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Lila’s Moment of Shame
by Lonnye Sue Sims Pearson


We’ve all done something at one time or another that embarrassed the stew out of us. When we are young, we think we’ll never get over it; when we are older, we learn to laugh and move on as if nothing untoward occurred. Thank goodness I was in the latter stage when my moment arrived.

I spent four glorious years at the Hayes Cooper Center for Math, Science and Technology in Merigold, Mississippi. I say “glorious” because teachers at HC were encouraged to think out of the box and do something spectacular with the students -- you know, something that would impress the public and the administration and make the school district look good.

A co-worker and I spent the last few days of summer one year planning a “Carmen San Diego Day” at HC. For those who don’t know who Carmen is . . . well, think video game, TV show, geography, and thieves. The Broderbund Company marketed Carmen and her henchmen, and even suggested the general idea for the special day. Vail Neal and I thought it was just the ticket to get us (Hayes Cooper Center, that is) in the local paper.

During the first weeks of school the students were duly indoctrinated into the scheme, letters went out to parents alerting them of Saturday workdays, and phone calls were made to local businesses for help with supplies. The fun began.

Students designed sets for each classroom, wrote skits to be performed in said classrooms, built the sets, learned the lines and seemed to enjoy the idea. Because the students had to complete regular curriculum requirements, this process took over two months to complete. Invitations were sent to central office personnel and principals of other schools. The local newspaper ran a blurb inviting the public to attend.

To be sure all glitches were worked out, we planned a “dress rehearsal” for the students at Hayes Cooper only the day before the public was to attend. We decided to start with the kindergarten students and work our way up to the fifth graders. After all, if anything went awry, it would happen in front of children too young to know the difference.

“Carmen San Diego Day” would begin at 9:00 A.M., but of course many of us had been working since 7:30 on last minute details.

I arrived at school as usual at 6:30 A.M.with my two large cups of McDonald’s coffee and immediately filled the large coffee urn in the teacher’s lounge for more. Vail entered shortly after I, and we went to work checking and double-checking our notes. We didn’t want anything to go wrong.

By 8:45 all students were in place for the rehearsal. My eighth grade assistants were at their posts and ready to get the show on the road. Last minute instructions and reminders were given. We could hear the kindergarteners squealing with delight as they lined up down the hall.

Then my numerous cups of coffee kicked in. I whispered to my assistants that I would be right back and ran the ten feet to the restroom.

Now, picture this . . . it’s important.

I had a bit part in the play as the goofy receptionist, Lila K. Rug, who greeted all the visitors and subsequently turned them over to the eighth grade assistants. I was dressed in a green turtleneck and a short navy and red plaid skirt layered over black pantyhose. After all, I had to look the part.

From the restroom I could hear the kids approaching the reception area. I knew I had little time left. I finished as quickly as I could and rushed to my mark. As I flew past my assistants, Marquita Lloyd and Kwame Jackson, I smiled and said, “It’s show time!” Marquita immediately called my name. I looked back and shook my head. No time now, girlie, I thought.

I forged ahead. Marquita insisted, and I glanced her way once more. Standing beside her, Kwame had his head down with his hand shielding his eyes, but Marquita ran to my side. I turned toward her just as the first group began to huddle in the reception area. At that precise moment -- with my back to my audience -- Marquita leaned in to whisper in my ear, “Your skirt is stuck in your panty hose!”

I quickly grabbed my butt with both hands, and sure enough, no skirt! My entire backside was exposed to a tittering group of kindergarten students who thought this was just part of the show. Thank goodness I had on panties!

At the end of the day, I took Marquita aside and thanked her profusely. Then I took an equally embarrassed eighth grade boy aside and apologized. The next day when my parents attended with a group of adults who had come to see the handiwork of their children, I introduced Marquita and Kwame to them. My dad said, “Are you the little lady who noticed the skirt stuck up in her pantyhose yesterday?”

Marquita nodded and said, “Yes, sir.”

Daddy said, “Well, it’s too bad you didn’t have a camera.”

Yeah, well, it wouldn’t have mattered. I’d have done anything for Marquita and Kwame after that episode. And they would have deserved it!

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Lonnye Sue Sims Pearson, a Mississippi Delta native, now lives in North Carolina, where she teaches English. She writes: "I've never been published, but as an English teacher I have spent lots of years reading other Southerners' writing. I finally decided to gather my stories and put them on paper; when I am too old to recall anything, I’ll have a hardcopy of my memories!"

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