I found this photograph among my dad’s things. I’m guessing it’s his first-grade class picture, which would make the tight-lipped teacher Miss O’Brien. Fourth from the left in the back row—that’s little Tommy Wolfe.
“My teachers taught me by hand,” Dad wrote in an essay from 2003. “In other words, they took immediate and unsubtle action when I misbehaved. My first grade teacher, Miss O’Brien, had a large paddle and demanded that offenders step to the front of the class, grab their ankles, and accept a few whacks. When she caught me crawling around the floor one day, she called me forward to receive my punishment; but I was too frightened to go and thus got away with it.”
Other teachers had other methods, but they all tolerated little or no nonsense from me. My second grade teacher, Miss Kruse, made us put our noses in circles on the chalkboard, a fairly non-violent approach, but she also had a good right cross. I discovered that once after pushing a classmate’s face into the water fountain and having to explain myself to her. After telling her an outrageous lie to the effect that my brain had no control over my hand, she simply swung her right hand and gave me a resounding slap. My third and fourth grade teacher, Miss Barr, made us stand in the corner, sometimes with our hands over our hands. She also pinched our ears with her long fingernails and hit us with yardsticks, rulers, and her hands. Despite it all, I never doubted that I deserved what I received, I certainly never told my mother, and I really liked her anyway.
I could stare at this picture for hours. By my count, two girls are smiling and one girl is smirking. Everyone else looks terrorized.
Thomas and Frances Wolfe, undated
Brendan Wolfe, Lost Nation, May 26, 1975