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Submitted by lindaclarke on 21 February 2007 - 5:08pm.

The following day, Melinda arrived at school and found Jenny in a fight with Billy. They were squabbling on the ground and the young boy was yelling for help. Melinda eyed Jenny in amazement. Here she was, only eight years old, fighting with a ten-year-old boy. The most shocking part was that Jenny was on top of him, pulling his hair ferociously as he screamed in pain. How in the world, Melinda wondered, did this feisty young lady manage to overpower a boy almost twice her size? Jenny was slender and wiry and Billy was a bit chubby and slow of movement, which could have been a factor. But still, the boy had bulk on his side.

“Jenny!” Melinda called out with her hands on her hips. She was shocked at such behavior. As a new schoolteacher, she felt completely unprepared for what was happening before her very eyes.

No one paid attention. Annoyed, Melinda tried to pull them apart. As she tugged Jenny away, the young man held his face with his hands while Jenny continued to swing her fists at him.

“I’ll teach you,” yelled Jenny. The blood was rushing through her veins, making her face red with anger.

“Jenny!” Melinda made use of her best tone of authority. “Come with me.”

Taking the feisty little she-cat by her hand, she led her inside the school and sat down at her desk. Jenny looked down at the floor with anger flaming from her eyes.

Melinda was frustrated but she knew that kindness and tenderness went further than scolding. She took a deep breath so she could settle down, and with tenderness in her voice, she spoke to Jenny.

“Jenny, what’s wrong?”

Jenny would not speak.

Melinda gently held Jenny’s hand in hers and with her other hand she tenderly replaced a blond curl that had come loose from the scuffle and was hanging in her eyes. When she saw the defiance in Jenny’s eyes, Melinda felt discouraged. Everything she had done yesterday had been completely undone by Jenny’s classmates today. Taking a deep breath, she sighed. Then, after uttering a silent prayer, she spoke softly.

“Sweet, sweet Jenny. What am I going to do with you? Why can’t you talk to me? You know I care about you. Please tell me why you were fighting with that young man.”

Jenny’s eyes flamed and she spoke with vehemence in her voice. “He called me a name. He always calls me names every day. I hate him.”

“What name did he call you?”

“He called me stupid and dummy and I’m not.”

“Of course you’re not. You’re a very smart young lady with a very pretty smile.”

When Melinda smiled, Jenny’s frown gradually disappeared and her eyes softened.

“Jenny, you’ve got to control your temper. Ignore what the kids say because none of it is true. Remember, you are above those who call you names if you just turn and walk away.”

Melinda knew that it was easier said than done. After the class settled down, Melinda worried that the children had made their judgments about Jenny simply because of a teacher who announced to the class that she was a troublemaker and had placed her at the back of the class, hidden from the rest of the students. Had he actually said that she was a troublemaker in front of the class? That was what the children had told her. Yet even if he had not mentioned it aloud, then his attitude had demonstrated it. How could she undo every negative word or action the first teacher had inflicted upon her students?

The first two weeks went by quickly. Jenny continued to fight with the boys, but less frequently because she wanted to please her teacher. Each day Melinda would have to give a lecture to the class about respecting one another. Each day she made a conscious effort to build up Jenny’s selfesteem. And Melinda knew that Jenny’s love for her was growing day by day.

One morning, when all the students were supposed to be reading, one of them made a spit wad and tossed it at Melinda. She knew it was one of the older children trying to be funny and she suspected it was Billy, so she simply ignored it. Then another spit wad was tossed and it hit Melinda’s hair and bounced off onto the floor.

With all the patience she could muster, she stood and looked at the class and said sternly, “If I feel another spit wad hit me, then we’ll put our books away and we’ll get out our math and do a few pages.” Then she sat down and all was silent. Another spit wad was not tossed again. The threat of doing extra math was sufficiently frightening.

One day, Melinda noticed that Billy was acting quite mischievous and had tried to dunk Peggy’s pigtail in his inkwell. He must have thought his new teacher was dense, she mused. Did most students seem to underestimate their teachers like this? Did he actually believe that she would think it was an accident? When he tried to dunk the braid in the ink, Peggy must have felt him tuck at her hair because she whirled her head around and her pigtail slapped Billy right in the face, swiping his face with blue ink.

Billy had a blue streak across his face for several days and he swore that he would never do such a thing ever again if Miss Gamble would not punish him. Melinda was frustrated and considered a punishment, but opted not to since his blue face seemed to be humiliating enough.

Sometime after the ink incident, Peggy found a frog in her lunch pail. After she screamed at the top of her voice, she headed right for Billy and accused him of placing it there. It seemed to be his style and she was convinced that he was getting even because she whipped his face with her hair. Most everyone suspected Billy to be the culprit because he grinned when she accused him of it—but no punishment was executed since there was no proof of it.

The frustration of being a teacher was high and Melinda wondered if she had made the right decision in coming to the West. Was she doing any good or even making a difference in the lives of any of these children? Their behavior was very discouraging and Melinda found herself weeping at times. But suddenly one day, things began to turn around as if she were being rewarded for her efforts. The third week of school, Jenny began doing her schoolwork and did not act rebellious about it. She had warmed up to Melinda and the joy Melinda felt was incredible. But that was not all!

Melinda had been teaching the history of Bear Lake Valley to her students. “Class, there is a special trail that passes through Bear Lake Valley. It’s the Oregon Trail. In 1843, the first wagon train that crossed the Oregon Trail was dubbed the Great Migration. After twenty-five years, more than a half million people went west on this trail. In 1869, there were no more wagon trains because the railroad was completed.” She walked up one of the aisles and stood in front of Billy and then continued. “The Shoshone, Ute, and Bannock tribes, plus many mountain men, used the Bear Lake Valley for hunting grounds before the settlers came here. Many Rendezvous were held at the south end of the valley near Bear Lake in the 1820s. Jim Bridger and Jedediah Smith attended those Rendezvous.” She eyed the class carefully and asked, “Class, have you ever heard of a Rendezvous before?”

Melinda walked around the room and looked at the children as she spoke. She had a plan that she believed would bring joy and learning to these students and she was about to spring it on them. Taking a deep breath, she continued with her lesson.

“A Rendezvous was a gathering where fur traders, Indians, suppliers, and mountain men met to trade for traps, supplies, furs, guns, and beads. I think it would be very interesting to have a Rendezvous of our own. What do you think? We would bring what we didn’t want from home and then we would trade with one another just like the traders did at the Rendezvous. We can even dress up like the mountain men and traders, if you like. Some of you can even dress like the Indians did. Would you like to do that?”

Excitement filled the air as they planned their Rendezvous for the first of November. It would give them time to put together their costumes and find trinkets that they wanted to trade. This would help them get to know one another and learn at the same time. The Rendezvous would take place within the schoolroom since the weather would be too chilly to hold the event outside.

Melinda was so impressed with Jenny. She had come a long way and she was very smart. Melinda wanted the class to get to know Jenny better in an atmosphere other than the classroom, so she decided to plan an excursion that would take the students away from the monotony of the school and hopefully allow them to overcome their prejudices against Jenny.

“Class, I have decided to take you up into the West Mountains to the Paris Springs next Monday. I will show you where the fresh unpolluted water pours out of the mountain and where we get our drinking water from. You will need to bring a note from your parents for permission and a clean cup to scoop up the fresh spring water.”

After Melinda told the class about the fun Rendezvous they would have in November and the little excursion in the mountains, Billy seemed to turn pale and became very nervous. Melinda had noticed that his respect for her was gradually growing, but he still seemed to feel the need to torture the girls in class.

Melinda told the class to begin reading and she sat down at her desk. As she sat, Melinda noticed that Billy seemed to be quite fidgety and he kept glancing up at her as if something was on his mind. What was wrong with him? Billy stood and slowly walked up to Melinda with a sheepish look on his face.

He ran his fingers through his brown wavy hair and then he took a deep breath and said, “Miss Gamble, you are making school fun for us and I never had fun at school before. You are much nicer than the other teacher we had. So, I just want to tell you that I’m sorry for all the mischief I’ve been doing.”

“Thank you, Billy. I appreciate that.”

“And I’m sorry for what I did today, too.”

“Sorry, Billy? You haven’t done anything today.”

His dark brown eyes widened. “Oh yes I have, Miss Gamble.”

She lifted her eyebrows slightly. “What did you do?”

“Well,” Billy swallowed and wiped his hands on his pants nervously. “I would like it very much if you would just look the other way while I get something from your desk. All right, Miss Gamble?”

Melinda looked into Billy’s eyes questioningly. “Billy, did you put something in my desk?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Can I peek?”

“No, ma’am. You wouldn’t like it if you did. Just turn the other way so you won’t get scared, all right?”

Melinda quietly rose from her seat and backed up to the wall so she could watch at a safe distance. Billy opened her drawer and exposed a nice fat garter snake that was lying upon her papers. Billy slid his hands under it and took it out, just as Melinda gasped.

Billy looked up at Melinda and said, “He wouldn’t have hurt you, Miss Gamble. He’s just a garter snake. I play with them all the time. Pa says that they eat the bad bugs in our garden.”

When the girls looked up from their reading and saw what Billy had in his hands, the classroom became a siren of screaming noises that would have pierced the ears of anyone who entered the classroom. It took quite a while to settle the girls down before they could continue with their studies. One girl fainted and another ran outside without permission. The boys laughed until their sides ached, and Melinda wondered if she should give Billy a punishment. Since he had been so honest with her and took the snake outside of his own volition, she hesitated to do so. Honesty had its merits.

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