The Rub Clean Green Eraser and Grace Part 2
By JIM NICHOLS
In an earlier column, I mentioned my appreciation for one of my elementary school supplies, the Rub Clean Green eraser. That eraser represented a tangible indicator of God’s grace because it allowed me to remove errors with hardly a remaining sight. My clearest memory of its aid was during a spelling mistake I made, but during that third-grade year there was another obvious introduction of grace.
It seems that there are always bullies in the world. We have a recent ex-President who is a clear bully, but one does not have to look far to find a whole set of them. The quality seems to come when individuals deficient in self-esteem seek to exercise any power they can achieve.
Francis Willard Elementary School and Mrs. Webb’s class had bullies. One day one of them picked a fight with Bruce. Bruce was not the fighting type, but the bully was persistent enough that Bruce finally punched back. Of course, that was exactly the time that Mrs. Webb saw them. She broke up the fight and said the scary words, “You will both meet me after school.” Having to stay after school was an ominous concept for me—nothing good ever happened in third grade when you had to talk to the teacher after school.
There was a recess period in the afternoon (before the end of the school day) and, as the children filed out to the playground, I stayed behind to speak to Mrs. Webb. “Mrs. Webb,” I said in my wavering voice, “Bruce did not start that fight. The bully did.” She made no response.
I mostly forgot that incident, probably because within a few weeks our family moved from that school district. I had a new school and teacher and new friends in the suburbs, as we called them. I did make one return to Mrs. Webb’s class, however.
Later in that school year my new school had a vacation day for some reason and my mother said she had to go back into the city for an appointment. She wondered if I would like to stop by Francis Willard and go back to my old class; I was delighted at the idea.
Mrs. Webb welcomed me back for the visit, but immediately put me on the spot. Always the teacher (and, I now believe somewhat resentful of students moving to the suburbs), she had me stand before the class. She said something to the class about my being at a new school now and then turned to me and said, “Tell us something that you have learned there that you didn’t know here.”
I froze. All I could remember was my most recent spelling test in the suburbs. I said, “I have learned the words ‘pedestrian’ and ‘comprehensive.’” Surprisingly, she seemed pleased with that response and allowed me to go to recess with the class.
As we were leaving, Bruce appeared and handed me a book. He said, “I want you to have this. It is a present from me to you.” It was a blue hard-covered book with orange letters; it was a Nancy Drew book.
This was a time in my life when I read every Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys book available. The Secret of the Old Clock. The Hidden Staircase. The Tower Treasure. The House on the Cliff. Even the book titles were exciting. I had checked out many of them from libraries, but had never had one of my own, even a used one.
With no further comment, Bruce disappeared onto the playground and, frankly, out of my life. But I had that book, and now recognize it was not just a book.
What had happened with the bully episode after school? Was there any punishment? Were there consequences for anyone? What role did Mrs. Webb play? God was in there somewhere; what was occurring spiritually? It is hard enough to figure out what was going on as an adult now; it was impossible to understand as a third grader.
The child in me did know that I now had a blue book with orange letters, a Nancy Drew book. When I got home, I opened and began to read.
Jim Nichols is a retired Abilene Christian University biology professor and current hospice chaplain