Mrs. Manalastas, our Grade four teacher had her maternity leave, and so we had Miss Grace as our new substitute teacher.
Miss Grace was from Malolos: Bulacan’s, capital, and we wondered why an urban teachers like her would try her luck teaching in rural school like ours, the Baliwag Central Elementary School.
Miss Grace always smelled good, sweet, amiable, and cute. Every boy in class had a huge crush on her, especially Pepit. These boys would do anything to suck up to her or be noticed. I had a crush on her, too, but not big – enough that I would volunteer erasing the blackboard, cleaning the eraser or helping in the class.
One day, Miss Grace changed our class’ morning ritual.
Under Mrs. Manalastas we had this “The first number of our program” thing, to start the class – an impromptu program where anyone could be asked to sing, recite a poem or dance. I hated this ritual because towards the end, there will be inspection of clean fingernail and hankie, and if you don’t have both, Mrs. Manalastas would slap your hand with a stick. Tabog and I always had a good slapping every morning. Tabog could never let go of his black thingy under his fingernail, and I never could bring a clean hankie, because, hankie was not a priority for a poor family – food was.
Miss Grace changed all these with her “Show and Tell”. She told us, everyone would have a chance to bring to class, thing that we think is interesting. We have to show it in class, and tell what makes it interesting. This posed a problem among the barrio kids. First, we don’t have, or own a thing. Second, even if we have a thing, it couldn’t be classified as interesting. We didn’t hear Miss Grace mentioned punishment for non-compliance. At least, that was a redeeming feature for Tabog and me.
Gualberto Gomez, one of the rich town kids, volunteered to do the first “show and tell”. He brought to class his stamp collections. Every piece of his stamp, he impressed us of what he learned about it. I saw Pepit yawning while Gualberto had his show. “That’s an interesting collection you have, Gualberto”, Miss Grace, said, “Now, would you like to clean the eraser for me.”
During our recess, Pepit and I saw Gualberto cleaning the eraser. Pepit was so mad and envious; he had his fists bulging in his short’s pocket. “How can we top up Gualberto’s show? He asked.
The next “show and tell” performer was another town kid. He brought to class his collection of miniature cars in matchboxes. Followed up with another one with a collection of text cards, then another one with collection of marbles, tops, etc… Some rich girls in town brought dolls, legos, battery operated toys, etc…
Then, the barrio kids’ turn came. No volunteer, so, Miss Grace picked Tabog.
Tabog brought to class this rusted can of Darigold Evaporated Milk. He tilted the can toward the class so we can see his collection. “This is my collection”, he said, beaming with confidence “cigarettes butt”. Tabog picked up one butt out of the can. “This butt is a filter, remains of a cigarette called Kingscups. He put backed the butt and gets another one. “This one, is from Oldgold. Collecting cigarettes butt is a good hobby. I can proudly recommend it to anyone,” Tabog said.
All the while Tabog’s performance, Miss Grace’s face grimaced with disgust. But the barrio kids reacted jubilantly. We stood up in ovation and gave Tabog a welcomed applause. Now, it seemed everyone among the barrio kids had the courage to participate in the “show and tell”
Next, to perform was Sianong Paksiw. “Paksiw” was not really his last name. He was called that because he always smelled like a marinated fish. He brought in boxes of dried dung of different farm animals; cow, carabao, (Water Buffallo) goat, horse, dog, cat; labelled them each even.
Eulalia brought to class her friend, Suzie, a live hen. She sat her on Miss Grace’s desk in front. And while Eulalia was citing her friend’s attributes, Suzie, worried perhaps about her chicks left at the farm, cackled and pooed. This time, I saw Miss Grace’s amiable face turned sour.
Every barrio kid performances seemed to be an added strain on Miss Grace’s face. She was young, yet, I believe, she was having high blood pressure.
My turn has come. I brought to class crushed frogs and toads. I spent one whole Saturday on a highway, collecting those frogs that run over repeatedly by vehicles. Miss Grace cried with my performance.
Pepit’s turn came. He made good preparation for it, as he wanted really to impress Miss Grace. He asked for my help, even. One day, before Pepit’s show, I accompanied him to Mang Oning’s barn of animals and dug up some earthworms. We picked the earthworms whose sizes were that of a thumb and longer.
Pepit presented the earthworms to class as the Robinson’s family. He picked the biggest and longest, and introduced it to the class as Mr. Robinson. Then Pepit introduced the wife. Miss Grace seemed could not anymore get to Pepit’s introduction of the Robinson’s children – she was already puking hard.
If it isn’t broke, don’t fix. I had an inkling Miss Grace got the gist of this adage, because the next Monday morning, we had a new substitute teacher.