The school bell sounded just as I began stacking my books into my arms before heading off to my next class. I was hanging out with my friends after lunch, havin’ a smoke and catching up on all the school gossip of ‘who was dumping who’. I loved high school, and as a fresh-faced grade ten student, I was keen to meet all the jocks and the so-called popular people of the school. Not exactly sure where I would fit into the mix, I spent time mingling with a few different crowds. My first choices for this semester were my two favorite subjects, phys-ed and art class. Music class was another ‘bird course’, ranked third on my list of easy credits. In my books, how could I go wrong with these choices?
After the bell rang, I walked down the flight of stairs and along the dark dingy corridor to the double doors opposite the music room. I quickly found my seat in the line of desks at the front of the room. Art class was a great place to express myself, without opening a book or memorizing a single word. I was surprised to see a new face at the front of the room. After all the loud chatter, giggling and last minute gossip, we all settled and listened when the teacher at the front of the room spoke. She smiled sweetly, scanning all the young faces which stared blankly back at her before she said, “Hello everyone, my name is Miss Langley. I will be your art class substitute teacher for the next few weeks.” My head darted around the room checking out all the smiles and cheers from my classmates. I thought to myself, ‘This is way-cool and class will be a breeze for the next few weeks.” I could sense from all of my friends’ expressions that they felt exactly the same way! The disruption and noise level in the room rose to an unbearable pitch with squeals and screams, as the rumors were being whispered out loud. Miss Langley gave the class a few moments to take it all in before she swiftly gained control again.
We all knew that ‘Art Class 101’ would never be the same!
This being the late 1960’s, Miss Langley was definitely a young, hip teacher; a kind of flower-child from the 50’s. She was most likely a new graduate. She wore laid-back, hippy clothes, nothing like the so-called ‘stuffy’ teachers. She dressed in long flowing skirts, sandals and peasant-styled blouses adorned with lovely embroidery. She was a very pretty lady with wired-rimmed granny glasses; long streaked hair pulled back, and big hoop earrings which all the girls in the class admired. We all took to her immediately. She was a funky, fun-loving teacher and very easy to talk with. As a young teenager, I loved her cool style; the way she looked and acted. I thought to myself, “Maybe I will be a hippy like Miss Langley someday.”
It wasn’t long before Miss Langley was finishing out her final week as our substitute teacher. Today was a day for clay sculptures, and we all came to class with our father’s old cotton dress shirts to wear as cover-ups, knowing this would be a messy project. We had a free reign to do whatever we chose, and I had decided on a clay pot that I could use later or give as a gift. Just as I was about to get started, I removed my two favorites rings. One was a gold insignia ring with my first initial ‘J’ on it which I was given by parents. The other was from my boyfriend Bobby; a beautiful gold opal ring. Opal stones are so delicate and as upsetting as it was, I somehow chipped it but I truly cherished his gift. I put the rings off to the side of my desk as I began working on my clay pot.
The one hour flew by and the bell sounded for next class. I had 5 minutes to clean up and head off to spend an hour with my geography teacher. I went to the sinks at the back of the room, cleaned up, washing the clay from my hands. I dropped my dirty work shirt into the bin, before I grabbed my books and ran down the hall and up the stairs to my next class. Never once did I give my rings a second thought.
The last bell of the day sounded as I headed for my locker. When I started to turn the combination lock and glanced down at my hands and the numbers, I realized that my rings were missing. I was in panic mode, running down the stairs and along the long basement corridor to the art room. I was ecstatic to see Miss Langley sitting at her desk at the front of room. I let out a sigh of relief as I walked towards her. Trying to catch my breath, I gasped, “Miss Langley, did you find my rings on the desk?” She looked at me with a slightly baffled expression before answering, “What rings are you referring to?” I leaned over with my hands on my knees, taking deep breaths, trying to catch my wind. I stood up and blurted out a description of my two rings, and where I had left them. She looked back at me with her wire-rimmed glasses slightly perched on the end of her nose and said, “No one has turned in any rings, but if they do, I will certainly let you know.”
I left school that day with tears in my eyes, knowing that I had lost both of my special rings. What would I tell my parents, and my boyfriend Bobby, who had saved all of his money to buy me a special ring? I was beside myself, but this was the reality of my situation. I went home, heading straight for my room and cried into my pillow.
The rings had not turned up after a few days, but my parents and Bobby both understood what had happened. I was barely 15 years old and I believed that I would get them back. My sister, Margie was in grade 13 and as typical siblings, we didn’t always get along. I loved her dressy clothes, and when she would leave for school in the morning, I would go through her drawers and put on something that looked great on me. Being the younger, so-called ‘spoiled brat’, I didn’t think twice about wearing them. At school, she would walk down the hallway with her friends, chatting and having a good time until I would appear from around the corner. The look on her face would say it all! She would see me wearing one of her favorite tops, and her expression would change to sheer rage. Of course, Margie would never make a scene as I walked by with my friends, her eyes shooting daggers in my direction. That didn’t bother me in the least, but I knew later, there would be ranting and raving to listen to. My parents would scold me, but that didn’t fizz me; like water off a ducks' back. I could handle the grief for a day of looking great, and all the compliments from my envious friends.
Life was just like that…sibling rivalry at its’ finest!
Margie was heading out for the night to babysit with her good friend, Marlene. They were going to take care of Marlene’s step-sister’s children for a couple of hours. It wasn’t till the next day, did we know how important that babysitting visit would be!
During the next night’s family dinner, there was talk again about my missing rings. Margie stood up and was heading to the refrigerator when she said, “The weirdest thing happened last night when I was babysitting with Maureen.” She continued by saying, “Maureen wanted to look through her step-sister's clothes to show them off.” Maureen said, “My sister has such cool things, do you want to see them?” They spent some time looking through her closets before Maureen opened her jewelry box. They looked through the earrings and necklaces and then what happened next took Margie but complete surprise!
Margie said, "I looked down into the box and saw a gold insignia ring with the initial ‘J’ which looked very familiar, and then I noticed a gold opal ring with a chip out of the stone”. Margie added, I said to Maureen, “That looks just like my sister’s ring " and instantly put it back down. Maureen didn’t really pick up on her comment, but in an instant she had closed the box and they both left the room. Maureen was getting nervous that her step-sister would arrive home early.
Margie sat back down at the kitchen table after recalling the events from last night. She glanced over at me and asked a question which was obviously on her mind. She hesitated a bit before saying, “What was the name of your art teacher?" I responded in a flash and blurted out, “Miss Langley has been our sub-teacher. She is so cool. Why, I asked?” Margie’s face turned pale when she quietly uttered back… “That is Maureen’s step-sister!”
We all sat at the kitchen table finishing our supper, when my father quickly pushed himself away from the table and just before he left the room, he looked at Margie and asked where Miss Langley lived. In a matter of minutes, we heard the door shut behind him, and the rumble of the blue Pontiac Parisian pulling out of the driveway. The three of us waited anxiously, wondering what might have happened when he confronted my teacher. He wasn’t gone long and we waited for the words from my father as he entered the door.
He began his story with, “Miss Langley answered her door and I introduced myself.” I told her the reason for my visit, and she looked back at me with a puzzled gaze. He went on to say, “I told her that my daughter Margie had been at her home the night before, babysitting with her sister Maureen. He added, “Miss Langley’s face flushed from pink to red and she became very nervous looking.” He continued to tell her, “Margie saw her sister’s rings; a gold ‘J’ insignia ring and a gold opal ring in your jewelry box.” He mentioned that the police really didn’t need to be involved. Dad finished his story by telling us, “Miss Langley was visibly embarrassed and didn’t know what to say when she returned from the bedroom and handed me the rings. I assured her that this unpleasant incident would not be discussed again.”
My father walked over to me and placed my two special rings into my open cupped hand and said, “I believe these are your rings dear.” I placed them back on their respective fingers, smiling up at my father with tears of joy trickling down my cheeks.
As fate or coincidences might have it, my sister Margie ended up at Miss Langley’s house that night, and I thankfully got my rings back.
I was right about one thing. Art Class '101’ would never be the same and Miss Langley, unknowingly, did teach me a good lesson.
Honesty is far from a lost art.