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The Tale of Butterfingers Ginger
My name is Iphigenia Ginger; however, impalement shall await you if you call me that. No, I think it will be best if you called me Butterfingers. Everybody who wants to sit down does. Do you think that Butterfingers isn’t dignified? You and I don’t know what Butterfingers are, and if you do, we are pretending we don’t because they weren’t invented yet. So, my teachers asked me if they could call me by my middle name. Don’t you dare call me by my middle name. If it wasn’t bad enough to have the name of, I don’t even want to say it is so horrible, my middle name happens to be Priscilla. Actually, I have two middle names but the other is Beatrice and is every bit as bad as Iphigenia (cringe,) or Priscilla (cringe yet again.) So, they call me Mary; I picked it at random. I will tell you the story of the one boy who didn’t call me by, as I like to call it, my name.
This is the preparation of the story: now, first picture, in your mind, the little town of Chestnut Hill, Wyoming. I don’t know why they call it that, because there isn’t one chestnut, except for the ones shipped in from other states. In fact, there aren’t even any hills, hardly. It is a small agricultural town with the population of 45-65 people in it. Okay a little more because with the amount of children people had those days that would only be a few families plus a little more. I don’t go around memorizing numbers, because I’m normal.
Everyday is practically the same: The same seven roosters waking us all everyday, the same people going out to do the morning milking and the same women out to hunt eggs for breakfast, wearing the same old patchwork skirts and petticoats. You see it was 1864, and only the big cities got milk delivery. We almost all had our own dairies or ranches; so we didn’t see the point of having a store for things we didn’t need to buy. Then, the kids go to the same tiny schoolhouse at the end of town taught by Miss Barry. She boards at my neighbor’s house because many teachers did that kind of thing in those “good ol’ days.” She is the kindest teacher I have ever had, but the only other teacher I have had is the horrible Mr. Davis. In the beautiful words of Anne Shirley, “He was a gimlet.” He gave you seven strikes per word you said while he was talking. He still comes back sometimes when Miss Barry cannot do so.
Now, for the story, the characters are: first, you guessed it, Mr. Davis. Now, as you can probably tell this guy will get in the way of my plot of ruling the school. He has black hair, and deep colored eyes that are like endless tunnels.
Next, is Miss Barry, she is about the opposite of Mr. Davis, with her cheerful honey-brown hair always tied tightly back in what the “city-slickers” called a French Twist. We called it a weird-looking bun. She has deep colored eyes as well. However hers carried great warmth.
Next, we have my dad. He is the town doctor. He has always been proper since he went to medical school though he has never been a hillbilly. He was always good with school and always had the smarts to go to medical school but not the money. Some people say doctors are lucky, being born rich and all. Not dad. He earned every penny he has. Dad has green cat-eyes and other misfit looks such as red and brown hair with a few blonde strands.
My mom has beautiful brown hair, a roseleaf complexion and brilliant blue eyes. Why can’t I be like her with her eyes, her hair and her skin? I have leathery-brown skin, which my mother blames on me not wearing my sunbonnet, ugly mud-brown eyes, and a weird color of hair I can’t even describe.
Now, the villain. Everyone say their boos and their hisses for William Andrews. He is from Massachusetts. Boston to be exact. He is nothing put out of the ordinary for looks so nothing is said nor done.
One day, I was walking to the little schoolhouse with my 12 siblings. I don’t like them much, so I didn’t introduce them, plus they aren’t important to the story. They don’t have bad names though. In fact they’re very good, sensible and normal names. I am the oldest child and the only that is not a twin or quadruplet. Here they are in oldest to youngest form, after me: Josephine (Jo), Benjamin (Ben), 13; they are one set of twins, Sarah (Sadie), Abraham, 11; another set, next quadruplets, 9: Leah, Rachel, Zilpah and Bilhah (I guess Zilpah and Bilhah got it pretty harshly as well) and the youngest set of quads, Moses, Aaron, Joshua and Caleb, 5. People say my mother was very lucky, you see not many women could have one single child, two sets of twins and two sets of quadruplets and live to tell the tale in those days. Twins were rare enough, you hardly ever saw quads, let alone two sets in one family.
We got to school to see that, to my horror, Mr. Davies, the feared troll, stood and the front of the room with the strap in his hand ready to cut the skin of the first “infidel.”
He said threateningly, as though daring us to object, “For arithmetic, level one, pages 73-96, level two, pages 143-166, level three, 34-190, level four, 12-190, level five, 200-400, level six, 200-456, and all others 656- 912.” We just sat there in amazement. We knew he was cruel but he must have been in a very bad mood to assign everyone more than 20 pages. He had assigned more than three hundred for the levels seven and up, 198 was the record. Apparently not anymore. Sad enough, I was in the eighth level. “Now!” came a booming voice that made a kid in the first level cry. “Miss Iphigenia Ginger,” he said in a sassy voice looking at me.
I stood up at once and bellowed, “DON’T YOU CALL ME THAT WRETCHED NAME!” A sudden “oo!” came. But it was too late. I’d already fallen to the bait. (Hey! I’m a poet.)
Everyone started talking at once, the girl next to me stage whispered, “Yer gonna git it.” Now, as you can probably tell, this isn’t good, and I admit it was very foolish. You already know what comes next, I’ll bet.
“Miss Ginger! Come here! You think you can talk back to me like that? Also, since when did ladies say wretched, it is terribly slang,” he said in a very harsh way.
“No!” I called back to him, after that I added something very unwise, “You scumbag.” Some “yer gonna git it” announcements rose, some kids were silently cheering. The boys were resituating themselves as to get a better view of what was going on. The girls were hiding their faces, Jo and Benjamin, who were thirteen at the time, were trying to think an explanation to mother. I could tell, them sitting their writing and wiping out different things on their slates. What else would they be doing?
“What did you call me Miss Ginger?” He sounded as if that was the first time in his life someone had dare insult him.
“You heard me. A scumbag. An’ I ain’t comin’”
“Come here!” he demanded of me.
“All right! You piece of filth!” I was not thinking and was completely overcome with anger, loathing and hatred as I stomped reluctantly to the front of the room.
“Hold out your hand, Miss.” I knew what was coming next, the sharp hit of the brutal whip. He almost seemed delighted to discipline me in such a barbaric way. Then, came the hit of the sharp whip that ached my hand. It was early in the morning so it was still wet. Yes, Mr. Davies wets the whip. You would think that would be illegal, even in 1858. He walloped my hand repeatedly until the number was to 34. That was the most I had ever had. My record was 28. My hand ached with pain.
In case you were wondering this method is no longer used in schools, except in certain states, like Colorado, Wyoming and others where it is legal, but believe me, they don’t use usually them, it could turn into serious lawsuits and not to mention the tedious paperwork. However, it was then and if this wasn’t horrible enough, he put me on the platform. Now you probably don’t know about the platform, do you? Well the platform is where they make you stand until they have decided you have been punished enough. “Stay there till recess.” I had to do this. I had already called him rotten names, and I did not tell you, I spat on his hand. That was worth seven of the whippings. I wanted to beat him up; however, he was a strong full-grown man with a strap in hand, where I was a skinny girl of 14 wearing a dress, pinafore, stockings and very uncomfortable shoes. He would have just grabbed my braids and whipped. It wouldn’t be hard, especially if you are heartless like Mr. Davis. What could I do? At least he didn’t do the dunce cap. That’s when they put this dumb hat on your head and make you sit in the corner with your face to the wall. I had only gotten that one twice.
Then, here is the main part of the story, so listen closely. When recess came, I went to the boys’ playground. I knew it was worth at least another four strikes, but I didn’t care. It was nothing. I had had at least 50-65 in total this week not counting the thirty-four. I had lost accurate count. What was another four?
Then, there was little perfect William Andrews. He had never even gotten one whipping let alone the dunce cap. “That was very disrespectful of you, Iphigenia,” he said, as I was going through the finer points of the story with the boys.
“Go play on the girls’ playground, you sissy. I could pummel you, with one hand behind my back…If I was in the mood.”
“While we are on the subject is that not where you are supposed be? You know what the chart says, girls in the boys’ area… four, boys in the girls’ area… seven.”
“After 34 this morning, that ain’t nuttin’ Williamiana,” I said almost braggingly. He seemed used to me calling him this by now because he didn’t object as much as he used to. All I was worried about right then was thinking of a new name for him.
“I would advise you not to call me that, Iphigenia.”
“And I would advise you not to call me that Mister Andrews,” I retorted in high, mocking tones. I was getting what I wanted now; the boys were all laughing like mad.
“Why not? You cannot do a thing to me.”
“Oh can’t I?” I asked slimily. You don’t realize how hard it is to describe yourself like that, but it is true.
“I do not think so. . . I take that back you can do something to me—physically—but that is not me. You are nothing but a temptation. I know who you are; you are not as terrible as people make you out to be. You could be a great friend, I know you could, I will call you Mary, if you agree to be kind like you really are. Kind, respectful, truthful, unselfish and last but not least a lady. Do we have a deal?”
I laughed a terrible laugh, but inside I was saying to myself, “Maybe William, We’ll see, won’t we.” However, the other half was saying, “Does this nutcase ever use contractions let alone slang.” Plus I changed my mind about fighting him.
Just then, the horrid teacher raised the bell; I would like to raze the bell, for I was having a good time. Do you like that pun? William was walking up to Mr. Davis; he muttered “Girls. A boy must do what a boy must do.”
I saw him talking to Mr. Davis, “Blast the little wretched tattletale,” I muttered under my breath, but don’t quote me.
As soon as I got to the classroom, I heard Mr. Davis voice.
“Miss Ginger!” he called.
“Yes, Mr. Davis,” my sisters and I all called, me, in a mockingly angelic voice.
“That one,” he barked, pointing an accusatory finger at me, “Come here this minute.” You would think he was about to paint the Scarlet Letter on me, the way he was talking.
“What ever is the matter, Mr. Davis?”
“Mr. Andrews tells me that not only was you on the boys’ playground but you have been saucy, impertinent and threatened him. Is this true?”
I tried to look puzzled, but wasn’t doing a Thespian job of it. “I don’t know where he got such an idea Mr. Davis. Why would I dream of going on the boys’ playground?” I serenaded, still with a ridiculously angel-like voice ending with a silly little giggle.
I knew he wouldn’t fall into my trap. He wouldn’t believe me, the known liar, cheat, phony, misbehaving—even thieving—girl, over the perfect, A kid, winner of the spelling bee, never-in-trouble William Andrews. It was hopeless. I had already tried his patience enough. I usually have enough sense not to make more than one big outrage a day; otherwise, the teachers are really fed up with you.
“I don’t believe you, Miss Ginger.”
“Really.” My silly tones were gone, replaced by threat.
“You knew perfectly well I wouldn’t. That is four for the scandal of not being on your own playgrounds, twelve for fighting . . . “
“I didn’t fight! Did he tell you that?”
“No, I just assumed that. Don’t be afraid to admit it. I won’t let her attack you,” he said as William started to persist. Mr. Davis seemed to think I would sprout fangs or something. “You will also write ‘I will not threaten my class mates’ 100 times on the blackboard. When you are through with that you can go to the dunce corner.”
My jawed dropped, “Can’t I go to the dungeon with snakes and lizards instead?”
He said it as though he actually had one. I couldn’t believe him. The 16 lashes was nothing, I think my hand was immune to it by now, as for writing, my hand would get tired, but that is life with Mr. Davis anyways, but the dunce cap is what hurt. I mean the dunce-cap? I can’t believe it . . . it is horrible. You have no idea how terrible this form of punishment is. I hate it. You would too.
I guess, after all, I did pay dearly for my little moment of fun. Well, so after that I had another large amount of work to do. This was Moses, Aaron, Joshua and Caleb’s first day at school, they were all nearly in tears for all the work they had to do, and they couldn’t even read. It was too much. I had my arithmetic, 200 pages in literature and embroidery and a bunch of other stuff. All of it had to be done by tomorrow or I would get “lashed,” and I think leather has hit leathery too much, not that it hurt, but it was a little humiliating.
When I got home, my father was very upset that I had gotten the strap numerous times, the dunce-cap and the platform all in one day. My mother, however, was just upset that my hand and dress were all bloody. Then, the worst thing of the day happened. Mr. Charles Andrews. He was nearly the twin of William, but twice as insane. However, the resemblance was scary. Well, it doesn’t matter anyhow. Do you know what he did? He complained! He thought I hadn’t been punished enough. I wasn’t allowed to listen, but allowed, as you have probably noticed, means jack-squat to me. Here is the conversation, at least the parts I heard:
“She is dangerous. What are you trying to do? She is a hooligan! A barbarian! I don’t know why you let the little Hun live inside your house! She’ll kill you, your wife and the rest of your children in your beds!”
“Now, I have no more control over her than you have, Ira Davis is the only person who can control her, you know that.”
“IT IS YOUR FAULT! IF YOU HAD RAISED HER FROM THE BEGINNING LIKE A NORMAL EVERYDAY CHILD, WE WOULDN’T HAVE THIS PROBLEM! NOW WOULD WE?”
“Charles Andrews, I am astonished at you. You are more upset than your son is. Calm Down. And have you noticed that the rest of offspring behave well enough.”
“I say we call the sheriff at once! She should be locked up! You want her to take after you! You think she would make a good doctor. Likes ripping people apart!” (I had to stifle a laugh at this. He is being very ridiculous.)
“Mr. Andrews, I have tried being nice! Leave my property or we will have the sheriff here.”
“I didn’t want to be here anyways.”
Exeunt Father and Mr. Andrews, Mr. Andrews in a great huff. Don’t you like the “exeunt?” It is one of my favorite words. It sounds so Shakespearian. I learned it when we read Romeo and Juliet. (Can you believe this? I actually paid attention once.)
Now the next day, I went back to the little schoolhouse. Here, there was a fight going on and guess what, it didn’t involve me. Hurray! First timer, too. And who was on the bottom? It was little William Andrews. Then, you won’t believe what came out of my mouth next but you’ll have to because this is one of my favorite parts of the story.
“Leave him alone!” I cried, “What has he ever done to you?”
“Well! We were just getting him for you,” said the boys that were attacking William
“What? You don’t think I can take care of myself?”
“Thanks Mary,” he said, just as Miss Barry (saved maybe she will say he shouldn’t have given us an unheard of number of pages, because I didn’t do them and I doubt hardly anyone else did either) rang the bell, thus the end of my dealings with Mr. Andrews. We have been the best of friends ever since. I happen to be known as Saint Mary now, because I’m so “peaceful and kind.” Oh! I’m crying because this is so touching, don’t you think? My life has really changed because of a little boy from Boston, Massachusetts.