Mrs, Russell

My terror of Mrs. Russell was solely responsible for my "breaking myself," in the summer before the third grade, of the compulsive habit of sucking my thumb. For most of my second- grade experience, older students entertained themselves by telling me all the terrible things she would do to me because of my babyish habit. (I still remember the comfort and pleasure of thumb-sucking, though the proportions of mouth and teeth-to-thumb are now so out of whack that an attempt to physically recpature the feeling is useless.) When I returned to school to start the third-grade, I was shocked to find that Mrs. Russell had been replaced by her sister, Mrs. Krogen. (Mrs. Russell, we were told, was having a baby: a shocking idea, given her reputation for cruelty.) However, Mrs. Russell left our class the legacy of three students she held back. One of them drew wonderful pictures all the time instead of paying attention, but the other two were "slow," one of them the brother of the boy the teachers let us know had the highest IQ in our class (which was granted a significance I could never understand, since he was, to my mind, unimaginative, a halting reader, an indifferent speller, and a brown-nose. Thus my first acquaintance with the idea of IQ scores not only cast severe doubt on the validity of their saying anything meaningful, but showed me how easily people in authority can be misled by numbers).

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