Carolyn E. Cook
Unforgettable People — Mrs. Curry
Updated: Jul 8, 2019
A powerful stare with eyes blazing, one brow raised high — that was Mrs. Curry’s stock-in-trade. She’d used that weapon enough times, the mere mention of her name could strike quaking fear into even the most confident heart.
Two weeks or so before the first day of school, my daily schedule arrived in the mail and I read, 5th period, Senior English – Mrs. Curry. Now there was a horror! Her reputation among the students at my high school went far and wide. The thought of being in a classroom with her for the entire year made me want to dig a hole to China.
The first day, the entire class sat still as rocks, while Mrs. Curry expounded on her rules and expectations. She demonstrated not one shred of friendliness, good will, or flexibility. I assumed she held to the educational philosophy, Don’t smile until Christmas. Or maybe never.
According to my observations, she was perhaps fifty-ish. Her hair was dark brown and apparently very long, since it was styled as a braid wrapped from the back of her neck to the top of her head and returning, a circle several times over. She wore dark-framed glasses, cat-eye shaped and having some kind of white design at each pointed corner. Behind them, her brows were dark as her hair and drawn thick, similar to Joan Crawford’s. Her lipstick was red. Jewelry amounted to clip-ons that looked like buttons and a brooch on her sweater.
Hoo-boy. My best hope was to survive the year, graduate, and clear out.
But first impressions aren’t always the way things truly are. Over the beginning weeks of that year, Mrs. Curry’s brusque behavior softened. Her discussions of whatever classic literature we were reading (the title escapes me now) were actually engaging. She seemed to enjoy debating points with students and dare I say it? She even smiled on occasion. Sometimes, she would digress and tell us funny things about herself when she was young, her husband off to WWII and she with a new baby, such as, how she thought the baby was dying when his umbilical stump fell off in the middle of the night and in panic, she called the doctor.
I came to like Mrs. Curry a bunch and even more, to respect her. Her scary reputation was much overrated. This isn’t to say that she was a slouch teacher. She pushed us hard and her grading was tough. She told us, “I’m preparing you for college. Nobody there will cut you any slack. To them, you’ll be just a number. So do your best every day.”
My most special memory of her comes from May. I was a third-year art student and the art teacher, Mrs. Pinecone (not her real name), decided to put on a show of student work in an empty classroom. Each kid could display two or three items, their choice. I had so many things to choose from, my art buddies helped with the selection. Their favorite was a very small acrylic painting, maybe 8 x 8 inches. I’d used a family snapshot of cousins, light-struck and shadowy (I liked the play of lights and darks). The way one girl was sitting, the hem of her dress had flipped up, which allowed a slight edge of her underwear to show. I appreciated the kid-ness of it and retained that little blip in my painting. Of all the people who’d seen the finished product, no one had objected to it, not even my mother. Therefore, I agreed with my friends and taped that picture on the wall, as one of my contributions to the art show.
The morning the show opened, I went in to see how everything looked and couldn’t find that one painting anywhere. I asked Mrs. Pinecone about it and she behaved as if she wanted to throttle me.
“Mrs. Hammerjammer (another teacher and not her real name, either) came in here late yesterday and saw your picture! She said it was absolutely horrible and unfitting for a school art show! I took it down and it’s on my desk!”
Was I ever floored! I replied, “But other people think it’s very good.”
“I think it’s not! Take it home immediately! I never want to see it again!”
What’s a kid to do? Red-faced, I hustled to the art room and retrieved my picture, knowing it had somehow been deemed obscene for a half-inch line of white. I slid the painting into my binder and intended to keep it hidden there for the rest of the day.
Hours went by and when 5th period rolled around, I’d begun to feel indignant and even slandered. Before the bell rang, I told my story to girls sitting near me and Mrs. Curry overheard. She acted more indignant than I felt. “Let me see this offensive picture,” she said.
I got it out and handed it to her, which brought on her blazing eyes and raised brow. “I think it’s lovely,” she declared. “And I’d like to buy it. How much do you want for it?”
Stunned, I answered that I didn’t know.
“Ten dollars. Will that do?”
I gulped. “Sure.” That was a lot of money.
She went straight to her purse and paid me on the spot.
The following day, the art show was still in progress and no art classes were held. The circumstance allowed me to avoid Mrs. Pinecone. However, when I arrived in Mrs. Curry’s class again, she rushed to me, a huge grin on her face, so uncharacteristic of her. She chortled an explanation. “At lunch today, I showed that painting around to everyone in the teacher’s lounge — including Mrs. Pinecone! I raved about the skill it took to paint people so well and how affecting the subject was. And I told them I’d bought it and will get it framed, so it can hang in my house!”
Imagine the look on Mrs. Pinecone’s face! And maybe even Mrs. Hammerjammmer!
If Mrs. Curry had been a huggable kind of person, I would have grabbed her right then. Instead, I kept things a bit more sedate and thanked her repeatedly. She responded, “No thanks necessary. I had a lot of fun doing it!”
The last week of May was Senior Week and one of the suggested activities was to dress up as your favorite teacher. I came to school that day as Mrs. Curry. She gained a rousing laugh from my costume and I got my picture in the yearbook!