Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Betsy Was a Junior, Group Read, Part 7

A whole year of botany? Shouldn’t they have been taking biology or chemistry? Perhaps the Deep Valley School Board had issues with creationism? Or maybe our heroines merely wanted an easy class. In contrast, my 15 year old niece has already taken biology, chemistry and was told to take physics or colleges wouldn’t think she was a serious student (Betsy does take physics her senior year which I had completely forgotten). If my college career had depended on a good grade in science, I would still be in high school. But just as my biology teacher disappeared at Christmas and was replaced by the driver’s ed teacher, so too Mr. Gaston has been “removed” from the English Department (probably not because of the rosy apple blossoms) and sent to teach Science, and there is no indication he knows much more about botany than Betsy, Tacy and Tib.

But the issue is procrastination more than botany. Mr. Gaston gave clear instructions about the herbariums on the first day of class, and the girls bought the necessary office supplies (always easier and more fun than actually doing the assignment). Suddenly, the project is due the next day!
Betsy was scornful. “There’s no law about going to bed the night before you have to make a herbarium for botany. You both know as well as I do that the Big Hill is simply covered with flowers. We could find 50 different kinds between now and nine o’clock tomorrow.”

“But, Betsy,” said Tib. “We don’t have to just pick them. We have to dry them and press them and past them up and label them.”

“All the harder,” said Betsy triumphantly.

As someone who has pulled more than her fair share of all nighters (high school, college, grad school and even for work), I like Betsy’s attitude and I can tell you it is sometimes the only way to get something done (even if one hasn’t procrastinated since September). Belatedly, Betsy organizes their approach: they will gather as many flowers as possible, then spend the night at Tib’s where they will systematically dry and prepare the flowers without interference (you would have thought Mrs. Muller would have been much more suspicious than she was). However, it turns out to be more difficult than they expected to identity some of the flowers and they are far short of 50. It is also hard to dry them in a hurry! They manage to light the oven without injuring anyone and Tib’s brothers help by monitoring the flowers baking and by grabbing some weeds from the garden to augment the collection. The best moment is when they get up early to grab yet more flowers and belatedly realize that flowers don’t open until the sun comes out. In desperation, some anonymous greens are tossed into the binders and Betsy airily suggests they say to Gaston, “What are these rare and interesting specimens? We can’t find them in any of our learned tomes.” But as they walk to school Tib points out that they could have done a good job on this project if they hadn’t waited till the last minute and she, at least, would have enjoyed it.

Not surprisingly, Mr. Gaston is less than impressed with their work, and they are lucky to get a C from him. “Never, never, in my whole life,” said Mr. Gaston (he was twenty-four), “never in my whole career as a teacher,” (he had taught for three years), “have I seen such herbariums! Not a fall flower included!” Whenever I read this chapter I am reminded of my seventh grade social studies teacher who invited three girls in the class to do independent research instead of going to class. Delighted, we went down to the library. The first day I brought home several books about Social Customs in 17th Century New England (I remember my mother saying disapprovingly that I needed a narrower topic or theme but I liked Dr. Mather and ignored her). The next day I found a Mary Stewart I hadn’t read (how did I end up in the fiction section) and somehow that paper never got written. Some day Dr. Mather will turn up at my front door reproachfully – oh dear, I just did some googling and learned that, sadly, he died in Lethbridge in 2011 after a lengthy illness. I just wrote to his widow, who may find it very odd that I am sorry about the loss of someone I hadn’t seen since 1973.  Let's hope someone would mourn Mr. Gaston.

Next time – the Junior/Senior Banquet!

(Image above copyright to HarperCollins)

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