There are probably hundreds of “mature” ex-college students in Maine who were students of Miss Fickett. I had her for freshman English back in 1965. Having completed a three-year stint in the Army, I was taking a couple of night classes on the GI Bill at Gorham State Teachers College.

I had always had a tough time with English, having flunked it some three years earlier along with four other courses. Of course, that meant I flunked out of that college. That is when I sought out an escape route, which was the nearest Army recruiter. Anyway, at that first class she greeted us, “Good evening, boys and girls.” I cringed. Obviously, Miss Fickett had been brought out of retirement to teach our class.

One of the assignments was, “Class, I want you to write a short theme about your hometown.” No problem. I could handle that.

None of the “majestic maple trees, or quaint New England homes, or lazy winding streams” for me. I liked good meaty topics. My hometown of Buxton had been given to a group of men who had helped to annihilate the Narragansett Indians in Massachusetts in the 1700s. Well, that’s what I wrote about.

Part of each class was devoted to grammar. Oh, how I feared English grammar. They say to fear the unknown, and that was exactly my situation. We were dealing with pronouns: “I,” “you,” “he,” “she” and “it”; “we,” “you” and “they.” There were some verb tenses: “I had been,” “you had been,” etc.

One day as I had been sitting there trying to look knowledgeable but not overconfident, Miss Fickett was saying something about a perfect future. She was asking someone to conjugate something. It was me. I heard my name. I stood, as was required. I paused. She repeated the question. I continued to pause. I was fighting for composure. I could have used a wrong answer. Anything.

Finally I heard my voice saying, “I’m sorry, Miss Fickett. I just don’t know how to conjugate verbs.” All eyes were zeroed in on my red ears.

Miss Fickett, seeing my embarrassment, helped me out. In total ignorance I stood there and repeated after her the whole damn conjugation. “You may be seated.”

Nonetheless, I stumbled through the semester and got a D for a final grade. Miss Fickett was compassionate enough not to call on me again. I was thankful.

I seemed to get a lot of sympathetic smiles from classmates thereafter. But I learned a little about humility.

Let’s see: “I am humiliated,” “I have been humiliated,” “I shall have been humiliated” — and so on …

By the way, it turned out my mother, who graduated from Farmington State Normal School around 1936, had a teacher by the same name. Miss Fickett confirmed that she was one and the same. Unbelievable.

Charles “Sandy” Wright is a Maine native who now lives in Cottonwood, Ariz.


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