I hated my third grade teacher. Looking back on it with an adult’s perspective, I wasn’t wrong to hate her. She was awful. Mean, lording her authority over a bunch of 8 year olds. Who is really impressed with themselves, that they can recite the multiplication tables faster than a third grader? Who?
In some twist of sadism and good intent, some of her decisions ended up being positive experiences, if challenging and ill-timed. As a reward for good behavior, we watched Battleship Potemkin, the 1925 silent film, famous for a scene in which a crowd of people are gunned down in a melee of fascist fervor and gunfire. I remember most clearly the shot of a baby buggy rolling down the stairs, careening toward disaster, with no one to stop it. As the oldest of four, and then a child, I was really affected by the scene, more than I would be as an adult. Time has given me the power to intellectualize my emotions, but as we little catholic school children filed into the hallway, neatly, silently, I think I felt the scene etch itself into the malleable and private whorls of my brain.
As another reward, she read us Hemmingway’s short story “Hills like White Elephants,” and afterward delineated the morality involved with abortion. Another story we read was “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” Ambrose Bierce’s piece about a civil war soldier hallucinating in his dying moments, while being hung off a bridge.
In the pragmatic way of children, I did not indulge in self-aware shock, but single mindedly analyzed the spare, affecting style of all three pieces. Potemkin is a silent black-and-white film, its message is a naively revolutionary one, but I couldn’t gather that at the time. Hemmingway was a journalist early in his career, and is famed for his economy with words. Bierce wrote in a style gleaned from press releases. I think the aesthetic of the pieces shaped the way I value art and literature more than any other pieces.
I have no moral, maybe there is no moral.