Her name was Miss Badeaux. She was dramatic. No, wait! She was theatrical… When Miss Badeaux strode across the front of the room, her long flowing scarf trailed behind her like Loretta Young. She didn’t aim to look like the dark haired Loretta Young, I think she wanted to look like Marilyn Monroe, in chiffon shirtwaist dresses, platform high heels, flowing scarves, red lacquered nails with matching lipstick and yes, blonde hair, ‘straight from a bottle’, our mothers whispered.
I should clarify that Miss Badeaux didn’t look like Marilyn Monroe- her facial features weren’t soft, angular is a better word; she had a look about her that was distinct…her eyes sparkled with either mirth or fury; her eyebrows were arched a bit too high with a very liberal use of eyebrow pencil which made her eyes as dramatic as her full red lips, which were pursed in displeasure, wide with laughter or shaped in a perfect ‘O’ when she was shocked by her students’ behavior.
Miss Badeaux was my fifth grade teacher at Minnie Holman Grammar School. I was rather frightened of her theatrical ways; yet I liked her, was fascinated by her. Still. Miss Badeaux wasn’t like anyone I’d ever known, peculiar seems a good word to describe her. Completely different from my other teachers who wore sensible shoes, freshly starched shirtwaist dresses of modest length and straightforward eyeglasses; with the exception of Miss Collier- my second grade teacher wore fitted worsted wool suits and silk bow blouses and who was always kind. She was a terror with her wooden ruler. Rapping either our desks or our wrists as we practiced cursive writing, Miss Collier meant for our penmanship to be a work of art. (No, this was not a private boarding school- it was one of many Birmingham City Schools. At the time, they were considered high quality schools until the urban sprawl changed the landscape) I still find it hard to believe that-
- We were graded on Penmanship,
- We had Auditorium once a week to train us in the art of Public Speaking and Drama.
- We were offered weekly Art Classes.
- Advanced Art, Piano and Dance Classes were also offered for a small fee.
- And we had teas for special occasions.
Miss Badeaux, my fifth grade teacher dramatically taught her awestruck students- Greek Mythology, Literature, History, Geography and yes, Grammar. Every morning, Miss Badeaux stood at our classroom door until every student had arrived- she was insistent that we stand by our desks until she entered. Dramatic, with flowing scarf, long strides gesturing theatrically. she spoke–
- ‘Boys and Girls! Place your hands over your heart while we pledge allegiance to the Flag!’
- ‘Now! You may be seated!’
- ‘Feet and eyes forward- heads up! straight backs- no slouching !’
- ‘Your attention please!’
Then, as only Miss Badeaux could do- she called roll, using our full names, no nicknames- pursing her lips as she marked the roll call book- one by one we said ‘present’ or were marked ‘absent’. I had the impression this was a teacher who really could see in any and all directions, must have had eyes in the back of her head; she brooked no foolishness- a good conduct grade in her class seemed to be near unachievable. She had a way of pausing… as if waiting for our full attention. When Miss Badeaux was sufficiently satisfied that her class was willing and ready to learn- Rapping her wooden talking stick on her desk with a flair, dramatically say-
- ‘Merriam! Webster! May I have a word?’ She would cup her hand over her ear as if she was listening to the huge dictionary which stood on the library side of the room. ‘Ah, yes- comportment! Did you hear that class? Comportment! What a word! Thank you!’ She proceeded to write COMPORTMENT on the blackboard, did I mention she was theatrical? Yes, that’s how Miss Badeaux did everything. ‘Is anyone able to decipher this very important word- Comportment?’ There were sighs and giggles; no one seemed able to give Miss Badeaux a definition – of course she sent a student to Merriam-Webster for the answer.
‘The way or manner in which one conducts oneself’, Rosemary, the teacher’s pet, read. ‘A little louder, please- what is the meaning of Comportment’. Then, calling on Tommy, forgive me- Thomas. ‘Thomas, would you endeavor to use comportment in a sentence?’ … To be fair, the young boy tried but it was a monumental failure. Miss Badeaux sighed, then instructed Thomas to use his best penmanship and write the word comportment in his notebook while she used ‘comportment’ in a sentence-
‘The ambassador’s comportment was a reflection on his country.’ Students! Do you realize the ambassador’s entire nation would be judged for good or bad, depending on his personal comportment?’
She asked the unfortunate Thomas, who sat at the front of the class, to write the word ‘ambassador’ on the blackboard for all the class to see- ‘Use your phonics and sound it out!’ Somehow, Thomas got the word ‘ambassador’ on the board, while Miss Badeaux launched into a very dramatic explanation of how important our comportment was- We are ambassadors of our homes, our neighborhoods and the reputation of Minnie Holman Grammar School depends on our comportment! An all encompassing word, comportment meant more than mere a conduct grade- Comportment included:
- Our Bearing- how we held ourselves with good posture or a slouch. Bearing was very much related to-
- Our Carriage- how a person carried oneself reflected comportment!
- Our Grammar -whether the words we used were civilized or uncouth – courteous or rude!
- Our Demeanor depended on good manners or bad, either poised or filled with fear, Whether we treated others with courtesy or not, even our facial expressions showed a pleasant demeanor or not!
- Comportment included Habits- fidgeting or biting fingernails were not good habits!
- Comportment showed forth in our personal style and distinctiveness- this was a tricky one! One must conform, yet be sure to add that special something to make ourselves unique. Miss Badeaux certainly had her own personal distinct style!
- Comportment showed up best in how we presented ourselves to the world-
- Were we going to have our hair hanging in our face or neatly combed?
- Would our clothes, be neat and clean or wrinkled and dirty?
- Would our papers and books be neat and tidy or a wadded up mess?
- Comportment was all about our actions- Actions speak louder than words.
Comportment was a running theme throughout my fifth grade year! Yet, curiously, after she had drilled the word into our little heads and tested us on spelling and meaning… the word was rarely spoken. Miss Badeaux, instead pointed to our history books- she said we would find out how peoples of the world had acted for the good or evil of society; she pointed to Geography books and told us we would discover which countries thrived and which did not. Even the great myths or fables from ancient cultures, taught important lessons through action and reaction!
In Miss Badeaux’s class it was understood that her students would not just receive a conduct grade. Our grade would be decided by our overall comportment! I can still hear her say- ‘Young man! watch how you comport yourself!’ She impressed on students that we were transitioning in fifth grade from children to young adults. At the end of the year, if our comportment grade had been a B or higher… we would be recommended to attend a special course called- B4Hi. Miss Badeaux and Mr. Wright – the principal of Minnie Holman Grammar School would have to approve. B4Hi, was extracurricular social graces and deportment classes. Okay, we’ll have to wait on Deportment Classes and B4Hi, just know that we learned about comportment with a bit of etiquette thrown in for good measure! Then on to Charm School!
Now, y’all… I know all good southern tales are part truth, part myth and part outright lies- however… I cringe to admit, I actually did attend B4Hi and Charm School! I learned invaluable lessons like how to walk as if gliding… how to enter and exit an automobile gracefully- how to serve punch, form a receiving line, pour tea or go through a buffet line.
So many social graces and invaluable lessons were taught; I’m sure I’ve forgotten half of them. What I know for sure is that social graces were considered an important part of our education and upbringing.
As students start a new school year, we hope they will have a wonderful year of learning and growing! I’m thankful for good teachers. We pray our children will have at least one unforgettable, animated, even theatrical teacher like Miss Badeaux! I had many other wonderful teachers who came in different forms – and some unforgettable children who’ve taught me quite a few profound lessons in life!
Love y’all, Camellia
*I wish I had a photograph of Miss Badeaux, she was certainly unique and unforgettable. The photograph of Minnie Holman Grammar School was found on Pinterest and could be subject to copyright though none seemed to be exerted on it or the actual Girl’s Tea held at Minnie Holman. The photograph of Loretta Young also did not credit a photographer or exert copyright. I would love to give credit to these photographers if you know who they are. *
I have no idea who Minnie Holman was- however, my older sister told me that Minnie Holman was buried in the large front planter shown in the photograph! After telling me that if I stepped on a sidewalk crack I would break my mother’s back! I am ashamed to say my comportment at that moment was not poised…I was terrified! Then- tearfully upset when I learned she was just kidding me! God bless her, she is my Sailor Girl and my North Star!
*Merriam Webster online (www.merriamwebster.com) was a great resource for this piece of writing! *Other photographs were from the Ash-Clairma school annual from 1961- no copyright is exerted and some photographs I used throughout were edited for content or made into a black and white photograph.