Miss Rutabaga had a reputation around school. Of course that wasn’t nothing new, everybody in school had a reputation whether they wanted one or not. Nobody knew how these reputations came to be. They just showed up one day and no matter what a person did to shed themselves of such reputations, they persisted like a boll weevil in cotton. Miss Rutabaga didn’t like to waste energy if she could help it, so she decided rather than trying to fight the reputation assigned to her by the gossip gods, she would just try and live up to hers. And that’s how come she came to be known around U-Tsu-Dv High School as the “Hard One.”
Teaching at the school on the edge of the Big River was an intentional act on Miss Rutabaga’s behalf. U-Tsu-Dv High had its own reputation for being a hard place. The entire town of U-Tsu-Dv had a reputation for being the Forgotten Place, which was confusing considering the very name of the town and the high school meant “Going back.”
Why is it so many people are drawn to returning to a forgotten place?
Miss Rutabaga knew the answer to that, of course. She figured anybody who studied on it long enough could figure out that the reason people go anywhere is because that’s where they find work. The reasons they stay in that place, or return to that place have to do with a whole mess of complicated things that usually can be boiled down to one thing: relationships. Miss Rutabaga was living proof of that. She would never have made her home along the Big River if it hadn’t been for Mr. Rutabaga. But that’s another story for another day. Miss Rutabaga knew it wasn’t a good idea to shove too many stories at a person at once, less they muddle them all together and come away with a total untruth. That happened all the time at U-Tsu-Dv High.
Sometimes, Miss Rutabaga wanted to call in the man who burned sage and have the school cleansed of its bad spirits but that wouldn’t do nothing but earn her the reputation of being a voodoo witch and there were already folks who referred to her that way.
U-Tsu-Dv High could use some help from Creator God and his mighty host, that was for dang sure. Oh, don’t get it wrong, there are plenty of Followers of the Way at the school. Miss Rutabaga was all the time reading about these Followers. They were the ones who anytime they had a paper to write were sure to write about The Way. Miss Rutabaga found it amusing that those who could write with such conviction about The Way were usually some of the worst behaved students in all of U-Tsu-Dv High.
Miss Rutabaga didn’t talk much about Creator God, or what she believed. She was old now and knew that the best argument in favor of Creator God was living out a holy life. And by holy she didn’t mean pious, she meant a life serving others, which is how come she came to be inside U-Tsu-Dv High the day the Great Wind Goddess blew through.
Miss Rutabaga did not see the Great Wind Goddess blow her way into the classroom, but she heard her. There was a loud screeching noise, the kind the train makes in the middle of the night when it has to throw on its emergency brakes. The Great Wind Goddess sucked all the air from the room in one breath and blew it out again in the next.
Students looked up in horror, terrified by the Great Wind Goddess. They sat there, mouths dangling open, saliva dripping out the sides, like a horse expecting a carrot. Miss Rutabaga turned to face the Wind Goddess.
“Can I help you?”
“I’ve come for my child’s Magic Rock,” she said. “You have no right to take the Magic Rock from my child.”
Everyone knew that Magic Rocks were not allowed in Miss Rutabaga’s class. There was a sign posted in the front of the class, hanging right above the Wind Goddess’s head if she had bothered to look which she didn’t, that said in big bold red letters: No Magic Rocks Allowed. Ever.
“I am so glad you showed up,” Miss Rutabaga replied, as calmly as she could considering all the wrinkles were blown back off her face and her hair waved behind her like a flag in a strong wind. “The rule is No Magic Rocks allowed. If a student is caught with a Magic Rock they lose that Rock until a parent shows up to get it. Surely, you read that in the student handbook?”
The Wind Goddess heard nothing of what old Miss Rutabaga said. She was unleashing a funnel cloud of words about the rights of her child and the violations of those rights and the misdeeds of a teacher like Miss Rutabaga who had taken away the Magic Rock from the Wind Goddess’s child earlier in the day.
Miss Rutabaga bravely approached the Wind Goddess and handed over the Magic Rock. All the time in her mind she was wondering: Who let the Wind Goddess into the hallway? Did the Wind Goddess just blow her way past the front office? Wasn’t anyone worried about the dangers posed by unharnessed wind?
“You should take your hot breathe and leave my classroom,” Miss Rutabaga said. She added “Right now” for emphasis.
“I intend to,” the Wind Goddess blew back. Her cheeks were puffy, disfigured, as if stuffed with bits of debris she had sucked in during her rant.
But she didn’t leave. She just stood there in the doorway, her child smiling smugly behind her. The Magic Rock in the palm of her mother’s hand.
“Go,” Miss Rutabaga said again.
“I’m going,” said the Wind Goddess. “Straight to the administrator.” Then she turned a blew down the hallway.
The next day the child came into class and put her Magic Rock on the desk. A challenge to Miss Rutabaga.
Miss Rutabaga ignored it. She understood something the child does not yet understand – there is no such thing as a Magic Rock. It is simply a Rock painted up to look as if it holds powers. But at it’s very core, it is still a rock. Good for holding down papers in a strong wind. Nothing more.
The thing Miss Rutabaga keeps trying to teach the children at U-Tsu-Dv High School is that the only true power a person can harness comes from within.
Until a people learn that lesson they are all doomed to going back instead of forward.
Karen Spears Zacharias is author of Burdy, Mercer University Press.