In 7th grade, I was assigned a locker beside the class clown. Being petite and mouse- like, I suffered through this loud, tall, gangly boy’s daily teasing as he reached above the top shelf of my locker to remove books from his. His trickery involved making a “by all means, after you” presentation only to adroitly hone in and elbow me out of his way, pretending to let his heavy books slip out of his hands onto the top of my head, and repeatedly opening and closing his locker door in feigned forgetfulness until the bell rang, often making me late for class. He was smooth and had the “Eddie Haskell” down cold.
One late winter day, I had enough of “Eddie” and hauled back and kicked him in the shin. A millisecond later, I felt a baseball mitt of a hand on my shoulder. Mr. Leo Brennan saw the kick but not all that went before.
That mitt led me down to the principal’s office where I was told to sit while a call was made to my mother. Mr. Brennan did not have to punish me as I began to punish myself with hysterics. I cried so hard that the next day, I had two half-moon open sores under each eye from the copious salty tears I shed.
As it happened, my mother was entertaining my grandparents that afternoon and they all piled into Mom's Chevy station wagon and drove to the school. While my grandparents comforted me in the little anteroom off the school office, my mother met with Mr. Leo Brennan behind closed doors. But instead of taking me home, Mom told me I was to stay at school for the remainder of the day. After she and my grandparents left, Mr. Brennan asked me to follow him into his office.
There he rendered the most tender apology I have ever received. He did not realize all I had suffered at the hands of my classmate, he vowed to pay closer attention to such shenanigans, he said “Eddie” would never bother me again, and then ever so gently, ever so fatherly, he told me how terribly sorry he was that he had frightened me by marching me to the office.
The next morning at my locker, my neighbor was the epitome of polite reserve as he stood out of the way while I fetched my books. Over my shoulder, I glimpsed our imposing principle standing sentinel in the background.
Everyone I went to school with remembers our principal and the precision with which he ran our school and I feel lucky that I saw the softer side to this strong capable man. When I came across his obituary a few years ago, I learned he had a large brood children of his own. Surely he must have known something about sensitive girls. The winks behind Mr. Leo Brennan’s glasses had already told me that.