Whenever someone referred to our class as Reading, our teacher, Mrs. Somerville let out a big sigh and promptly corrected them. The word literature rolled off her tongue, silvery and musical, every letter audible. Almost as if she suddenly began speaking a foreign language. She was tall, slender, and golden, with an Audrey Hepburn-bouffant, a champagne-blonde goddess, thanks to Miss Clairol, who had agreed to step down from her cloud on Mount Olympus during third period, to instruct the mere mortals in our restless and rowdy seventh grade class. I think she was in her mid-forties, but at the time, she seemed timelessly ancient.
Her husband owned Scripps, a chic women's clothing store. She was the height of fashion, the envy of the other teachers, and always dressed to the nines in sherbet-colored pastel suits, with matching shoes, beaded necklaces, and earrings. We heard she was a fashion model in Vogue before becoming a teacher, although I found it hard to imagine Mrs. Somerville dolled-up in a sexy pose, wearing cat-eyed glasses and a swank cocktail dress.
She wore a heavy-looking charm bracelet that jingled anytime she moved, especially when she was writing on the chalkboard in her swirly, perfectly-spaced cursive script. The charms shivered, like the bangles worn by a belly-dancer.
In spite of her finishing-school elegance, the sound of her charm bracelet opted for a police siren. It made everyone look around, stop slouching, the fear of God unleashed. She was iron-fisted, with no time in her class for monkey-business. Her nickname was "Shark Somerville;" she had a taste for devouring the lazy and unenthusiastic. When she turned her back, the spit-wads would fly and we'd chuckle about her appetite for small children.
She had eyes in the back of her head; her hearing as keen as a cat's. "Mr. Willey, would you mind picking up all this paper after school?" Bobby Willey scowled, looking daggers at the other boys who were burying their faces to keep from laughing.
"Miss Schlegel, to which small children are you referring?" Susie Schlegel's face became bright tomato-red and we'd continue on with poetry.
Mrs. Somerville made us memorize poems. The only time you'd see her crack a smile was when a host of golden daffodils were dancing in her head. She didn't even mind assisting the kids too lazy to learn all the lines. She'd sit at her desk, remove her glasses, and close her eyes for a few minutes, perhaps imagining Wordsworth's bliss of solitude, silently fluttering her eyelashes like butterfly wings. She never winced, although we always thought she was watching us somehow through her eyelids. Inevitably the spell would be broken when Tony Bombay cut the cheese.