Friday, March 1, 2013

The Soft Side of Hard



View detailsThey didn’t come in harder than Carlene. She looked and acted the part. As the old saying goes, she’d go bear hunting with a switch. She was afraid of nothing and no one. Her demeanor and inappropriate language told everyone, ‘back off buddy.’ And everyone did exactly that.
The day she walked her son into Mrs. Abernathy’s first grade class was a memorable one—for Mrs. Abernathy. They couldn’t have been more opposite. Mrs. Abernathy was wearing a conservative dress that fit her personality. Carlene was wearing a spaghetti strap blouse that covered very little. Her short-shorts, which she had been rolled up even higher, showed every curve in her small behind.
Carlene looked at Mrs. Abernathy and without even introducing herself said, "I expect him to behave. If he misbehaves, take care of it. If you can’t take care of it, call me. I work right across the street at the *&$% drive in. Call me and I’ll come over here and beat his *&$%."
As soon as she recovered from the shock, Mrs. Abernathy assured her that he would behave. Tommy was a beautiful child. He was blond with huge brown eyes and long eyelashes. Every time he batted those eyes at Mrs. Abernathy, she melted. She had never seen a child that could look so innocent when he was obviously guilty. He was hyperactive and mischievous. Despite his inappropriate behavior, he was one of Mrs. Abernathy’s favorites. One week he had gotten into so much trouble that Mrs. Abernathy felt exhausted from trying to corral Tommy. Once more he was in trouble. His desk was right in front of Mrs. Abernathy’s to allow the other students to work without interference. Mrs. Abernathy had had enough and the consequences she administered were severe.
Then she sat down at her desk to work. When she looked up, Tommy was sitting in his desk looking at her. He smiled and batted his eyelashes. "Don’t you bat those puppy dog eyes at me." Mrs. Abernathy reprimanded him. She was determined to make him understand that he couldn’t always get out of trouble with is cute looks. Immediately his smile vanished and he ducked his head. Mrs. Abernathy felt a little guilty for causing him pain, yet how long could his troublesome behavior be tolerated?
As she had done for several years, Mrs. Abernathy stopped at the drive-in on the way home for a soft drink. She began to notice that Carlene was bringing her drink out to the car before she ordered it. She was little confused. "How do you know to bring this to me?"
"Well you order the same thing every day. I haven’t had to worry about my son one time this year. You have taken care of the problems and not called me. So I’m going to take care of you. As long as I am here, I’ll be bringing your drink to you. I appreciate you."
"Thank you." Mrs. Abernathy didn’t know anything else to say. This was a soft side of Carlene few people ever saw.
As the year progressed, Mrs. Abernathy saw this side of Carlene more and more often. At the end of the year it was time for Tommy to move on to another teacher. Part of Mrs. Abernathy hated to see him go. He was one of those students that didn’t dislike the person doling out the consequences for his behavior. He understood that the consequences were directly related to his behavior. He didn’t change his behavior. He just accepted the consequences.
Mrs. Abernathy watched with trepidation as Tommy entered second grade. The second grade teachers had a reputation for being tough. It was necessary to be tough with Tommy, but it was also necessary to exercise some patients. Luckily second grade went well. The teacher had grown up with a house full of brothers and understood wiggly little boys perfectly.
Periodically Carlene returned to Mrs. Abernathy’s classroom to report on Tommy and the teacher he had been assigned for the current year. One day Carlene called Mrs. Abernathy out of the classroom.
"I just had a talk with the principal. I don’t like that teacher Tommy has this year. She’s crazy. I told the principal. I said, ‘she’s crazy. You know it and I know it.’ And then I told him that if Tommy gets into trouble she is to bring him to you and let you decide the punishment."
"Tommy has been out of my classroom for several years."
"I don’t care. You are the only one that made him mind. I don’t want that woman deciding his punishment."
"Why? You are tough on him."
"I know I am, but she’s crazy. She’s not fair. You were fair and I want you deciding his punishment."
"What did the principal say?"
"He didn’t say anything. He just sat there looking at me."
"Well if they bring Tommy to me, I’ll take care of the problem."
"Thank you." Carlene left the building.
One day, Mrs. Abernathy drove up to the drive-in and parked in the last available parking spot. She watched as Carlene walked out of the swinging door with a full tray of drinks to be delivered to waiting customers. Carlene looked to the side and saw the teacher parking her car. Immediately she turned back to the swinging door, lifted her leg, gave the door a karate kick, and yelled, "Mrs. Abernathy needs a drink."
Mrs. Abernathy looked into the drive-in and saw every worker inside nodding affirmatively. Apparently when Carlene said jump, they jumped. Several workers rushed to fill the drink for her. Well everyone here knows what I want, Mrs. Abernathy thought. She looked around as every driver in the parking lot looked her way. She was more than a little embarrassed. She did appreciate Carlene’s care, but she would have preferred it be more discreetly.
For twenty-five years Mrs. Abernathy went through the drive-in. Carlene was always there. Soon Mrs. Abernathy learned to appreciate the softer side of the rough, tough Carlene.

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