Some of the most memorable stories I’ve ever heard were told by my family members who were teachers. My parents spent most of their careers teaching at schools in rural Alabama. For most of my childhood, they drove thirty to forty minutes one-way to work every day. They last taught in a school in the community in which they were raised. They loved returning to the community to give back. It was apparent that they gave a lot, but I think they believed that they received a lot from the students they taught.
My mother was not as polished a storyteller as my father. She was especially challenged when there was humor involved. Mama usually had trouble containing her giggles while telling the story. When she told a funny story, her full body bounced as she laughed and struggled to get the words out in between the laughter. Watching her laugh and talk would make all of us laugh long before we ever knew why we were laughing.
One of mama’s favorite tales was related to her use of catalogs to teach the fundamentals of math and language arts. Mama loved catalog shopping and when she had no more use for the catalogs, she would take them to her classroom to share them with the students. Mama taught first and second grades the latter half of her teaching career. She encouraged socialization and learning by having her students work with catalogs in small groups. One day she noticed that a small group of boys were very interested in locating words and numbers in their catalog of choice. Then, the next time they had small group work a larger group of boys became very interested in the same catalog. They drew her attention because the numbers and words in their catalog made them giggle and snicker like playful, seven-year-old boys. She knew that they were boys who loved to play, but this behavior seemed odd at that particular time. After the students were dismissed for the day, Mama searched out the now infamous catalog that was a catalog published by a large retail store. It was one of her favorites because she could shop for everything from clothing for the family to household items. The book had toys, lawn and garden equipment, and women’s underwear. How did she ever forget about the underwear section?
This was the point in the story when Mama began to chuckle. As she told us how she ripped the women’s underwear and lingerie section from the catalog her laughter became more pronounced. Her shoulders shrugged and she began to sway back and forth slapping her right hand on her leg and putting the back of her left hand up to her face just in front of her nose and mouth. By now, everyone in the room was coming unglued with laughter hoping not to miss the punchline in the midst of the laughter. Finally, when she settled, she told us how she couldn’t wait to instruct the students to move into small groups for the circle time learning activity. She said she watched excitedly as the boys raced to the stack of catalogs to find the prized shopping book. She laughed about the looks on the faces of the boys in the group as one of the boys squeezed the book close to his chest and speed walked it to the circle. The other boys followed him like a band of merry classmates. According to Mama, the group leader flipped through the book quickly encouraged by the snickers of his friends. Once the boys completed the fruitless search, they began to flip through the book again on a mission to find the coveted pictures of the women’s undergarments and lingerie. The smiles and giggles turned to dismay and disappointment. She believed at that moment that the boys suspected that she knew why they had been captivated by the catalog. However, none of the boys asked her about the missing pages and she never let on to them that she was in on their secret. She kept a straight face throughout that circle time moment and stored her laughter for a later time. She was able to keep a straight face when she watched the boys. I think her ability to contain her laughter until a later time made it funnier to her and certainly provided us some healthy laughter as we watched her tell the story.