You kiddin’? No one’ll laugh! Don’t you think all the guys wanna know ’bout this stuff, too? God, they’re even dumber ’bout it than you’n’me, an’ if you ask her you’ll be some kind’a hero.”
“’Some kind’a hero’!” His eyes widening, his right eyebrow went up. “You think so? You really think they won’t laugh, an’ Miss Stoldig won’t tell Whyet?”
“Of course they won’t laugh, an’ she won’t tell Whyet. Look, tomorrow, when she asks if we got any questions,” Frank smiled, “well, this is sure one humdinger of a question! So? You will!”
Reluctantly, “Yeah, I guess… But only if she’s wearin’ a bright hankie.”
What’ch’ma’call’it 4 of 5
In her room, at her desk, peering into a makeup mirror, A red one! she thought. Turning from the mirror, looking out the window, Oh, yes! On such a dull day, definitely a red one.
Inside the top drawer of her dresser there were dozens of precisely folded silk neckerchiefs of varying colors and hues. Thumbing through the stack, Miss Stoldig selected a bright cherry color with a thin white floral border. Matching the center-folded points, she folded it precisely into one-and-a-half-inch folds, put it around her neck, tied a loose square knot, then, with a jaunty flip, tossed the ends over her shoulder.
Miss Eunice Stoldig was 43 years old. Born in Quebec Province, Canada, she had earned her teaching credentials at age 25. Taking advantage of an opportunity to teach French at an exclusive all-girl school, she’d migrated to Chicago ten years later. Five years later, because her career had grown stagnant and wanting a change, she had accepted a position at Baylor Military School.
Eunice Stoldig had two surviving members of her family, both younger brothers.
During the early days of World War Two, before America had entered the war in Europe, both of Miss Stoldig’s brothers had immigrated to England where Stanley, the youngest, was billeted on a British destroyer somewhere in the North Atlantic. Lawrence was a fighter pilot with the Royal Air Force.
Miss Stoldig liked to amuse the boys of her fifth grade class with stories of fictional daring and heroic deeds performed by Stan and Larry. For this reason many of the pictures drawn by her younger “men” depicted a British Spitfire, a yellow, blue, white and red bulls-eye on its fuselage, roaring through blue skies and white clouds, triumphantly firing wing-mounted machine guns at the swastika’d planes above or below.
Miss Stoldig was a tall, thin, severe appearing woman who always wore high-necked dresses of somber colors. Silk neckerchiefs—pre-war silk neckerchiefs—being her only frivolity; the color of which reflecting her daily mood. The men of her class knew that how far they could go depended upon the brightness of the color around her throat. Her austere appearance, though, was not a true reflection of Miss Stoldig’s personality because she had a sharp mind, a quick wit, and did become emotionally involved with the children of her class, taking the time to personally help each child with what may not be understood or absorbed.
In Miss Stoldig’s class the last few minutes of each day were reserved for any questions or problems the boys may have, usually pertaining, but not necessarily restricted to, that day’s classes.
“…Class, you may put your books away.”
There was a rustle of movement and the squeak of hinges as the boys lifted the tops of their desks and put their books and papers inside. A top accidentally fell and slammed shut.
“So, class, any questions today?” She looked about the room, but, as usual, without her prompting no arms went up.
Glaring at Mitchell from across the aisle, Frank motioned upward with his thumb.
Looking at him, Mitchell shook his head negatively.
Making a fist, Frank silently mouthed, Go ahead!
Deciding, “Uh, eh-um,” nervously clearing his throat, Mitchell lifted his arm but, bent at the elbow, it was barely seen behind the head and shoulders of the boy sitting in front of him.
Miss Stoldig searched the room, looking for the boy… Why, it’s Mitchell! Surprised because he never voluntarily raised his hand, standing, she walked to the front of her desk. One of the quiet boys, he was a hard learner and she did like him. “Mitchell,” she asked, “you have a question?”
“Uh, yes, Ma’am… eh-um,” clearing his throat again.
She waited for him to go on… “Mitchell, no one’s going to bite you. Why don’t you stand up so we can all see you.”
Standing, fidgeting nervously with the pencil in the grove of his desk, he glanced at Frank, who encouragingly nodded his head, then, looking at some point behind and above his teacher’s head, “Uh, Miss Stoldig…”
Patiently, “Yes, Mitchell?"
“Miss Stoldig, uh, eh-um… What’s the difference between, uh…”
“Yes, Mitchell?” she prompted. “What’s the difference between…?”
He looked at Frank again, brought his face forward, closed his eyes and, “What’s the difference between, uh…” suddenly speaking quickly, the words jumbling together: “What’d girls use when they gott’a ‘go’?”
It took a moment for all to understand what he’d asked, then all slouching bodies straightened.
Miss Stoldig’s head jerked upward. Her pale complexion became even paler and spots approximating the color of her neckerchief suddenly appeared on both cheeks.
Encouraged because he hadn’t been struck by lightning, his eyes still closed, though, “Miss, Stoldig,” he asked, “what is the difference between a boy and a girl?”
All eyes snapped to Mitchell… Then to Miss Stoldig.
There, I’ve said it! Opening his eyes, looking expectantly at his teacher, he sat down.
Eunice Stoldig swallowed loudly, an audible gulp that could actually be heard by the boys in the front row.
She had waited all of her teaching career for a child to ask this question and, thankfully, none had, until then.
A spinster, with the exception of one brief, all but hands-off relationship with a man when she was 22, she had never been intimate with a man. Of course she knew her body, or the basic workings of her body, but had only the slightest idea of what a man’s “private part” looked like or, truly, how it functioned. Though she did have two younger brothers, her puritanical parents had sent the young Eunice from the room whenever they’d bathed, changed or dressed the boys. But once, when he was one year old, out of curiosity, she’d lowered Stanley’s diaper, looked at and even touched his strange looking penis, then feeling sinful, she’d replaced the diaper and fled the room.
What do I do now? I am a teacher, after all, and this is a legitimate question! Why shouldn’t they know the difference in their god-given bodies?
The boys of the fifth grade strained forward in their seats, watching her, waiting to see what their teacher was going to say, what she was going to do.
They don’t know if I’m going to answer Mitchell or punish him for asking. Well, I am a teacher, after all!
“Mitchell,” she said, “that is a very good question and I am going to answer it.” Crossing behind her desk, she went to the blackboard.
Mitchell looked about the room. Each boy catching his eye nodded at him, a few even gave him the thumbs-up sign.
Trying to regain her composure, Miss Stoldig took three deep breaths, picked up the chalk and turned back to the class. “Class, I will illustrate the difference between a man and a woman.” Turning back to the blackboard she took another deep breath and drew a snowman-like stick figure with breasts that appeared to sag with little dots on the bottoms for nipples, a dot for the navel and a small upward line between the snowman-like stick figure’s legs… then quickly erased it and redrew the snowman-like stick figure with two small circles on either side of the snowman-like stick figure’s chest with a dot within each of the circles, a dot for a navel and, once again, a small upward line between the snowman-like stick figure’s legs. She then drew another snowman-like stick figure with three dots upon its snowman-like abdomen representing a man’s nipples and navel with a small, very small, downward line between the snowman-like stick figure’s legs.
“Well, class,” turning from the blackboard, she faced the boys, “this is the difference between a man and a woman.” Facing the board again, using the stick of chalk as a marker, “Women have…” pointing to the dot within a circle, “breasts, and this…” swallowing, pointing to the small upward line between the snowman-like, female stick figure’s legs, taking another deep breath, the flesh on her throat moving up and down, “…is called the, umm, vulva.”
“What’d she say?” Frank whispered to the boy in front of him who shrugged his shoulders who whispered to the boy in front of him, “What’d she say?” Who said, “I d’know.”
“And this, class,” tapping the stick of chalk on the small, very small downward line between the snowman-like, male stick figures legs so hard that it broke in half, “is called…” She stopped, looked at the clock on the wall, Oh, God! then checked it with her wristwatch. “This is called the, uh,” all but whispering, “penis. And that is the difference between a man and a…” The bell rang. Thank you, Jesus! “…woman. Class dismissed!”
The boys did not move.
Her back to the room again, “Class dismissed!” she repeated as, wiping the blackboard with an eraser in one hand, Eunice Stoldig wiped her moist forehead with the tails of her neckerchief with the other.
Rising hesitantly, the boys file out of the room.
“See,” Frank said, “like I told’j’ya, girls got nothin’!”
“Yeah,” Mitchell agreed. “That’s for sure!”