Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Teacher's Funeral (MG)

The Teacher's Funeral. Richard Peck. 2004. Penguin. 208 pages.

If your teacher has to die, August isn't a bad time of year for it. You know August. The corn is earring. The tomatoes are ripening on the vine. The clover's in full bloom. There's a little less evening now, and that's a warning. You want to live every day twice over because you'll be back in the jailhouse of school before the end of the month. Then our teacher, Miss Myrt Arbuckle, hauled off and died. It was like a miracle, though she must have been forty. You should have seen my kid brother's face. It looked like Lloyd was hearing the music of the spheres. Being ten that summer, he was even more willing to believe in miracles than I was. 

I love this book. I am CRAZY in love with this book. It is in my opinion one of those practically-perfect-in-every-ways books. It's a funny historical novel--set in 1904 in Indiana--and it has heart! (Though not *too* much sentiment! It is narrated by a fifteen year old boy after all!) So Russell Culver, our narrator, is thrilled when his teacher dies just days before school was to start. (Who could they ever find to replace her?!) But his joy is short lived, for the answer to that question is his very own sister. Now, he doesn't hate his sister. He's quite fond of her cooking--it being SO MUCH better than his aunt's cooking which they try to live on doing the school year when the sister is away from home. But as his teacher?! It's too unbelievable. It's just SO unfair!!!

The Teacher's Funeral is a funny novel set in rural Indiana at the turn of the century. It draws quite the picture of country life--both at home and school. We get to know each of the eight students in this one-room school house. (Russell, Lloyd, Charlie, Pearl, Glenn, Floyd, Lester, Little Britches). And, of course, we get to know their teacher, Tansy, too! It's just a charming book, a funny book. One of those rare books that I love completely. I wouldn't change a thing!

This was the night me and Lloyd always went to the crick and camped out. It was a sacred part of our year. After the Case Special came through, we always spent that night at the crick, and hung on till morning, no matter what. It was how we kissed the summer goodbye before the darkness of learning fell about us. (13)

"Who died?" I inquired.
"Take a guess," Charlie said. "Go ahead."
"Somebody we know?"
"You can believe that."
"Somebody old or young?"
"Old," Charlie said, "as the hills."
Lloyd was looking back and forth between us, clutching J.W. He was on the hook again, and I was getting there.
"Old as Old Man Lichtenberger?"
"Nobody's that old," Charlie said.
"Man or woman?"
"That'd be tellin' too much."
"Somebody we like?"
"Not hardly," Charlie said.
"Somebody who's been feeling poorly late?" I was wracking my brains.
Charlie shrugged his big shoulders. "She must of felt pretty poorly tonight. She died."
"So it's a woman!"
"More or less," Charlie said.
The truth burst over me. "You don't mean Miss Myrt Arbuckle!" (24)

Nobody would miss Miss Myrt, so Preacher Parr got them to miss the good old days when the winters were worse and the kids were better. At a funeral you want to miss something. (39)

When Pearl came back, she had a grip on the little kid who didn't want to be anywhere near here. Her bonnet hung by its strings. Her dinner pail scraped the floor. She kept setting her bare heels. "Turn me loose," she squawked. "I don't wanna, and I'm not gonna!"
Pearl pushed her toward Tansy and resumed her seat.
Tansy pulled the small girl's skirttails free of her drawers and settled her skirts for her. But it was too late. Forever more, she was known as "Little Britches." Even unto the distant day of her wedding. Besides, come to find out her real name was Beulah.
"Who are you?" Tansy asked with an arm around her.
"I ain't sayin'," said Little Britches. "I ain't stayin'."
"Then whisper who you are in my ear before you go."
Little Britches whispered. It would turn out that she was a Bradley. They were a family who hadn't had anybody in school for some years. Little Britches was an afterthought. "I'm goin' on home now." She wiggled free of Tansy. "Pleased to meetcha."
"Well, you can go home at noon, Tansy told her. "Till then just wait up there at my desk. You me be teacher." (80-1)

"Tansy, how come the female sex think they know more than the male sex?"
"Because we do. What's the capital of Delaware?"
"I don't know."
"Know by tomorrow," Tansy warned. "I'm the teacher, and I won't have dumb brothers." (107)

I thought we'd need a block and tackle to lift her. But getting Aunt Fanny Hamline out of the ditch became one of Tansy's most famous days of teaching. It was a lesson in engineering too. It should have been studied at Purdue University. (127)

© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Shelley said...

You've sold me on this one. I've read a couple of others by Peck but have never even heard of this one. It sounds like my kind of book!

Debi said...

Oh my, this sounds utterly delightful! Thanks Becky--for introducing me to yet another book I'd never even heard of.

Laura H said...

I listened to this one on CD last year. It made me laugh so hard. The reader did a great job. Great book.

Anonymous said...

Hi Becky! Great post. Can I recommend a novel for you? Check out my new novel Looks Like Love! I'd love to know your thoughts about it! :) Blessings!

QNPoohBear said...

Richard Peck is great! Try reading Here Lies the Librarian if you haven't already. I also loved A Year Down Yonder and the two companions.