Michael Moore: Why I Became Anti-War
Continued from previous page
By the summer after seventh grade our family left the dirt street and moved on to a paved one – the very street that we lived on when I was born. I started to think a lot about the Vietnam War that summer, and most of what I thought about wasn’t good. I did the math and I realized I was just five years away from draft age! And it was becoming clear that this war was not going to be over anytime soon.
Mrs. Beachum was our afternoon lay teacher in eighth grade. Because our nun was also the Mother Superior for the school, she taught us only in the morning. Her afternoons were spent on her administrative duties and doling out the necessary disciplinary measures to the fallen ones among us.
Mrs. Beachum was black. There were no other teachers and only three black kids in the entire school -and perhaps because their last name was JuanRico, we somehow convinced ourselves they weren’t really black, probably Cuban or Puerto Rican! One of the boys was called Ricardo and the other was named Juan. See - not Negro! They were popular, and their parents were at every event helping out in any way that they could.
But Mrs. Beachum was definitely black. There was no getting around it. Her skin was nearly as dark as coal, and she spoke in a Southern dialect none of us were familiar with. Not a day would pass where she wouldn’t say to one of us in her distinctive Southern black accent, “Don’t be facetious, child!” We had no idea what that meant, but we just loved the sound of it. She had a body that was not covered by a nun’s habit, and I would not be surprised if, in 1967, I wasn’t the only boy in our class whose first “dream” had the good fortune of Mrs. Beachum playing a significant role in it.
But in our waking hours we did not sexualize her, as none of us wanted to deal with that in the confessional booth. Plus, the Mother Superior kept a strict and watchful eye on our puberty and its progress, and she made sure to spend time reminding each gender in the class just how much we could trust the other gender - which was, to put it simply, not a lot. Since fifth grade, the two genders of our class did their best to put down or ridicule each other, and by the time we were thirteen or fourteen, we had developed enough of a vocabulary and a streak of meanness to slice and dice the opposing side with plausible gusto. The girls were most fond of pointing out the boys who had hygiene issues, and they would anonymously leave a can of Ban deodorant on the locker of the offending boy for all to see. The boys had already picked up on the girls’ sensitivity to their growing (or not-so-growing) breasts. One boy had swiped his older sister’s falsies and they were thus left on the desks of those girls who had failed to blossom rapidly enough to match the ones we saw in Mike McIntosh’s Playboys.
This was how we spent our mornings in eighth grade, fighting back the heat inside with some church-sanctioned cool cruelty - all done with the good intention, I am sure, to keep us out of trouble and way out of wedlock.
After lunch, though, it was all jazz.
Mrs. Beachum would have none of this “boys versus girls” stuff. She believed in “love” and “being in love,” and though we couldn’t quite put our finger on it, years later we knew she was also the only teacher in the school making love (or so we wanted to think). When she taught us history, she made the characters come alive.