The greatest amount of new material today from the land of For Better or For Worse
was the addition of a biography for Margaret Hardacre
, Michael Patterson’s second grade teacher, in the Who’s Who section of the For Better or For Worse
website. This seems to be a part of a continuing series of biographies for obscure characters from the beginning years of the strip, I presume, in preparation for the impending chronological strip reprinting Lynn Johnston plans to do starting in September. Lynn Johnston has mentioned she plans to expand on some stories with new material as those reprints are going on, so perhaps these characters are part of those plans.
There were parts of the Margaret Hardacre biography I found very interesting for a variety of reasons. One of the things was the idea that Margaret wanted to be a nurse, but because her parents were only willing to put her in a teacher’s college, then she was forced to become a teacher. The setting for this was about 1950, and so Margaret’s story actually matches some things I know from my own family at the time. This was about the same time period that my father went to college at what would eventually be known as Wake Forest University. My grandfather (father’s father) was the first in my family to go to a college and he became a Baptist minister. His declaration to my father was that in order to get his financial support he also had to attend a Baptist school and he really wanted my dad to attend his alma mater, Wingate College. Dad preferred Wake Forest, which was also Baptist, but had a better academic reputation than Wingate. The deciding factor ended up being that my father got one of only 5 academic scholarships which were offered by Wake Forest and the money settled the matter. Those were the days when there were no student loans, or tons of available scholarships to students. There were just a few and they did not pay your whole way. If you didn’t get a scholarship, you were completely dependent on your parents to go to school after high school. If your parents did not want you to go, or they could not afford for you to go; then you didn't go. If you did get a scholarship, you could usually work a job while at school and that would cover the rest of your expenses your parents did not cover, and that’s what my dad did. So, when Margaret Hardacre mentions her dependence on her parents to choose her school, I could relate.
The second part of the story deals with Margaret uncovering that one of students has poor eyesight and she helps him get a pair of glasses. I did a few internet searches and I was unable to find the time when schools in Ontario would have started requiring vision screening of students, like they did in the States when I was growing up. Actually, the internet searches showed that this is a modern problem with Ontario schools, which I found a little surprising.
I can relate very well to the discovery of poor eyesight when growing up, as something very similar happened to me. When I was in 4th grade, I began to have trouble seeing, but I didn’t realize what the problem was. It’s not like these things happen overnight and you can suddenly not see. For me, it was more like, I slowly realized people could see things well that I couldn’t. I remember being at a baseball game played by the Asheville Tourists (the local team). I couldn’t see the scoreboard, and I irritated my father by constantly asking him the score. He thought I was playing some game, even though I assured him I was not. My father was also called in by my 4th grade teacher because I was making trouble at school. It seems I kept on complaining to my teacher that I couldn’t see the chalk board. My teacher presumed I was a trouble-maker (which in retrospect was an extraordinary conclusion, because my academic record up to that point was pretty good and teachers generally liked me). My father went to my desk, looked at the board, and declared that there was a glare on the chalk board from the light coming in the window and that I was not a trouble-maker and my complaints were valid. In fairness to my father, he had better than 20-20 vision until he was well into his 50s, so he had no expectation that any of his children would have vision problems. Also, my 4th grade teacher still ranks in my memory as one of the worst teachers I ever had.
In those days, the schools were required to do a rudimentary vision screening, which meant you took an eye chart, put it in on the wall, and asked the kids what direction the stems of the “E” were facing. I did not pass the test, and this was reported to my parents, who took me to the eye doctor and got for me a pair of the ugliest glasses frames on the face of the earth. They were also the cheapest, because glasses were not an anticipated item in the family budget. It is no lie when I say that 4 years later, when I got my second pair of glasses, almost everyone told me with great relish how ugly the first pair was, including my teachers. In fact, when my wife first saw pictures of me at that age, she made a comment about how ugly my glasses were.
In the case of Norman Baker, the boy whom Margaret Hardacre helped, almost nothing matched with my situation. Norman sits in the back of the class and squints through a hole in an eraser like it was a telescope. I sat as far forward as I could in the front of the class and just plain squinted. There are no lenses in an eraser that I can tell, to make it work like a telescope. I have an eraser with a hole in it, and tried the Norman Baker method without my glasses on to see if it helped. It did not. If anything, the eraser is a distraction because it covers most of the overall view, if you stick it up to your eye to see through a hole.
In the case of Norman Baker, his parents say that they are too busy to get him a pair of glasses, and they refuse to believe that his poor academic performance might be somehow related to his inability to see. They essentially force Margaret to take their child to the doctor. This makes no sense to me. A child constantly in trouble is the bane of a parents’ existence. I would think, even a bad parent, would jump at the chance to eliminate calls from the school about their kid. When my Asperger’s Syndrome boy was in regular public school, we got called almost every day. My wife began to dread when the phone rang in the afternoon, because it invariably meant she had to stop whatever she was doing and go down to the school to pick up my son. In my case, my father was embarrassed by the situation, and that it had to be pointed out to him by the school. The idea that he had not been taking care of his child was humiliating to him, and to this day, he does not like to talk about it.
In the case of Norman Baker, when he brings his glasses to the school for the first time, he announces to everyone he is going to pound people who call him or anyone else four-eyes or bother the teacher. I felt no such loyalties to my 4th grade teacher. In my case, most kids who saw I had glasses wanted to try them on and see how blind I was, which was very. I hate to break it to Norman, but being called four-eyes is not that much of an insult. I was called four-eyes a lot, and all it really meant to me was that someone noticed I was wearing glasses. Once you get older and you aren’t the only kid in the class with glasses, the insult goes away.
The upside of all this vision travail is that I have an expectation my kids are going to be like me. Every time my son or my daughter could not see or hear something, I wanted them to have their vision or their hearing checked. My son hit 4th grade, and as it turned out, he had to have glasses, just like I did. His are a lot nicer-looking than mine were at the same age.