Visit Randy’s archive –Daryl
We had all heard the stories, of course, but we didn’t really believe them. So, when I graduated from the 5th grade at the Merrimac Street School in 1946 and was about to start at the Parker Street School, I went with no real idea about the awful terrors I, and my doomed classmates were about to encounter.
Life at Merrimac had been sweet and carefree. Behind the medieval- looking building, there was a nice little playground. I envied my best friend Ottello because he lived but a few strides across the street. He could wake up late and just saunter over to school, whereas I had to often brave snowstorms that pushed so hard on my little body as I crossed the Common that many times I almost gave up to go back to my warm house.
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Each morning all the classrooms assembled in the halls, upstairs and down, as we pledged allegiance to the flag. An old Victrola was hand cranked. The little wooden doors on its base were opened and the creaky sounds of The Star Spangled Banner wafted up the stairway to our young ears. Ah, the good ol’ days… we’d soon be missing them … very … very … soon.
I went on through the 6th grade at Parker St. School and then it happened. In the 7th and 8th grade, for the first time we had a home room and went off to other rooms for other classes. My home room was my English class. I had a wonderful teacher, Mrs. Brown, who happened to live in my neighborhood . I would see her sometimes sitting on her front porch rocker.
Across the hall was my history/geography class presided over by a viciously cruel and petty teacher… the absolute WORST teacher in the New Bedford school system known all over town by kids who didn’t even go to this school … the infamous, BULLDOG BENNET!
She was very short and squat with a pile of grey hair on her head and squinty slanted eyes and a face that looked EXACTLY like a bulldog. She had a permanent scowl. We never saw her smile. We came to think that she wasn’t even capable of smiling. Almost everyone in class was in terror of her and kids could be seen visibly shaking as they entered her class every day. Of course there were a few goody- good “teacher’s pets” who sailed through the two years unscathed, but certainly not your humble narrator. I got insanely awful grades. My father, a former dirt-poor immigrant kid who had never attended school in his whole life, was a stickler for me getting good grades (which I did achieve in Geometry, surprise surprise) and English. But, fortune, never the less, shined down on me due to the fact that Miss Bennet was an ardent right-wing, very outspoken bigot and snob. My father was an ardent Socialistic union man who loved Roosevelt. When my dad heard my terror tales of the horrors going on in my history and geography class, he forgave my bad grades … PHEW! He hated her as much as I did.
She loved to embarrass us kids in class. One time she made us stand and tell what church we went to. I was a product of an atheist household without benefit of a religion so I had to make up a lie about going to some Portuguese church to avoid the obvious confrontation that would have ensued. Anything she could pick on with a kid-victim was fodder for her seething, snarling scorn. Each day she would feed us her political propaganda woven into the history and geography lesson and I would report it back home to dad.
My home room, with the wonderful Mrs. Brown, was my safe haven. One day, knowing my interest in becoming an artist, she asked if I would like to undertake a mural for the classroom. It was to go all the way around the room except for the front blackboards which were used for the lessons. For some reason we were blessed with blackboards on the sides and back of the room. Supplied with colored chalks, I decided I would create a detailed jungle masterpiece peopled with parrots, monkeys, vines and colorful flowers. Sometimes Mrs. Brown would excuse me from the regular class involvement (remember I got good grades in English) to work on my project while the other poor slobs had to recite and compose and read. I loved my mural commission and really got lost in the jungle, inventing the swooping branches, vines and flora that housed my acrobatic monkeys and wildly colorful parrots. I’d stay late in class after school often to work on it.
One day, as I was engaged in my artistic endeavor with only Mrs. Brown at her desk, I became aware of another presence in the room. I turned slowly around to see the awful Bulldog Bennet standing in the doorway glowering at me. Time stopped dead as she spoke … “If he spent half the time attending to his lessons as he does to his art, he’d probably make something of himself!” By Mrs. Brown’s expression and the comments, she made at that point, I could tell that she shared my dislike for our neighbor across the hall.
Bennet went on for those two years bragging that when she was a schoolgirl she would weep if she got only an A, instead of an A+. She would invite the two or three girls who were her favorites to her house for tea and then, the next day, tell us all what fun they all had.
When we all finally graduated to New Bedford High School it was like a deadly curse had been lifted from our battered psyches.
Years and years later, after I was well into my illustration and cartooning career and my mother had died and my father had retired and was doing volunteer work for the Red Cross, he told me that he was regularly taking residents of a nursing home for drives in his car just so they could get out and around a little. He said, “You’ll never guess who is one of my regular ladies … Bulldog Bennet! He said that she was a little shriveled and quite senile version of her old self. He also told me that he always stopped somewhere to buy the ladies an ice cream cone on their trips. He said that the only thing he would ever hear out of her little high, squeaky, cracked voice was… ” Ice cream … ice cream … ice cream!”
And, so, that’s the way it ended for the infamous Bulldog Bennet … a tiny pitiful voice pleading to my dad “Ice cream … ice cream … ice cream!”
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Read many more of Randy’s cartooning memories: