Chapter 2

 

Chapter 2

I was really looking forward to starting school.  I was going into the first grade.  Finally!  Atticus made Jem take me to school on the first day.  I think Atticus even gave him some money as a bribe to let me tag along because I heard a jingle in Jem’s pockets on the way.  Jem told me that during school I wasn’t supposed to bother him.  We couldn’t play together because it would embarrass him since he was in fifth grade.

            My teacher’s name was Miss Caroline Fisher.  She was twenty-one years old and very pretty.  She had bright auburn hair, pink cheeks, and wore crimson fingernail polish.  Miss Caroline was from Winston County, which is in northern Alabama.  She read us a story about cats on the first day.  The cats had long conversations with one another, they wore cunning little clothes and lived in a warm house beneath a kitchen stove.  By the time Mrs. Cat called the drugstore for an order of chocolate malted mice the class was wriggling in their seats.  They thought this story was too immature for them.  My classmates and I were very mature in a way because, even though they are young, they have had to chop cotton and feed hogs since they were very little.

            Miss Caroline Fisher found out that I could already read, and this upset her.  She wanted to teach me to read herself, I guess, and I think it disappointed her that I already knew how.  So she got made at me!!  How ridiculous!  She told me that my father, Atticus, should not teach me anymore because he would do it all wrong.  But I told her that he didn’t teach me!  So Miss Caroline said, “Let’s not let our imaginations run away with us, dear.  Now you tell your father not to teach you any more.  It’s best to begin reading with a fresh mind.  You tell him I’ll take over from here and try to undo the damage.  Your father does not know how to teach.”

            I guess I picked up reading from sitting in my father’s lap each night while he read the newspaper out loud and followed along underneath the words with his finger.  Miss Caroline also got made at me for knowing how to write!! Calpurnia was to blame for that!!  On rainy days she would have me sit and copy out a chapter of the Bible.

           

When lunchtime rolled around on ten first day of school, Miss Caroline noticed that Walter Cunningham had no lunch.  She tried to loan him a quarter to buy lunch, but he was very embarrassed and kept saying no.  The class expected ME to explain the situation to Miss Caroline, so I did.  When I stood up, she asked, “What is it, Jean Louise?”

I replied, “Miss Caroline, he’s a Cunningham.” 

But she didn’t understand what I meant.  What I was trying to tell her was that the Cunninghams were very poor farmers, but they never took charity.  They never took anything that they couldn’t pay back.  And since Walter couldn’t pay Miss Caroline back, he wouldn’t take her money.

I remember one time when Atticus did some legal work for Walter Cunningham’s father, whose name is also Walter.  Mr. Cunningham paid my father back not with money, but with a load of wood and a sack of hickory nuts.

Miss Caroline didn’t understand me though.  She thought I was being rude and making jokes.  So she told me to hold out my hand.  I thought she was going to spit in my hand because in Maycomb, kids spit in each other’s hands to seal a promise.  But instead she patted my hand twelve times with a ruler.  All of the kids started laughing when they realized that Miss Caroline thought she was “whipping” me.  Most kids were used to being REALLY whipped if they got in trouble, not patted lightly with a ruler!  She sent me to the corner until the bell rang for lunch.

As I left I saw Miss Caroline bury her head in her arms because she was having a hard first day.  She doesn’t understand the way we do things here in Maycomb, and she doesn’t understand how poor some of the kids are.  I would have felt sorry for her if she had not been so mean to me!!  She was a pretty little thing.