When I was a little girl, I was a rather plump little thing. I had two older brothers who spoiled me and were always buying me Crispy Crunch chocolate bars. You can buy them only in Canada, and they are still my favorite. I try to avoid them, however. Later, when I was in my teens, I became almost anorexic. I was too busy to eat. I was always very active when I was a child -- swimming, ice skating, bike riding, hop scotch, skipping, hiking ... Home was just a place to hang my coat in between activities. But still, I was never what anyone would call skinny. When I was in grade four, I had a teacher by the name of Mr. William Foster. Mr. Foster was mean, he was cruel, and he was ignorant. He was not only a teacher, he was a pastor in an evangelical church, so there was no excuse for him to be mean, cruel and ignorant. He was always hitting the little boys for no reason, and I once caught him with his hand up a little girl's skirt. He was not a nice man, but we were taught to respect our elders. Teachers, parents, ministers, their word was law, and we did not question them. They were the big people.
The other night I had a dream -- a memory really -- about an awful incident that happened to me when Mr. Foster was giving us an arithmetic lesson. We were learning about multiplication, division, and reduction. He called me up to the front of the class and explained about reducing fractions. He then turned to me and said to the class, "Some numbers cannot be reduced at all -- unlike Johanna here, who could reduce by about five pounds." I remember the feeling of tears welling up in my eyes, and my face turning red. I went to sit down, and Mr. Foster said to me, "Wait, I am not finished with you yet..." So, I stood there while he went on to explain about reducing fractions for what seemed like an eternity. When I finally sat down, my friends were very kind and sympathetic to me. One little boy named Jimmy hugged me. Years later Jimmy and I worked together in our first after-school job in high school, and we practiced our high school French as we worked. I would say, "Merci beaucoup" to him, and he always called me "Little Beaucoups".
I was never what anyone could call a "bad little girl". I had lots of friends, I liked everyone; there was no reason for Mr. Foster to single me out like that. I had always treated him with respect. Why did he do it? I will never know. What causes someone to be cruel to other people -- especially to a child?
I had forgotten about this incident until my dream the other night, and it felt as painful as it did when it happened. Even to this day, I have a phobia about arithmetic. But, as I go through life, no matter what faults I have, I will never be unkind to people. Perhaps I did learn something from Mr. Foster, after all.