I attended elementary school with this boy named Ricky. I remember that Ricky had black hair and black eyes and, if memory serves, he was fond of wearing tee shirts printed with race cars. But what I most remember about Ricky is that he had a dangerous sneeze.
Ricky’s sneeze was always sudden and unexpected. It shot from out of nowhere and made his classmates jump in surprise and caused the teacher to roll her eyes and pause in her struggle to teach her disinterested third graders long division.
“Ricky” she would sigh, setting down her chalk and rubbing at her temples.
“What?” Ricky would always be indignant, raising his hands in helpless supplication. “That’s how I sneeze.” He’d look around, meeting the eyes of his classmates, hoping for one of us to verify that, yes, indeed, that was how he sneezed.
Oh, how Ricky sneezed. Ricky's sneeze was a clap of thunder. Ricky’s sneeze was a jet on the runway. Ricky would shout out his sneeze, blasting it into the air, sending the papers on the teacher’s desk flying off in all directions. And afterwards, Ricky would chew upon the ghost of his sneeze almost thoughtfully. Or perhaps he was just trying to suck his teeth back into place.
One spring day, the teachers rounded up all the third graders and marched us out to the woods behind the school, ostensibly to get us some fresh air but more likely to get out of an afternoon of teaching math. In the beauty of the woods, one of the teachers was inspired to break into song: John Denver’s Almost Heaven, despite the fact that we were in Ohio. She sang with the confidence of someone who truly believed in her gift.
I don’t believe this teacher had much in the way of musical talent, but I do remember she was a tad short on common sense: I was a teacher’s pet in elementary school and put up with the teacher's off-key singing in order to remain at the front of the line with the rest of the goody-goodies.
Behind me, someone sneezed. Judging from the way the trees swayed in the sudden blast of wind, I wagered it was Ricky. The teacher stopped singing abruptly. “You know,” she informed the goody-goodies, patting her hair back into place, “if you sneeze with your eyes open, your eyes will shoot right out of your face. Never, ever sneeze with your eyes open.” Then she picked up her song, without missing a beat.
Thus forbidden, I wanted to try it. Was it possible to sneeze with just one eye open?
* * *
“Anything happen at school today?” My mother handed me the plate of hamburgers. We were seated around the dining room table. The carpet was green and matted and reminded me of the mossy carpeting that grew along the banks of the Cuyahoga River.
I took a bite of my hamburger and spoke around it. “My teacher told me that if you sneeze with your eyes open, your eyes will blast out.”
My dad snorted. His eyes widened. His snort evolved into a guffaw that eventually turned into a belly laugh. “Do me a favor, Kel.” Dad shook his head. “Tell that teacher that if you hold your nose when you sneeze, your socks’ll blow clean off your feet.”
I never did share this secret for quick sock removal with my teacher. But I was just suspicious enough of my father’s mockery of my teacher to try it out.
Of course, it failed.
But every time RIcky sneezed?
I made sure he closed his eyes.
Labels: Growing up, Ohio, School, Teachers