May

18

My Uncle Killed Tiny Tim

12:39 pm · category: The Whole Fam Damnly

But I might have killed Miss Bettye.

Backstory: On November 29, 1996, my uncle, aunt and I were playing Twenty Questions. My aunt and I failed to correctly identify the person, Tiny Tim, because he told us the person was dead. Of course, he wasn’t. Yet, anyway. The very next day Tiny Tim died. We have blamed my uncle for Tiny Tim’s demise ever since.

Fast forward almost ten years, and it appears that I have killed a beloved teacher.

Yesterday I was lamenting the fact that there’s a big festival in town this weekend, and we are severely overbooked. I jokingly told one of my employees that I was “hoping for a death in the family so I’ll have an excuse to be out of town.”

This morning Miss Bettye died.

Miss Bettye was, quite possibly, the best teacher on the planet. She was one of those teachers who was incredibly hard on you in the classroom, but then ten years later even the worst of students would drop by to tell her how much they appreciated all she had taught them. She was my English teacher for three years, and when I began teaching English she was still in the same classroom, sharing her experience and knowledge as the “honorary” department chair because she had retired and then taught only one class.

I don’t know a lot of specifics about Miss Bettye. There were a lot of stories about her, though, because she was truly a legend in her own time. She began teaching before she had even graduated from college, and she taught in the same school district for more than 40 years.

There were rumors about a romance with a coach on staff who either (a) died in a tragic accident or (b) ran off with a student he was having a fling with, depending on which version you preferred. Either way, it was supposed to have broken Miss Bettye’s heart, thereby explaining (!) why she never married. (I think a more plausible story is that Miss Bettye was actually lamenting the suicide of Ernest Hemingway — a man on whom Miss Bettye clearly had a crush — as she would rhapsodize about what a romantic he was, even though her students knew that The Old Man and the Sea was the most boring book ever written.)

Miss Bettye once called my class a bunch of “hooligans” for misbehaving with a substitute, and we thought the word “hooligans” was hilarious and laughed at her. I feel really guilty about that now.

Miss Bettye loved cats. Tragically, she once accidentally trapped one of her cats in the washing machine or the dryer — I can’t remember which. She mourned that loss for a long time.

Miss Bettye was the president of the Elvis Presley Fan Club in Bald Knob. She was the single best newspaper and yearbook adviser that ever worked in scholastic journalism. She had the most measured, even voice you’ve ever heard, which made her one of the best ministers because her sermons seemed to have extra authority.

Once a student pulled a prank and put Miss Bettye’s obituary in the paper. That hurt Miss Bettye’s feelings a lot, and the staff and students were so outraged that they didn’t let the guy walk at graduation.

Tomorrow there’s going to be an obituary in the paper for Miss Bettye. And this time it’s going to be real.

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