My Memoirs: I Won and I Lost … Or How More Is Less, Pt 5

(Beulah) Stephany Spencer in 1960, age 14


red brick school

(Note: This is the closest image I could find online that reminds me of how Hurricane High School looked in 1957 through 1960, when my 6th Grade and Jr. High School classes were held there.)

Note: This is the culmination of my five-part blog that I have been faithfully posting a section of every week for the past five weeks. We take up today where I left off last week when I had run desperately into the house to consult Mother, realizing Miss Naegle’s latest homework assignment was about to do me in:

        “Mama! I can’t do this!! ” I cried. “I can’t memorize this boring homework list! I can’t even stand trying to!”

In her wise-beyond-years demeanor, Mama smiled and said,“Why don’t you put it to music?”

“Yes, but what song shall I use?!” I wailed.

Oh, just any song that fits. You could even make up a tune if you wanted to.” Being a trained concert pianist, my mother knew about memorizing very long things!

Believing her advice would work, I followed it and it did work! I was back out there with a bang, clothes flying out of my hands onto the lines as fast as I banged out whatever tunes seemed to fit the particular line of boring prepositions I was working on:

“At, about, above, aboard, across, according to, along, alongside, against — And so on and so forth. I’ve long since forgotten the tunes I came up with back then to digest each section in the list. But like muscle memory,  the words have stuck!

Come Friday morning, I was ready — except for burnout. Seems I almost met my Maker and it was a most daunting experience. Even so, I was wondering if Billy Nickerson, my secret sweetheart, would do better than I.

He was a gorgeous 13-year-old, highly-gifted Hispanic-American whose father worked as a physicist on the Hurricane Mesa. (“Mesa” means “table” in Spanish. On this Mountain tabletop near Hurricane, Utah, a large part of the scientific work and testing of the first Sputnik was being done. Testing to improve the H-bomb was also going on there, as well as other defense mechanisms involved in our country’s race with Russia to win the Cold War.)

Well, as it turns out, bright Billy thought the homework silly — and unreasonable. So did his parents. Therefore, he only memorized the first two groups of prepositions: The A’s and the B’s. Then he went outside to participate in his favorite sport: Winning all the boys twice his age and size in tether ball — the way he usually did after school.

I often stayed after school to watch these boys’ intense, exciting “matches” between the short 8th Grader, Billy, and the tall 9th through 12th Grade boys. For Billy would beat them every time — one right after the other! Such energy, strength, endurance and genius I have never since seen in sports — though I have seldom been inclined to watch Sports, anyway! My love for Billy was my motivation to watch this after-school competitive sportsmanship and game.

My competitive “game” was mostly with words, music, and other intellectual pursuits. So it was. Therefore, when Friday came, our last day of school for that year, Billy was at the top of the class, so was first to recite what he had memorized of the 105 prepositions, which was about forty of them.

Then it was my turn: The words popped out of me like clothespins on a line! I only stumbled a few times, mostly out of nervousness, anxiety, and a tired, frustrated, fried brain.

I was literally brain-dead, pale, and worn out, that last day of school, after four intense days of angst and effort put into memorizing this horrendous list of the 105 meaningless, disconnected words. But I was forced to do it or get an “F” as my final grade on the year-end report card.

This Report Card was the most important of the year, for, among other things, it would delineate the top grades and students for the year at the little red-brick schoolhouse that housed the Hurricane Jr. High/High School students. It would be big news in the town’s newspaper.

That would explain Miss Naegle’s controlling, power-pushing, all-out attempt to come up with something so bizarre, atrocious and unbelievable as to assign her poor, helpless 8th Graders (her captive audience) to memorize, at the very end of the year, the whole 105 English prepositions!

This assignment would have been bad at any time. But it was sadistic and mean to assign it when we only had four evenings of homework days left before the last day of school when our final grades were due and were so important to us.

It was her effort to move me out of the “A” section that made her so crazy! LOL! But no, it really was not a laughing matter. I almost had a nervous breakdown under the stress and unfairness of this senseless homework assignment!

But Miss Naegle’s karmic act backfired on her. For not only did I recite from memory the whole hundred five prepositions, exchanging places with Billy Nickerson to sit at the top of the class and get my “A,” but nobody else in the whole class of forty-five – Or even  Miss Naegle’s other 8th Grade class of forty students –- had been able to comply with this over-the-top homework task.

So Miss Naegle had to give “Miss Polyggy” her A+ … But she didn’t have to make a big deal of it –- And she didn’t! She totally ignored my feat and my exceptional workmanship and memory, as though I were insignificant or didn’t exist. Then she pretended to never have threatened anyone with an “F” on their final Report Card should they not memorize that whole list in order, and without errors, too!

In fact, she just dropped the whole frickin’ nightmare, as if she had never heard of it or assigned it. Because both of her 8th Grade classes failed the assignment miserably — Everyone, that is, but me!

You would think she would have at least complimented me on my feat, in private, if she couldn’t do it in front of the class  — or better still, the whole school! But she never even showed me one ounce of acknowledgment or appreciation for my success and amazing achievement, especially given how poorly the rest of her eighty-four students did!

So what else could she do when all the Saints were brilliant and all the rest were outcasts — and I had failed to fail her manipulative assignment? She intended this homework assignment to be her winning hand. It was targeted for the last day of school and she thought for sure I’d be had, and she would get to give me an “F,” or at least get me out of the “A” section.

And with it being the last day of school, she thought I wouldn’t have time to work my way back up into the “A” section again before she pulled out her black Grade Book to assign us our final grades for the year. But as it turned out, she “got had” instead:

Sammy, Jr.’s dad, the Bishop, had called her – as had other parents – to inquire about this horrendous homework task that was leading to mental breakdowns among the Saints’ kids!

So once again, I, the leperous Mormon fundamentalist “Short Cricker,” was the talk of the town and the school! Word went all over about how I had managed to memorize the whole 105 prepositions in only a short time, while doing all my other year-end school homework, too! A monumental feat!

None of Miss Naegle’s other eighty-four students were able to memorize much more than fifteen or twenty of the monotonous, brain-frying, outlandishly-long list of boring words — except for Billy Nickerson who memorized forty in order and without much faltering.

Therefore, the rest of Miss Naegle’s eighty-five 8th Graders totally failed the assignment. None of them had memorized even close to the forty prepositions Billy had memorized, let alone the whole hundred-five prepositions I had memorized in order and without any mistakes!

I later checked with my classmates, after they got their Report Cards: And NOT ONE of them had gotten an “F” on their report card, despite all Miss Naegle’s threats!! But why am I so sure she would’ve followed through with her threats and given me an “F” as my year-end and final Report Card grade, had I not memorized the whole list, in order and without any mistakes? (That was her year-end assignment, to be sure!)

And why did I feel I had won but had also somehow lost, as I sat in that envied seat at the top of the class sobbing a silent sigh of relief that I had “made the grade”? I had  not only avoided the “F” meant for me but beat out all the other 8th Graders besides — Thanks to my musically-trained, gifted mother who had saved me from a mental breakdown by suggesting I use music to help me memorize this bizarre homework assignment.

To this day, about all this list of memorized prepositions has been good for, besides inadvertently winning Miss Naegle at her own game, is to entertain a captive audience ’till their eyes bug out — so here goes: Are you ready? (This is what I tell audiences when I am going to entertain them by reciting the whole hundred-five prepositions aloud by memory — which I still do from time to time — to this day.)

          Following is the list of prepositions I memorized in order:

At, about, above, aboard, across, according to, along, alongside, against, among, amongst, amid, amidst, around, after;

before, behind, below, beneath, beside, besides, between,  betwixt, beyond, but, because of, by, by way of, by means of, by reason of, by virtue of;
concerning, considering;     down, during, despite, due to;   “ere, except, excepting;

for, from;      in, into, instead of, in care of; in case of, in front of, in place of, in spite of, in accordance with, in reference to, in preference to, in regard to, in regards to, in respect to, in addition to;    like;    ‘mid, ‘midst;    near,’neath, notwithstanding;

of, off, on, onto, on account of, on top of, over, o’er, out, outside;     past;
’round, respecting, regarding;    since, save, sans;  to, towards, through, throughout,’till;    unless, until; up, upon, unto, underneath;    via, versus, Vs.;

with, within, without, with respect to or for, without respect to or for, with reference to, without reference to, with preference to, without preference for.”

Having committed all these prepositions to memory, at least I know to never say, “Between you and I” — But it still slips out now and again! However, I even heard President Bill Clinton say that once! But for all I know, to say “between you and I,” instead of “between you and me,” is now considered correct … and to say “between you and me” is now considered archaic — as in the case of saying, “It is I.

Hmmmm! That’s the way things are when it comes to language. It’s all very subjective, to be sure. As in science, we have to unlearn things, at times, that we were taught were correct and the only way to say or to see something.

One thing Miss Naegle taught us  back in her 8th Grade English class is that language is born, grows up, gets old and dies — just as people do. Yes, I learned a lot from her!

But for now, this concludes the news from the 1960’s little red-brick schoolhouse where are all the saints’ kids were above average, all their parents were proud members of the only true church on earth — and all the rest were going to hell, or the terrestrial kingdom –– as opposed to the celestial glory or the highest degree of Heaven. Oh, glory be!









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