Miss Marshall's Lips
By Maurine Forman
It's happened! It's over! My life is just ruined! I can't ... I can't even bear to talk about it ... so I'll whisper ... I ... have ... Miss Marshall ...lips!
This morning as I moussed my hair ... I pursed my lips ... looked in the mirror ... and there they were! Those dreaded Miss Marshall lips!! A sure sign of getting older — but, of course, I'm not.
Remember? Do you remember Miss Marshall? Laura? Bingham High School English–Grammar–Literature teacher? Miss Marshall! We thought she was soooo old ... but, she really wasn't. With each passing year now, I realize that young minds always think of teachers as old.
Ah yes, Miss Marshall, who wore her hair swirled around on her head in a bun of some kind, and if we sat at the front of the room, she would sit right–on–our–desks as she talked to the class ... all the while showering us with a fine spray that kept us ducking and twisting as we tried to stay out of her way.
She sat down on our desks ... folded her blue-veined hands and peered down at us with those heavy-lidded dark eyes that seemed to look deep inside of us, making us feel very uncomfortable.
And her voice! She talked to us in her rich, throaty voice ... first low and even, then kind of crying as her voice rose higher ... then dropping again as her mouth worked those words over.
We loved it when she said “oooooouu”, because we could see the cords of her neck moving and those lips formed a perfect “O” ... with the little lines that pointed upward every time she pursed her lips ... and her lipstick that followed those little lines upward too!
Have yoooooooouuuu compleeeeeated yourrr hommmeworrrk?
We asked questions hoping to get her to talk to us so that we could watch her mouth move. We were fascinated! We were also a little intimidated by her. No nonsense! You did your work! You were not late for class! You learned to diagram a sentence! ... and don't you dare leave a participle dangling!
Why did we think she was old? She wasn't a bit like Mr. Payne ... Robert Payne ... the one who always sat on the front of his desk. He had white hair, so we thought he must be old!
On the other hand, there was Miss Baer ... Vernon Baer ... our other English teacher. She had white hair too, but we really didn't think of her as old. Kind of different – kind of gabby – kind of flighty, I guess you might say ... but old?? Of course not!
You have to remember Miss Baer. She was young at heart! Interested in the world around her she laughed with a genuine laugh that came from down inside and her whole face would light up.
Remember when we goofed off in her English class ... and she would shake her finger at us? Close your eyes and you can probably see her now ... she shook her finger and said Now sit there and listen my fine-feathered friends ... or, Do you think that's right my dear Alphonso? ... then she would call us by our older brothers' and sisters' names until she finally got down to the right one.
She substituted occasionally in my daughter's classes at Bingham High in later years, and I was told that they enjoyed “listening” to Miss Baer.
No, Miss Marshall wasn't like Miss Baer. Why, then, did we think she was old? Was it her smile? Her smile didn't remind us of Mrs. Jones ... Verna Walker Jones ... taught sewing and homemaking classes all day long. Mrs. Jones ... who was known for her smile and laugh and her eyes that kind of crinkled up and smiled too.
That same Mrs. Jones whose favorite saying was Unpick that seam!!! It's as crooked as a dog's hind leg!!! Yes, that same Mrs. Jones ... though we could tell that she sometimes became thoroughly exasperated with us ... called us “ninnies” and “nutheads” ... and even dragged us down to the principal's office. Imagine! Innocent as angels we were, too!! She really did show a great amount of tolerance for the giggly, wiggly, silly nonsense of young teenage girls.
Maybe we thought of Miss Marshall's hands as old. They were not in the least like the hands of Miss Harris ... Virginia ... Dance, Physical Ed., and Health teacher.
No, Miss Harris had the beautiful, graceful hands of a dancer — and the supple body to go with them! The strong, firm, reliable basketball referee's hands and the steady, clockwork-like hands that kept time as our Minerette Club practiced its half-time marches in the gym.
Left-right ... left-right ... turn right ... split here ... around to the left ... around to the right ... criss-cross ... criss-cross ...all together ... straight lines ... follow the girl in front of you ... left–right ... left-right ... left right ...
She had a frank, down-to-earth way of giving advice that would be recalled by many in the years to come. She taught us that life is real ... and we must be prepared for whatever comes our way.
Miss Harris tried so hard to arm us with social graces.
Naow gerr-ills ... put your left hand on the boy's right shoulder ... and your right hand in his left ... smile when you dance ...act like you are having a good time ... and you will! If he steps on your feet as you dance backward, it is your own fault! Move those feet .. and stay out of his way!
Remember how those junior high dances seemed to turn into games of tag as the boys tapped each other's shoulders then made fast steps out of the way? We really did have to “move those feet” to keep from being stepped on. Later on in high school, we learned to appreciate the dance.
Miss Harris did give good advice, though.
Keep yourself clean ... and neat ... even at home when you think no one is watching ...
and smell good at all times ... and be sure to act like lovely young ladies!
And you know ... those strong, graceful hands put down many a black mark if we didn't take our shower after gym class!
No ... Miss Marshall's hands weren't like those of Miss Harris.
His hands painted beautiful landscapes which hung in many offices throughout the Salt Lake Valley and magnificent scenery for the stage productions.
He taught us to make an excellent color wheel and pleasing-to-look-at geometric figures.
“Um ... no,” he'd say, “Hold the brush this way. Um ... maybe just a little more blue to tone down the red.”
Well, Miss Marshall's hands couldn't have been like Mr. Kuhni's. She was kind of a dreamer. Sometimes we had a hard time understanding her moods. It was if she were engrossed in a mysterious, dark secret.
She wasn't realistic like “Sandy”. Grizzley ol' “Sandy” ... Bailey Santistevan ... short ... balding (when we knew him) ... “tough guy” manner ... the D.A. of Bingham High ... Truant Officer whose piercing eyes seemed to look in all directions at once. The fabulous football and baseball coach who paced up and down the sidelines and yelled and cussed and instilled a sense of fair play in his teams. He inspired many a boy to make athletics a part of his later life.
No ... Miss Marshall wasn't “down to earth” like “Sandy”. It could have been her general health that made her seem old. She was kind of on the frail side with a slight limp. A fall several years before had broken her hip and she had used a cane to walk since then.
She surely wasn't robust and healthy like “Sunny”. “Sunny” Alsop ... Warren G. ... basketball coach .. boy's gym and health teacher.
Ah yes! Smiley, good looking, talkative “Sunny”. We always thought he was sooo conceited! He had this disease called “Run Off at the Mouth”. Also, the one aptly named “Open Mouth, Insert Foot”.
We liked “Sunny” though. He worked his summers as a Boy Scout Advisor at Camp Steiner in the Uintah Mountains.
No ... Miss Marshall didn't seem to be bursting with energy like “Sunny”.
Maybe ... just maybe ... Miss Marshall felt old. Maybe she was tired inside.
Her attitude wasn't at all like that of our Principal, “Tommy”. T. H. McMullin ... Thomas ... short of stature ... with a proud upbringing ... round of face ... thinning, greying hair (when we knew him) ... but a true “Giant” of a man! He as Principal of Bingham High School for about 18 years ... several years before the school was moved from Bingham Canyon to Copperton in 1931 and for many years after. The Bingham Junior High was housed in the same building.
He kept things running on pretty much of an even keel. He knew when to bark ... and when to be like a “kind big brother”. Tommy, the bachelor, had come to Bingham Canyon to live and teach at the ripe old age of twenty-five. He had been associated with the school for a long time as a teacher, winning basketball and baseball coach and he knew quote a bit about the families of his students. He was a strong support of the athletic programs. Only the boys participated at that time, though. It was many years later that girls' ball teams were allowed except in gym classes. ... but we learned some wild serves and some fast moves there.
Everyone called our principal “Tommy” — (that is, unless you were being bawled out by him in his office.) We meant no disrespect ... that was just the name everyone used and part of the tradition of the Bingham High School passed down from years gone by.
Also, almost everyone that I knew liked him ... which was really amazing from such a tough school in a tough mining area.
Tommy retired while we were still teenagers, served as Principal of Jordan High School for awhile, then was elected to the Utah State Senate where he served for two years and became very well known and admired throughout the state.
Miss Marshall didn't project the warm, well-being attitude of our music teacher, Joel P. He was cast from quite a different mold. Joel P. Jensen ... tall ... impressive ... clipped moustache ... straight, dark slicked-down hair. Joel ... with the gigantic hands that waved and beckoned and pulled the music from our throats. Higher and higher his hands moved, making large arcs and half circles and louder and louder we sang ... then ... suddenly ... only the wrist and fingers on one hand moving, hushing our voices and quieting our racing pulses as we sang softly, softly, softly ...
Joel ... (Mr. Jensen to us) who instituted the tradition of the Candlelight Service at Christmas time. A choir of student voices blending and producing a beautiful program of Christmas songs.
Joel ... who expected the best and somehow made us feel that we were the best. His patience in teaching our band to play marches and songs earned him many long-time friends. We played and practiced and marched around the streets of Copperton, trying our best to stay in line and play the right notes as Ralph Siddoway, our Drum Major, strutted and danced ahead of us ... and our Drum Majorette, Donna Jean Gadd, and the twirlers high stepped behind him. Joel also formed a Pep Band ... a mini band ... to play at the football and baseball games.
Although he was a friendly guy, we learned that Mr. Jensen was “The Man in Charge”. Remember that time when wiggly Willie called him “Punjab”? Quick as a wink, he moved to Willie's chair and with one huge hand, lifted him right off the floor. Most of us learned to respect ol' Joel P. alright.
We even tried to be quiet for him when he insisted that we listed to the American School of The Air on the radio. They played several orchestral renditions of classical music. I remember so well hearing “Peter and the Wolf” many times and being asked to pick out the different musical instruments as the proceeded to tell the story in music. We could always recognize the flutes and the deep bassoon.
Oh yes! We liked Mr. Jensen and the music room was a fun place to be. He later replaced Tommy as principal of Bingham High School after Tommy retired.
Laura ... Miss Laura. She would be horrified if she heard that! We never called her by her first name. She was always strict and straightlaced “Miss Marshall”.
Maybe what we noticed most about her was the air of sadness that was part of her life. She seemed resigned, somehow, to her life.
Her mouth turned down at the corners as she told us about her “beautiful twin sister” Lora. She looks just like me ... although I'll never be as beeuuutifullll as Lora, then turning aside, she pulled a large man-size handkerchief from the drawer in her desk and blew her nose soundly.
What was it that made her so sad? She seemed lost in the mournful poetry in our literature books and the melancholy meanings. One of the longest stories I remember reading was “The Tale of Two Cities”, that we studied in her class.
We wrote reports every day and the story dragged on and on and on. I'll always remember Madame LaFarge sitting in the background, shoulders covered with a large shawl, hands busy knitting, knitting, always knitting. I thought then that Miss Marshall would fit right in with those characters.
We speculated and wondered about Miss Marshall ... everyone had their own theory. Why was she so depressed?
Then one day ... one day ... she looked out the window at the black storm clouds, her shoulders moved in an involuntary shudder and she told us of her long ago love.
Her eyes were misty and her voice husky ... her hands shook as she showed us the diamond ring that she wore on her right hand. We had such wonnnderfulll plannns. He was sooo handsome. Such dark eyes! Sooo lean ... sooo strong ... so nice looking in his Army uniform. We were sooo younnng! We planned to beee married as soon as the war was over. The time was 1918 ... World War One was being fought. My handsommm love was sent to France. He was killed on the battlefieeeeld and did not come home to me.
Such a sad tale! So long ago ... No wonder, we said to each other, no wonder she's so down hearted!
She had never married, and as far as I know, she mourned him all the days of her life ... and it showed in everything she did.
I glanced in the mirror again today, pursed my lips, looked deep into my own eyes and I had to smile as I remembered Miss Marshall. My heart skipped a beat and then kind of a warm, refreshing feeling stole over me. My eyes lit up like light bulbs and I knew at once what to do.
I will keep my wrinkled “Miss Marshall Lips”, and turn them into a smile! A smile I'll wear as a tribute to a lady who taught us that “Life can only be what we ourselves make of it.”
Like they say ... “It ain't over until all the paperwork is done” ... and I've got lots of paper shuffling to do yet!