Miss Imogen Phillips: A Temperance Short Story

It seems that Summer is always too short for children.  The drudgery of school is forgotten for several weeks as children reembrace the art of play and adventure as well as imagination.

The new school year in Temperance had begun for Jamie Piper, Tommy Thompson and Bobby Owenby.  Joining them was Bobby Johnston who was one grade behind and would be in Trudy Piper’s class.

Alasdair Ballard had promoted Bulford Johnston to assistant manager at the Ballard Coal Company.  He wanted the son of his new assistant manager to attend the best school in the region instead of the school run by his father’s coal company only for its employees’ children.

Of course, since this was Temperance, the best school was the Ballard School.  The Ballard Family supported it from A to Z as well as having complete control of the Board; Alasdair was Chairman of the Board.

Dissent was not allowed.  What the Ballard Family dictated was the only right course of action for the school.

As Jamie, Tommy and Bobby walked the road to the school, Jamie asked Tommy,

“Will it be strange for your Aunt to be your teacher?”

Tommy just shrugged his shoulders.  “She had a long, very long, talk with me about this.  I am to be on my best behavior at all times.”

“Heavens above!”  Jamie exclaimed.

“Also she said that she expected my friends to behave in the same ideal manner,” Tommy replied sadly.

“Ideal manner? What did she mean by that,” Jamie asked.

Before Tommy could answer, Bobby Owenby began his discourse:

“Ideal manner means that we are to be in conformity with all of her rules and regulations.  We are to set an example for the other members of our class,” Bobby continued until they reached the door where Miss Imogen Phillips met them with a smile as she saw the three boys. Each classroom had its own outside entrance.

She greeted them by name.  She was a bit intrigued by Bobby Owenby since her niece Thelma Susan Thompson had told her all about the “wiseacre”.

Of course, Thelma Sue viewed anyone like Bobby as a “miscreant”—an offense to the true teaching profession.  Children should be taught and lectured, not given an opportunity to expound their knowledge unless it was instilled within the classroom.

Miss Imogen Phillips was the youngest sister of Vesta Thompson and William Phillips.  She had graduated from the George Peabody College for Teachers with high honors.

She had been one the Fighting Danes, the female football team.  This did not sit well with her parents or Vesta.  William had encouraged her to pursue sports.

In addition, she was on the basketball team and became an excellent golfer.  Her extracurricular activities did not deter her learning since she graduated top of her class.

When Alasdair Ballard interviewed her for the Ballard School, he did not require her to undergo the rigorous interview process he had other potential teachers endure.  Nor did he have her sign the standard loyalty oath to the truth, justice and the American way, or the behavior standards document of what was expected of teachers inside and outside of the school.

Some items that were listed in the Teacher’s Contract were to not get married; going to the local ice cream parlor was forbidden; be home between 8 pm and 6 am; no smoking; no drinking of alcoholic beverages; not to be seen with any man except her father or brothers; dress modesty, etc.  However, the clincher was that she could not leave town without the permission of the Chairman of the Board.

In fact, Alasdair was a bit, well more than a bit, infatuated with Imogen.  Being single at 30, his father George had paraded a whole host of “suitable” young women before him as his father had in the last century.

Alasdair found none of them one bit intriguing.  In fact, he found them dull and flighty.

On the other hand, he found Imogen very bright and witty, especially when she talked about sports and politics.  Her being beautiful with elegant sable hair and the pure azure eyes of a goddess, aided in the capture of his heart.

Growing up, Alasdair had no time for sports.  His father George made sure he and his brother Marley were molded into his image and the family business.

There was no time for frivolous activities or other antics boys engaged in just for fun.  George Ballard was an unmerciful taskmaster for his sons.

His wife Carissa was charged with their three daughters.  He did not allow her any say on their sons, but George did pamper his daughters—whatever they wanted, he made sure they had it.

While his sons were treated like the beggars in the proverbial story where they hoped a few morsels would fall from the rich master’s table that they could partake. Their father’s circumspect generosity was limited to his daughters.

The first day of class seemed to drag on forever.  Jamie and Tommy daydreamed about fishing at their old fishing hole, and the fun they had during the Summer, especially with Bobby catching his uliginous trophy—a giant croaker or leopard frog.

Meanwhile Bobby sat in rapt attention to every word Miss Imogene uttered.  He hung on her every word like a tenacious icicle to an old gabled roof.

After school Jamie, Tommy and Bobby walked down the road.  In front of them a wee bit was Bobby Johnston and Trudy Piper.

He was carrying Trudy’s books.  They did not seem to notice the three boys behind them—so it appeared to Jamie and Tommy.

Jamie and Tommy smiled at Trudy’s new conquest.  Bobby Owenby looked uninterested which surprised Tommy and Jamie since they knew Bobby had more than a passing interest in Trudy.

They remembered when they were getting Jamie’s attic room ready last December what had transpired between Bobby and Trudy concerning the Regina vacuum cleaner.

Putting the machine down, he took Trudy’s right hand and kissed it.  “Thank you, Mademoiselle Piper.”

Trudy smiled and ran down the stairs with a giggle.  Tommy and Jamie stood there wondering why any guy would want to kiss a girl’s hand.  “Gees,” they said in unison and shook their heads.

Bobby on the other hand turned toward them and sighed, “Such an ephemeral moment which I will treasure in my memories.”

Continuing:

“My sister has found a new, “Jamie paused. “What the word I am looking for Bobby?”

It took a few seconds before Bobby replied, “Beau”.

“That’s French?”  Tommy inquired.  He remember hearing his parents talk about his sister, Thelma Susan, and Gary Marlow being her beau, and hearing his mother, Vesta, saying to his father, “Oh, George!  The French language is so exquisite.”

His father looked over his spectacles holding the Saturday Evening Post and mumbled, “That’s right, dear.” He went back to his reading.

Once again it took several seconds before Bobby responded, “In French it means handsome”.

Jamie and Tommy were surprised that Bobby did not expound on the topic.  He seemed rapt in thought.

Tommy stated, “I believe my Uncle Bill told me a story about a fellow named Beau.  Do you know anything about such a person, Bobby?”

Bobby stopped walking and looked at them for several moments.  Finally, he said,

“Beau Brummell, an Englishman, whose real name was George Bryan Brummell, known for his sense of fashion in the first half of the 1800s.  He was what he would call a dandy.”  Bobby continued his discourse as they walked.

From time to time Trudy would give a quick glance back to the boys.  She still found Bobby Owenby charming and witty, even though Bobby Johnston was a more down-to-earth type of boy without all of that knowledge swirling in his head, and especially coming out of his mouth like a raging waterfall after the winter snows melted.

Bobby Johnston wanted to be a writer.  He had a good grasp of the English grammar, especially with his former teacher Miss Tilly taking a definite interest in encouraging his pursuit and spending additional time with him outside of the classroom.

Miss Tilly was very disappointed when the decision was made to send Bobby to the Ballard School.  However, she did not let her disappointment show to Alasdair.

She felt she was a help to these children of miners and did not want to jeopardize their education because of her personal disappointment.  She knew that Bobby would be with a good teacher—Miss Bernice Bastien.

They had discussed teaching as well as Bobby’s talent for writing.  Bernice had grown up in a newspaper family with her father and mother being very much involved in the daily paper.

She had gained experience in all aspects of the publishing of a daily newspaper.  After finishing at the MacDuffie School, she went to the Teachers College at Columbia University where her main advisor and professor was John Dewey.

Miss Tilly had full confidence that Bobby Johnston would benefit from Bernice’s tutelage.  However, her sadness in losing such a motivated student like Bobby would be dispelled by her focusing her attention on the other children who seemed convinced that their future were coal miners and housewives.

Coming back to Jamie, Tommy and Bobby Owenby:

However, unknown to Jamie and Tommy or Trudy, Bobby Owenby had a secret.  As he sat in class that first day, he experienced his first serious crush and the object of his crush, even though he did not understand it fully, was Miss Imogen Phillips.

You could say he was discombobulated.  If Bobby Owenby was asked to define this state of crush for someone else, he might find the Italian word scombussolato of import.

For his rational thought processes were definitely confused, unsettled and off-kilter by his encounter with his new teacher.  This would become more apparent as the school year unfolded.

Of course, Alasdair Ballard would find many reasons to drop by the school as the year progressed.  His growing interest in Miss Imogen Phillips would definitely be enhanced by their encounters.

Until next time when we visit this mountain hamlet of Temperance in the 1920s…

G. D. Williams © 2018

POST 775

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