Ms. Goforth, the inflexible grammarian

Published 6:26 pm Friday, December 8, 2017

Today we’re going back 53 years to the year 1964 at Southwest Elementary School — Miss Burta residing.

Miss Burta Weathersbee, principal at Southwest, was quite a lady, a fact confirmed by the fact that I had no painful encounters in her office.

But down the hall from her office resided one of her third-grade teachers whom I considered not quite as special. Notice we said “whom,” not “who,” for my rigid third-grade warden pounded that and many other nonsensical things into our heads for nine months of grammar, arithmetic and torture. Her namesake is the unforgettable Ms. Goforth.

Right off the bat you probably caught on to something: I remembered her name. That’s not really a good thing.  Had she walloped me good after school for my minor indiscretions, I would’ve thanked her and hit the door running. But, no, she had to resort to that cruel and unusual punishment:

“Little Stevie, we’ll see you after school,” she said, pristinely.

Ah, being prisoned from the sublime joys of a bright and beautiful fall afternoon. Surely the penalty far, far exceeded whatever petty crime might have been laid to our charge.

She thought she just had to enjoy the presence of this 8-year-old star basketball player an hour more, the normal seven hours not sufficing.

“Let’s keep this little ‘star’ player after school for an hour and see how he likes that,” she schemed in her grammar-obsessed mind, glancing at me over the top of her glasses with a wry smile.

That alone-time was a hundred times worse than all the swats I got through my entire educational journey combined! As tip-off drew nearer, I appealed over and over, only to see all of my appeals denied.

It was well after tip-off that she unshackled me and released me to the bright sun of the outside world. I hit the door running, my arms lifted high and my voice raised to the sky. I rode my bike to get to the old Callaway Y, and I even made it by halftime. But the trauma of spending an extra hour with the warden of Southwest Elementary marred my play, and I remember vividly slipping and sliding to failure.

I suppose I forgot many of the things I learned slipping and sliding down the halls of Southwest Elementary School, but one thing I didn’t forget: I never forgot that old, tough, inflexible grammarian named Ms. Goforth.

Steven Ray Bowen is a former Granger who lives and writes in Red Oak, Texas.