They called her “Rag Woman”

It was a spring day in 1976. A Monday. The first class after lunch. Pre-Algebra. A packed classroom, most of whom didn’t think they had any reason to ever learn or understand math. (I still feel sorry for them. I’d bet that some of them said “do you wanta supersize that” for a looooong time….)

I was finishing up my only stint as a full-time school teacher. Union (Mo) High School. We were living a bit north of there in Washington, with the Missouri River a couple of blocks north of our upstairs apartment, at the foot of the hill.

I had taken advice from a couple of UHS veteran teachers and had assigned seats before the first class, separating a couple of hyper guys from each other. Johnny was in the corner to the right of my desk…front and center. His buddy was back row, left side. Empty chairs near him in all directions.

Johnny usually arrived early so he could spar a bit….verbally that is. He liked to talk. I liked to challenge him.

On that particular Monday, Johnny and his buddy arrived together, whining about the substitute teacher from their study hall earlier that day. She had split the two of them up soon after the bell rang to start the class.
They were looking forward to the regular teacher being back the next day.
On Tuesday, they were really pissed off!
“That Rag Woman is gonna be here for at least two weeks!! Mrs. Smith is in the hospital and we’re stuck with that mean old bag. Nobody that small should be that mean!!”
I just smiled.

When Johnny came into the classroom on Wednesday…always one of the first kids to arrive…always chatty…I asked him about study hall that morning. He groaned.
“She gets meaner every day. The Rag Woman is gonna make me stay after school the rest of the week. She said I was causing a commotion. At least she won’t be in charge of detention.”
I just smiled.
That Thursday very well might have been the day that I heard Gary Wright singing “Dream Weaver” for the first time. That song is one of my “First Time Tunes.”
Every time I hear the tune I flash back to riding in a ’74 Super Beetle, listening to KSHE as my wife of 15 or 16 months drives us to Union High School.

Whether this was that particular day or not, it was the fourth day of her two week assignment…filling in for Mrs. Smith, the Home-Ec teacher.
As we pulled into the faculty parking lot I spotted Johnny getting off the school bus, and I was pretty sure that he saw me riding shotgun in Paula’s little orange bug.
Johnny got to the classroom even earlier than normal that Thursday. “I saw you in the car with that Rag Woman this morning!! Why would you get in a car with that mean old bag?”
“She’s not old Johnny. She’s only 24.”
“And I think she’s pretty nice. I’m married to her. She’s my wife. ”

“No she’s not!! Don’t say that! You don’t have a ring on, and neither does she.”
“You’re right about the rings. But you can be married and not wear a ring.”

“Yeah, but she wrote her name on the blackboard…and she wrote ‘Ms. Rudloff.’ Your name is Weiss. So you’re not married to her. You’re not!”

“Johnny, the ERA has been ratified by over 30 states. Even without it there is no law that says that married people have to use the same last name. When you’re in detention this afternoon ask Coach Denton who I’m married to…but for now get in your seat and take out your home work.”

That Thursday’s Pre-Algebra class was a little more raucous than usual, but it was never all that quiet. I never bought into the old techer’s adage “don’t smile until Christmas” and sometimes I might have paid a price for that.
Johnny expected her to lighten up after he told her that he knew we were married. No such luck. He got sent to detention one more time for making a racket and disrupting the Rag Woman’s study hall before Mrs. Smith returned from her two week absence.

We laughed even more on the ride home that Thursday than we had every other day that week. “Rag Woman” gave us a lot of laughs over the years.

In my mind’s eye I can still see the look on Johnny’s face on that Thursday, as I close my eyes and climb aboard the dream weaver train.

Be. Just BE.

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