Thursday, February 26, 2015


Here is the author at age 13
Not yet an old fart
One morning in seventh-grade math class, Ted, the cutest boy in class in my thirteen-year-old opinion , became highly agitated with the problems we were all struggling to understand. We were correcting our own homework aloud, and the teacher, Mr. B., had asked Ted to read his answer. It was wrong. As Mr. B. wrote the correct answer on the board, Ted muttered under his breath. Mr. B. turned to glower at Ted, causing a collective titter from the class. When Mr. B. returned to the blackboard to finish writing, Ted’s frustration overcame his classroom protocol. “You old fart,” he said loudly.

The class instantly fell silent. Mr. B.walked over to T
ed’s desk and yanked him up by his collar.

“Go to the office, now!”

Ted slunk out the classroom door and disappeared. We didn’t know it then, but Ted wouldn’t be back in class for three days. The room was so quiet we could hear the pencils scratching across paper and erasers erasing for the next twenty-five minutes, as we kept our heads down and worked. Mr. B. sat at his desk, ostensibly correcting papers from the night before. When the lunch bell rang, all of us popped up like kernels of corn in a hot pan and fled to the hallway where our silence erupted into a roar.

Everyone in the class was talking about what had happened. Girls were smirking and whispering, knowingly raising their eyebrows as if to say, ‘Now isn’t he the nasty boy.’ Boys were guffawing, poking each other and releasing deep snorting laughs to exhibit solidarity with their pal. I quickly located Karen and Susan, my two closest friends who were also in the math class. The three of us hurried down the hall to our lockers, grabbed our coats, and headed up the hill for lunch hour at our respective houses—taking the first three blocks together, as always.

“I can’t believe he would say that,” said Susan. “Do you still think he’s cute?” she asked Karen and me.

We both had crushes on Ted, mostly because he was taller than we were. “That was pretty awful,” agreed Karen.

“Yeah, horrible,” I added. “Do you think he’ll be expelled?”

“Maybe.You just can’t say that to people.”

“He’ll be in a lot of trouble at home, that’s for sure.”

We all shook our heads, clucking in disapproval the way we’d seen our mothers do. Ted was a cute but rude boy—no doubt about it.

As soon as I the kitchen door, I tossed off my coat and hurried past Mother who was at the stove stirring Chef Boy-ar-dee spaghetti for lunch. In the den I opened the dictionary to F to look for the word. Apparently our big fat dictionary was abridged, because I couldn’t find it—even when I tried alternate spellings of phart, fahrt and fartte. I returned to the kitchen and sat down at the table. Nibbling at my spaghetti, I was still trying to make sense of that shocking moment in class when Mr. B. strode to Ted’s desk and picked him up by the collar.

“Is something bothering you?” my mother asked. I was burning with the need to know the meaning of the word, but felt certain it would embarrass Mother and subsequently embarrass me when she explained it. Staring at my plate as if it had ants walking through it, I felt like I was suffocating in my naiveté. I blurted it out. “Ted was kicked out of class. He called Mr. B. an old fart.”

“Oh! How very disrespectful. I’m shocked—he seems like he's from a nice family.”

Hating to admit my ignorance, I didn't ask her the obvious, and returned to school no more enlightened than I was an hour earlier. And although there was a flurry of gossip the next several days over Ted's absence, I am quite certain it was many months before I ascertained the meaning of 'fart.'

Years later, when we were seniors in high school, Karen, Susan, and I recalled that anecdote in Mr. B.'s room. I don’t remember how it came up or why, but all three of us admitted that we didn't know the meaning of 'fart' that day.  No wonder we didn’t dwell on Ted's transgression—each of us afraid the others would find out how uninformed we were! (Even in high school, we were still using "ladylike" terms for fart, e.g. flatulence and passing gas.) 

I shared this anecdote with my children in the mid-seventies, as a way of pleading with them not to use the word fart in polite company. They were in grade school, throwing the word around our lunch table like a baseball. Quickly the conversation topic broadened from one small word to their amazement that Mom had ever been so naïve.

Today the word raises no eyebrows. My grandchildren use the word routinely and even in their kindergarten years, laughed hysterically over the book, Walter the Farting Dog and its sequels. Yes, I'd say times have changed . . . and in a good way.

In fact, I refer to myself an old fart occasionally, and often recall Ted and Mr. B. when I do.

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