happened to be teaching the class that semester. He presented Algebra in a completely different way than I'd seen it before and it finally clicked. Perhaps it was the new twist on instruction or perhaps my brain had just grown up to the point where it could handle the abstract concepts better, but either way, I was proud to earn a B in the course, and as I walked back to my car with a spring in my step, I wanted to share the good news with Mrs Thorogood.

Posted by: forensicfarmgirl AT 08:43 am   |  Permalink   |  4 Comments  |  Email
Very nice.
Posted by Steve on 04/01/2017 - 10:34 PM
Another wonderful word film.
Posted by Liz (Vic Aust.) on 04/02/2017 - 07:20 PM
You writer, you! You so know how to tie the threads together to bind the pieces, and make a big canopy that we can all enjoy. Thank you.
Posted by Donna Black on 04/03/2017 - 02:18 PM
Barney Fife swagger LOL. Ranger probably wants a loaded gun too.
Posted by Peg H. in Wisconsin on 04/09/2017 - 08:41 AM

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