by Eloise Hawking
The school’s fight song could be heard in the hallway as we approached the Quest room. This time, Mrs. Eloise greeted us at the doorway having each of us give her a “paw five” as we entered the room. She was dancing around in that dog suit and all of the kids were cracking up. My hopes had been dashed that she was only wearing it to the Friday teacher breakfast.
We picked up our notes for the day off the table near the door, and made our way to the desks grouped in clusters at the center of the classroom. At each of our desks, there were dog dishes set up, the kind that look like rectangles that are divided down the middle to put food on one side and water on the other. On the food side instead of dog kibble, there were rocks.
“What are we doing today?” Emily asked me. She never quits asking me and I never run out of shrugs it seems. The kids just don’t understand that I don’t know a thing more than they do.
“Check the board. I didn’t come in early with her today, as you can probably see why.” We glanced over and Mrs. Eloise was doing the cheerleader dance to the fight song now and just attempted a Russian Eagle.
On the one side of the chalkboard was the word HOOOWWWWLLLL! On the other was our list of things we would do in class today. At the top of today’s list there was something that Mrs. Eloise never made mention of. It was just a simple addition problem for us to solve. The problem was this:
19,102 + 331,971.
That seemed simple. Too simple.
Beneath that, Mrs. Eloise listed all our other tasks for the day. They appeared in Roman Numeraled list. Mrs. Eloise had study time planned for us, as well as the school’s Alma Mater review.
“I got the answer,” said Brainy Bailey, in reference to the mysterious math problem. It is easy.” Bailey recited, “351,073.”
Mrs. Eloise wagged her tail in approval, but a muffled, “That’s part of it…” was heard from within. I knew there had to be more to it.
“Another puzzle, Mrs. McG?” said Henry. “We still didn’t figure out the key one from yesterday!”
Mrs. Eloise removed her husky head to reveal rosy cheeks and breakaway curls along her hairline. It must have been warm in there.
“Hey,” said Rachel. “Maybe that is the combination to the lock for the key.”
“Nice try, kids. Think about it class. Sometimes you have to examine something from all kinds of angles before you see the complete solution. The answer will eventually come to you. All answers do in good time,” said Mrs. Eloise.
“What are the dog dishes for, Mrs. McG?” inquired Emily. “Are you serving us dog food for breakfast?”
“No, I ran out today because Ellen ate it all this morning,” said Mother Eloise. It was a rare occasion that she made mention of the fact that we were mother and daughter. All the kids laughed.
“Did you eat your kibble roasted or toasted?” said Mikey with his sneering smile.
“With ketchup,” I replied, pretending not to care that I was suddenly in the spotlight.
“OK, pups. That’s enough yipping and yapping for the moment. It is time to get down to business. You all have a test coming up next week---a real test-----a Quest test. The kind that you actually have to study for. Let’s use some of our class time practicing the names of these rocks.”
Mrs. Eloise went on to explain that we each had a pile of rocks in our dog dish. We were to pick them up and examine them. If we were certain of the rock’s name, we were to move it to the empty side of the dog dish, therefore knowns would remain on one side and unknowns on the other. We were to jot down the unknowns on a piece of paper so we knew which ones to focus on when we studied.
My classmates and I put our class materials beneath our desks, stood up, and began to circulate the room moving from dog dish to dog dish.
Mrs. Eloise also made the rounds with us, moving from student to student, placing a soft gray paw of encouragement on our backs. “What’s this one?” students would ask her, and in keeping with Mrs. Eloise style, she never gave the answer. Instead she gave clues.
“I’m stuck on this one Mrs. McG,” said Bailey.
“Oh, for such a mathematician, I would have thought that one wouldn’t have been very tough for you.” And so Mrs. Eloise stood for a moment watching Bailey’s blank look. Then a glimmer of recognition crossed Bailey’s face, followed by a broad smile.
“Oh, I get it!” she exclaimed. “That was a clue! The rock is tuff—the igneous rock. Thanks, Mrs. McG!”
And so it went as Mrs. Eloise soft pawed from student to student giving clues such as these:
“Oh, geez. That stinks that you don’t know that one.” Pause. SULFUR!
“I must have been drawn to you by some invisible force knowing that you needed help with that one.” Pause. MAGNETITE!
“Santa Paws is going to put this in the cleats of the football team if they lose the game tonight.” Pause. COAL!
“I have halitosis, don’t I? (exhaling on the student). I should go home and brush my fangs with some toothpaste.” Pause. FLUORITE!
By the end of the study session, I could identify most of the rocks. There were just a few I was still hung up on, so as instructed, I wrote the names in my notebook as well as the addition problem from the morning puzzler. I’d take a look at them later.
“The bell is going to ring in a few minutes, kids. Come and pick up your study sheet,” said Mother Eloise.
“Over the weekend?!” complained Mikey. “That’s not fair.”
“A Quest student never stops thinking, Michael,” said Mrs. Eloise. “You have a few days to complete it. I have faith that you’ll get it done.”
Mother handed out the papers to us. At the top of the homework sheet it read, What is the Most Expensive Rock?” That seemed easy. It had to be the diamond.
“We won’t have to think too hard about this one,” said Emily as she glanced at the paper before stuffing it in her folder.
I knew better than that. I stood a moment and scanned the sheet. It looked like this:
Quest Rock and Mineral Study Sheet
For Good Little Students
I can’t say that I don’t have a slight advantage having my mother for my teacher. I do. I know how she thinks. “Good little students” as she put on the top of the page, read something all the way through before they jump into an assignment. I knew full well it was one of Mrs. Eloise’s tricks.
Most kids would scribble “Diamond” onto that line without giving it a second thought. Not me. My eyes went immediately to the bottom of the page to the fine print. If letters were dollars, what is the cost of each rock or mineral? It was some sort of code she wanted us to figure out, and there would be more work involved with the assignment than thought a first glance.
The bell signaled the end of class and the kids groaned. Only Mrs. Eloise could make studying so much fun that we wouldn’t want to leave. My friends gathered up their things and headed back to class. I lingered behind a bit, as I sometimes do to get an extra minute with my mother.
I could see Mother Eloise retreat to the back of the room to get a drink of her tea, something she brought to school with her every day. Mom was a coffee drinker, but she switched to tea during school hours because she said that she didn’t want to breathe stale coffee breath on her students all day long. Tough as Mrs. Eloise was, she was always thinking in the best interests of her students.
“Man, this organic tea is terrible! It is completely tasteless. Remind me next time that we go grocery shopping not to buy that kind again, Cinderella,” said Mom.
“Is there any left in there, Mom? I am kind of parched, too.” I inquired.
“Parched. I am quite impressed with the word choice, Danielle Webster. For that, you are welcome to drink the rest of it,” she said, walking towards me handing me the cup. “Just rinse out the cup for me when you’re done, Cinderella,” said Mom winking at me.
“Oh, and by the way,” she went on, “I have to return the mascot suit to the football locker room after school today, Ellen” she stated matter of factly. “Do you want to ride with me or catch the bus home?”
I figured I’d get home a bit quicker if I caught the bus because no doubt Mother would find someone to chat with about tonight’s game. I informed her that the bus seemed like the best option and then took a nice long drink of tea from Mom’s cup.
I, too, had to agree that the tea was quite tasteless. I looked for the little square tag on the string that usually hangs for the cup to see what kind it was. I didn’t see it, so curiosity got the best of me. I unscrewed the lid to have a peek to see if the little taggy was floating inside.
When I peered in the travel mug, there was no tea bag. All the travel mug contained was just hot water with the mild taste of yesterday’s tea residue. She forgot to put in a tea bag. I smiled, shook my head, and screwed the lid back on. I handed back the cup to Mother.
“Isn’t that tea bland?” she asked.
“Yes, it was,” I replied, deciding it best not to bring up the fact that she had actually been drinking plain hot water all morning long.
By the time I got back to class, the rest of the Quest kids were there had got there ahead of me and the room was a clatter with movement and chatter. Several students surrounded Mr. Nebauer, demanding to know what they missed.
We weren’t allowed to do this with our regular teachers. They said that was “rude” and that the world didn’t stop just because we were gone for our special activity in Quest. No one told Mr. Nebauer that, though, so he was caught in the trap of incessant questions for a few minutes.
I plopped back down into my seat only to find another football shaped note on top of my desk. I could feel the first one’s sharp corner poking me in the pocket, so I determined this was a new one, crafted while I was at Quest. I looked up to see Kenny staring at me. He held my gaze a minute and slowly rose a fist in the air, shaking it ever so slightly to let me know that this time I had to pass the note along.
I sighed and stealthily opened the note in my lap. It read: Skippy is a dud pass it on
Well what do you know!?! Kenny for once got all the words spelled correctly! I was proud of him despite the fact that he still failed to use punctuation. I glanced over at him, rolling my eyes to signal that I had read it.
Kenny eagerly pointed to the person sitting behind me, indicating that I was to pass it along to him. I glanced back at nasally Nick, who was picking his nose at the moment, and shuddered. I had to wait a moment for the nausea to pass before I could turn around again when suddenly I had a great idea.
Sometimes you have to play messenger, even when you don’t want to, just to blend in with the crowd. But no one ever said the messenger couldn’t adjust the message a bit if it was meant to better the world.
I took my pencil and drew in a letter “e” scratchily just like Kenny would have, directly after the second “d” in dud. I also added an exclamation mark for a little extra effect. The note now read: Skippy is a dude! pass it on
I made a big slapping motion with my hand onto Nick’s boogered up desk to get both Nick’s and Kenny’s attention. The note was resting in my palm. When I raised my hand off of the desk, I left the note there.
Nick was not stealth in the least about reading it. He wiped his finger on his pants and unfolded the note. He smiled, gave me a thumbs up, and passed it backwards down the row and went right back to picking his nose.
A message would be circulated today. Yet I got the sense that it may just be the beginning of changing the way we looked at Mr. Nebauer, even if just for a fleeting moment.
Maybe that was the key to all things: the power of the silent “e.” It was strong enough to change the entire meaning of something, just by standing there and being silent. Kind of like me—Ellen, the silent e.