By Patrick O’Dougherty, BHS class of ’74
Growing up on Liberty Avenue at the north end of town, I went to Wildwood Elementary School (now Wildwood Park) until grade four. Fifth grade meant moving to a new school, the Center School near the common. And I’d be taking the bus to school for the first time too, so this meant two new things at once. Double excitement!
On the first day, a bunch of us waited on the corner of Liberty Ave. and Bedford Street, right in front of my house. When it arrived, a folding door opened, letting me see the bus driver operating the door with a lever near his seat. Interesting.
We all got on the bus and found seats. Lots of kids were already on the bus, and I knew most of them. Phew! The bus made a few more stops in our neighborhood and then headed toward the common, along roads I recognized. Nothing scary.
Eventually it pulled into the Center School parking lot. This looked to me like a really big, old building sitting atop a hill, and there was a playing field out back. We all walked inside and studied a list of names taped to a wall. Each of our names had a room number with it, so we knew where to go.
My classroom was pretty easy to find, on the first floor just down the hall from the entrance. I filed in with the others and found a seat in the middle of the room. The teacher towered over us, a big blackboard behind her. She was big, tall and middle-aged, dressed in black: a black dress and some sort of black overcoat. She had her arms crossed, looking very stern.
We hushed up and waited for her to start. She walked to the classroom door and closed it. Then she walked to the blackboard, glanced back at us and said, “Take notes” with a very flattened affect. She started writing. We all grabbed our notebooks and pens and tried to copy what she was writing, an outline of lessons she planned to cover.
I had my head down, writing as fast as I could, trying to catch up — when suddenly she yelled, “THE LEFT HAND???” She stomped down the aisle to my desk, snatched the pen from my hand and slammed it on the desk. “You will NOT write with the left hand!” she yelled at me. “That is the DEVIL’S hand!” She stood with her hands on her hips, staring at me. I kept my head down and stared at my desk.
The other kids were frozen, staring at her in disbelief, the room silent. After a few more seconds of her stares, she turned and stomped back to her desk, muttering to herself, “The left hand. That is the devil’s hand.” At her desk, she stopped for a second, then grabbed a roll of masking tape from a drawer and stomped back toward me, still muttering to herself about the left hand.
She then grabbed my left arm and bound it to the side of my chair using the masking tape. One more time she yelled at me, “You will NOT use the left hand.” I continued staring at the desk in shock. The room was absolutely silent.
She began writing on the board again, and the kids started taking notes. I tried to use my right hand, but it didn’t go well. I could barely scribble with it. The rest of that school day is a foggy blur in my memory. I was cut loose for lunch and wasn’t taped to my chair after lunch.
On the bus ride home, I just stared out the window. As soon as I got in the house, I told my mother what had happened. I was hesitant to report it, somehow feeling guilty. She patted me on the shoulder and told me to go outside and ride my bike and relax. I did.
Nobody brought up the incident at dinner. The next morning, my mother told me not to worry. The school day would be just fine. And it was! We had a brand new teacher, a fun and kind teacher who made us happy to learn.
As the kids got to know each other, we started comparing memories about the tape incident. Turned out, some of them had told their parents about the weirdo teacher. I suspect a bunch of phone calls came into the school that day, not just my mom’s.
As I grew older, the use of my left hand became an advantage sometimes, especially in sports. When I played goalie in hockey, the opposing team struggled to find new tactics for scoring goals. When I played first base in softball, it was easier to grab line drives using my righty glove.
All in all, despite this early trauma, being a southpaw has been just fine. Not devilish at all.