I never thanked my mom (who went to be with her Messiah in 1990) for those experiences, which led to my interest in drama. So, “Thanks, Mom.”
My sixth grade teacher, Miss Ziegler, wrote and directed a new “operetta” every year. When I was in the fifth grade, she cast me as Titania, the queen of the fairies. I was jubilant! I was double-cast with Elena Dewar (who just happened to have glorious, curly white hair and baby blue, sparkly eyes).
All went well until the principal said the production was taking too long to perfect. The director was instructed to limit the cast – no longer were we “double-cast”; now we were “actor” and “understudy.”
Whom would you choose to perform as Titania, the queen of the fairies, if it were up to you? Would you choose Elena, with the beautiful white hair and those ridiculously blue eyes? Or Ellen, with dark curly locks and brown cow eyes, as my father called them?
And thus it happened. Elena was Titania; I became a simple fairy with one line! Only one line: “Where art thou, fair Titania?”
I prayed that Elena would become ill – not severely, seriously life-threateningly ill! Just ill enough that she wouldn’t be able to perform. (Disclaimer: I was not a Christian at this time. I was an extremely self-centered child, who thought my “cuteness” would take me far. I cared little for others’ feelings.)
The next year, maybe because of my pathetic experience as a fifth grader (and probably because of my nagging!), Miss Ziegler cast me as the Chinese princess in “Honorable Aladdin.” I wore a shiny satin Chinese outfit and had to shuffle when I walked because, as Miss Ziegler explained, Chinese girls had their feet bound to keep them tiny. (I never pointed out the fact that I wore a size 9 shoe at the time; hopefully, no one noticed.)
This was a great part. I remember “shuffling” down the aisle with my entourage leading me onto the stage. I remember the costume because I have a photo.
The actual performance has escaped my memory, but I do remember putting on false fingernails and painting them black, then explaining to my sister, “I can’t do dishes tonight. I have on my fingernails and I might mess them up.”
Miss Ziegler was a saint, an “old maid” who lived with her mother. She put up with so much from me as a sixth grader. Not only am I sure I drove her up the wall because I was so conceited and thoughtless of others, but at one point she told my parents at a meeting: “Ellen not only orders her fellow students around, but she also tells me what to do.” When my mom sat me down after the conference and gave me this report, my response was, “But I know what everyone ought to do.”
See? Now you know what life was like for Miss Ziegler. But somewhere in my teaching career (1968-2003) I found her address and wrote her. I apologized for the grief I caused her, and she forgave me. (Though she did relate that she hadn’t forgotten me! I, too, have not forgotten the students who made my life miserable!)
In my entire teaching career—junior high in Southern California, senior high in Australia, Klamath Falls and Camarillo, Calif.—I have had many students who reminded me of me in Miss Ziegler’s class. And when that obnoxious student tells me what to do or what I should have done, a little voice in my head says, “You deserve this.” And I silently send another apology to dear Miss Ziegler.