Living in the country was never part of my dreams. I grew up in middle class America and always pictured my grown up self in a brick rancher with 2 cars in the garage and a 7 Eleven and Piggly Wiggly no further than a block away. But, the job market for teachers was pretty slim when I graduated, and since I did not exactly hustle to get a job, I found myself driving on a beautiful May morning further and further out into the boondocks.
The road west was interstate to begin with and as I travelled through rolling countryside dotted with farms, I fantasized about living in a graciously remodeled farmhouse with white fences and a horse or two in the front meadow. My class of students would all come from good hard working families where discipline and respect for a good LL Bean polo shirt ruled.
The dream changed as I turned off the interstate and continued my journey west. The scenery changed as well. Mountains loomed ahead and farmhouses were less and less frequent. Soon my car was careening around hairpin turns that led deeper and deeper into heavily wooded mountains.
Having never lived further than half a mile from the nearest convenience store, I began anxiously looking for the next mailbox. I was reassured every time a paper box drifted into view. If papers could be delivered this far into the wilderness then things might not be too bad.
As I reached the top of the last mountain, I found myself gazing down on a picturesque little town. Steeples were the tallest thing on the horizon, next to the mountains and the houses were all white clapboard with wrap-around Victorian porches. In that moment all my childhood dreams were rewritten as I heard my heart singing, “This is home.” Now all I had to do was get a job.
I pulled into town and parked in front of a statue of a Confederate soldier guarding the white Doric columned courthouse. People meandered up and down the sidewalks to the general store and the bank, and I could tell everyone knew that I was a stranger in town. I thrust my chin forward and trying to look as sophisticated as possible in the purple dress I’d just bought for my first ever teaching interview, I climbed the steps to the double glass doors.
The hall was dim and cool after the bright sun and to my left I spotted a small wooden sign announcing the Office of the School Board. A plump matronly woman with curly gray hair was typing and she gazed at me over the top of her black spectacles. I could hear the faint hum of a lawnmower through the open window near her desk. “Can I help you?” she asked.
“Yes,” I replied. “I have an appointment to meet the superintendent about a teaching position.” The secretary invited me to take a seat and I found myself in one of two bright orange plastic chairs facing an enormous wall map of the state. It showed clearly how far from civilization I had travelled. I studied it for a while shifting uncomfortably in my hard seat until the door to the inner office was opened and I was invited in.
The superintendent was seated behind a huge desk in the middle of a cavernous, echoing room. He leaned back in his chair and got right to the point.
“Do you go to church every Sunday?” I couldn’t believe it. The superintendent was channeling my grandmother. In the great college I had attended, they forgot to prepare me for this interview question. Truth would have to suffice.
“Yes. Well, not every Sunday, but I do go.”
“Methodist or Presbyterian?”
This was obviously a trick question, since I was neither, but I had attended a Presbyterian youth group.“Presbyterian!” I shouted triumphantly.
After our brief discussion of religion, the superintendent considered me with a menacing glare. “Do you drink?”
Feeling more hysterical by the moment, I had to restrain myself from asking if he meant water or soda pop. Luckily, he didn’t require an answer to the question. It was simply the prelude to a list of rules that came with the title of teacher.
“Don’t drink, don’t swear in public, if you live on Main Street keep your blinds closed. Don’t go away more than one weekend a month; people will think you are visiting your boyfriend. Don’t have men in your apartment after nine o’clock.” He paused for a breath. “The principal of the elementary school is waiting to see you, go down a block and you will see it on your right. Good day!”
I left the courthouse slightly confused, and turned down the road. Surely the principal would inquire about my qualifications as a teacher. The elementary school was beautiful. Built of rosy limestone in the 1920’s it graced the top of a slight rise and commanded a breathtaking view of the valley. I pause for a moment at the top of the steps to catch my breath and admire the scenery. Children were playing on the lower lawn and their teachers were perched on the steps above.
I entered the glass paned front doors and found the office where I was informed that the principal was out on the lawn supervising field day. I was instructed to look for the man with the whistle and baseball cap.
I returned to the bright school yard and approached the principal who was in the middle of starting the 100 yard dash. He waved me aside and I waited until the red-faced children crossed the finish line. Then he turned to me and after some questions about my school record asked, “Can you coach basketball?”
Interpreting the word “can” to mean “are you physically able?” I nodded an affirmative and was hired. Making a mental note to buy a book about basketball, I walked back to my car and headed home to break the news to my parents.