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Southpaws have it rough sometimes

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.

The Center School in this story is now the human services building, 61 Center Street.

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.

Patrick O'Dougherty
Patrick O’Dougherty, evil incarnate.

19 thoughts on “Southpaws have it rough sometimes Leave a comment

      • She is probably burning in hell, no matter her identity, most likely alongside Mrs Marconi, fifth grade arithmetic teacher at Wildwood in the ‘60’s, who picked on me and openly favored others in embarrassing displays. Students from other years corroborated my observations of her with theirs, so, no, I’m not making it up!

        • At Salem State, professor Harriet Masembe told me, “You’re trying to be smart but you’re not.”

          • Ouch!
            At least you weren’t 10, but that’s rude enough for any age target.

  1. Thanks for sharing. What a nightmare that first day must have been. Your mother was a wise woman! And thank goodness that teacher got the boot immediately…let me guess, a former nun? That’s what they used to do, I hear.

  2. You were a few years behind me. I was afraid the whole time I had to go to Center school, after we moved here, in seventh grade. There were mean girls, and the principal was really unpleasant. When we had to walk in the hall, we were put in a line and not allowed to talk. It was not a good place for me, for sure.

  3. Hi Patrick. In Second grade at Pine Glen there was another Sociopath named Mrs. Guzzo. She quickly squashed the joy of learning for a lot of young students. Thankfully I was transferred to Mrs. Sharon’s class . She was the best.

  4. Wow, great story Patrick. Love how your mom handled that situation and her response to you in the morning. Being left handed myself, I felt your pain. I went to Meadowbrook school and Francis Wyman and never experienced a situation about using my left hand but I did hear stories about catholic schools and nuns hitting your left hand with a ruler. I graduated BHS in 72’ and it wasn’t until I took some automotive test at Assumption College and they saw me sign in with my left hand, they asked me if I would be interested in using a left handed desk! I said excuse me, a left handed desk! I said that I would and mentioned I’d never seen one. Where were these desks all my life!! No wonder why we all right upside down. And another thing, I bowled at the bowl-away-lanes as a kid and when they would oil the lanes, the left side would always take longer to work in unlike the right hand side where it had more traffic. And then there is arm wrestling, lefties can’t do that against a right handed world. I wouldn’t change a thing, I love be left handed and can still see that white marble bowling ball going down the lane at the great Bowl-Away-Lanes! Thank you Burlington Retro for always bringing back wonderful memories

  5. Call me a skeptic, but I don’t believe this story. If it was the 1950’s maybe I’d believe it, but not the 60’s and not in Burlington.

  6. I also was made to change . I do write right handed but still do most other things like eating with my left . Union school.

  7. Boy, can I relate! I was a year ahead of you, and I also got flak about being lefthanded, especially from my maternal greatgrandmother, trying to get my dad to force me righty. My parents, thankfully, ignored her, and knowing that they had my back, I confidently ignored teachers and everyone else, my favorite line being “it doesn’t bother Sandy Koufax, so why should it bother me?” I’m glad al those folks had your back.

  8. Could you even imagine such a thing happening in this day and age?! If that were me, I’d have told my Dad and in a heartbeat that teacher would have been long gone, too! Out of the 14 of us, my youngest brother is the only leftie. I’ll have to ask him if this ever happened @ Memorial School. Doubt it did because he would have told. I do remember the ‘left handed’ desks, they did have a couple at the Union School. Interesting article, thanks for sharing.

  9. I’m right handed but when we moved to burlington in Jamuary 1957 I was placed in Mrs. Hanson’s 1st grade class at Memorial School. She placed kids in the order she liked them. She didn’t like boys. I was placed in the desk behind Joyce Mello, the only girl on the boys side. The first day there Mrs Hanson picked up Joyce’s hair and slammed her head on the desk.

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