An Unexpected Phone Call

I was paddled in the fourth grade. When it came to punishment, my elementary school firmly believed the beatings would continue until morale improved (well, maybe that’s too harsh, but paddlings happened frequently).  I considered my crime a misdemeanor, but my teacher thought it was a first degree felony.  While the room was deathly silent, I started whistling. I didn’t do it to be funny or rebellious; I was just whistling. The teacher, Mrs. Stamps, told me to stop, so I did. A few minutes later, I started whistling again. I honestly don’t remember if I did it just to get a laugh or not, but it got some laughs, nonetheless. Mrs. Stamps was writing on the chalkboard (for all you millennials out there, teachers used to write with chalk on slate boards), and she whipped around and yelled, “Get out!” I was terrified. I slowly got up and walked into the hallway. A minute or so went by and three of my buddies joined me in the hallway. What was their crime? They were laughing at my whistling. So, they were sort of accessories after the fact. We were a little gang–whistling and laughing our way to certain doom.

We didn’t say a word to each other. We all knew our fate. We were getting paddled, and there was nothing anybody could do to stop it. Mrs. Stamps came out into the hallway, walked straight past us and got Mrs. Senn out of her room. Mrs. Senn would have to serve as the witness. So, one by one we each grabbed our ankles and took three whacks on the backside from Mrs. Stamps’s wooden paddle. Reminder: I was paddled for whistling at Goodpasture Christian School, AKA, North Korea.

Fast forward almost 30 years. I was minding my own business one night when my house phone rang. (For all you millennials out there, people used to have a phone at their house that didn’t have Minecraft on it.) Here’s how the conversation went:

Me: “Hello.”

Unfamiliar woman’s voice: “James, this is Mrs. Stamps. Do you remember me?”

Me, after I passed out: “Yes, ma’am. Of course. How are you?”

Mrs. Stamps: “Well, I am not doing so well. I was thinking about my former students, and your name came up. Do you remember when I paddled you?”

Me, still hearing the echo of each swat in the recesses of my memory: “Yes, ma’am.”

Mrs. Stamps, now crying: “Did you deserve that? I think you didn’t deserve that. I am so sorry.”

Me, feeling both vindication for me and sorrow for her: “Mrs. Stamps, you did what you thought was right. I was a child. It was your call to make. I have no hard feelings toward you.”

Mrs. Stamps, still crying: “I’m just so sorry. You were a good boy. I don’t think you deserved that.”

Me, not knowing what to say next: “You shouldn’t feel bad.”

We said a few more pleasantries and ended the call. It was the first time I had talked to her since my last day in her class.

I might be the first student in the history of modern civilization to get an unsolicited apology from an elementary teacher for a spanking I may or may not have deserved. It was surreal. As unnecessary as that call was, I have to think that it took an incredible amount of guts for her to make it. Most people would consider the paddling water under the bridge. But something made her call me. Our consciences are funny like that. Some things eat us up. We have to do something or say something just to regain sanity.

I didn’t need that phone call, but she did. Good for her.

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