By LEON YOUNGBLOOD
With school starting, the subject of past teachers entered our conversation. From my friend, the surprising news was, “Miss Grundy died. Did you know?”
I did not.
I did not think she would ever die. She was too mean. I always suspected she had been possessed by malevolent spirits who were merely maintaining her physical frame while her fanatically obsessed mind provided grammatical tools of torture devils could only dream of.
I asked for details.
“She was incredibly old,” my friend reported, “a hundred-and-ninety, or thereabouts. She died with a Heavener Ledger in her hands, opened to the ‘Opinion’ section. A vein or something popped in her head.”
My friend looked at me with a doe-eyed sincerity that made me want to slap him. He asked, “Don’t you think you are somehow responsible? She was reading your column. Were your grammatical atrocities too much for her? She was our English teacher, you know.”
The severity of my friend’s accusation stung. He is a fellow writer, harbored down south. I stared back, wounded, into his judgmental gaze a moment until the hints of a smile exposed his deception.
Simultaneously, we started laughing. We almost even hugged.
“Ding, dong, the witch is dead!” my friend said gleefully.
Or so we thought.
Miss Grundy had not quite departed. I’m sure she will one day go to her reward, a heaven (or heck) of grammatical propriety and perfection; but for now, she was haunting her former students.
To her credit, she hated computer stuff more than I do, but she worked with it and through it posthumously. When I logged on to submit my column on the best way to boil onions, she appeared and overrode everything.
The screen went gray. Then slowly, as if approaching through a fog, Thelma Grundy’s face came through the mist. She wasn’t happy and even though the volume was off, the spirit spoke loudly and clearly.
“You idiot!” she said.
After the initial shock, I smiled. “Why, thank you, Miss Grundy. Did it ever occur to you why you could never snag a husband? Your greetings are a little harsh.”
The face contorted to a gruesome skeletal presentation. “Heed me, fool! A husband? What for? I have Fowler, Strunk and White, Siegal and Connelly, Garner—”
I interrupted to say, “I have Bierce, Twain, Billings, Lewis Carroll, F Scott Fitzgerald, and, if you please—Will Rogers!”
The skeletal features quickly changed back to her fleshed-out image. She spoke with more respect, and admitted, “Those worthy authors knew the rules but knowingly disobeyed some of them. Except for Fitzgerald. The man couldn’t spell, either. And I hated Billings. I do not count Will Rodgers. He did not know the rules, but my parents liked him. I do not wish to upset them.”
I responded, “Nor do I wish to upset you. But I’m keeping Will for a silver bullet. What do you want from me, anyway?”
“Your salvation!” the wraith answered. “You were not the worst student I ever had, but you were the 97th worst. I will visit every one of you! You will become perfect with your grammar and punctuation or die!” Miss Grundy was intimidating enough when I was her student. I would not let her bother me as a ghost. “Irregardless of your intentions,” I taunted, “you’re wasting your time. Grammar, Miss Grundy, is what’s dying.”
In college days, her savage stare would have fried me. She asked, “What do you mean?”
Obviously, the woman had not been watching much television. She had never heard “rap” music. She had never received a text message, either. I showed her a “group conversation” between my daughter and her friends: “jeet?” “no u?” “no. want 2? your nvtd” “shr whr?” “idk.ft s?” “shr. Lndsy?” “me2” “shr” “nvt prnts?” “lol” “may pay” “dntot.ok” “<3 u” . . .
Aghast, the ghost asked, “What is this moronic drivel?”
“A dinner invitation, I think. They want my wife to pay. I’m sorry, but this is what grammar has come to in the 21st century. If it’s any consolation, I hate these ‘techno-language’ abbreviations! In fact—well, I’m beginning to understand your anguish.”
Miss Grundy’s countenance tenderized, becoming almost angelic. “Really? You do?” she asked. I nodded. “That must suffice, then. I surrender all. I go peacefully—and thankfully!—into eternity.”
She faded away. RIP MS G. And Heavenly Father, please bless embattled English teachers
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