My teacher said, “Children, if you have to leave the room, raise your hand.”
I have never forgotten that rule, despite the passing of 69 years. Mrs. Hack, my teacher, was old. She was old like my grandmother. She had a slight mustache and some veins showing on her legs, so I knew she was older than my mother. The next age range was grandmothers. Between mothers and grandmothers are aunts, whose age no one knows. During that first day in school, the basic rules were given. So many rules and each one sounded so important. I wasn’t certain what she meant by, “if you have to leave the room raise your hand,” but I didn’t dare ask. It didn’t seem like a bad rule, and raising my hand was something I had done successfully in kindergarten.I was an excellent hand raiser. The best hand raise was executed swiftly, with a full extension of your right hand, arm and if possible your right shoulder. Even for lefties, which I was, the right hand raise was preferred since that was the hand used in the flag salute. If, God forbid, you exhausted the muscles in the right hand raise, then you switched to the left hand, but only briefly. At times, when I had to impress Mrs. Hack, I would increase the hand elevation by stretching my entire torso, but always keeping my buttocks firmly planted on the seat. Any daylight between buttocks and seat would be interpreted as standing, and that was totally unacceptable. If you were not seated, even the most exquisite hand raise was ignored, and you were guaranteed to be chosen last.One day, not long after the morning snack time, I felt the need to go to the bathroom. I raised my hand, and Mrs. Hack asked me what I wanted. I told her that I had to go to the bathroom. She gave me permission, and reminded me to take the bathroom marker with me. The bathroom marker was a small block of wood with the word BOYS painted in blue, and another block in pink for the girls. I took the marker, went to the bathroom and returned to my room a short time later.
In a little while, my friend, Ira, raised his hand. Mrs. Hack was teaching a reading group on the far side of the room. Her back was turned toward Ira. She couldn’t see his outstretched hand. Ira stretched his arm higher. He started to waive his right hand, but still no recognition. Ira’s right side was fully extended. From his waist, to his finger tips, Ira reached for the heavens. Soon he began to whine. An almost inaudible, low groan kind of a whine. The reading group droned on. Ira’s face flushed red, and the whine grew louder. Suddenly Mrs. Hack turned to see the source of such pain. A teacher of many years, she immediately recognized Ira’s desperate situation. She told him that he could leave the room, and to take the marker. Ira ran to the marker hook, but the marker was not there. He shouted, “it’s not there! Mrs. Hack said to look again. Ira looked, but there was no marker. He stood still and stared blindly ahead, and he shuddered ever so slightly. It was too late.
That night, my mother was washing my pants and she found the bathroom marker.