She was a short lady and about as big around as she was tall. She had a mop of curls on her head and wore glasses. And you could hear her all the way down the 7th grade hall at Cook Jr. High School in Adel. She never hesitated to call you out when you were misbehaving—and you never wanted to be on the end of her paddle.
I worked in the office at school running errands instead of taking physical education. I routinely ran up and down the halls carrying messages to the teachers and students. I remember being in the hallway once when she gave a paddling to some poor kid.
She stepped to the classroom door of her neighboring teacher while a nervous young man loitered against the wall.
“Mr. Fleuren, can you step out here a minute for me?” she bellowed. Tiger Tyson had one volume and it was several decibels above what one would call an inside voice. “I need a witness to this paddling.”
I don’t remember what she said to the poor soul awaiting punishment, but it doesn’t matter now. What I do remember is the sound of the paddle hitting the backside of that kid and his hips hitting the wall. It was enough to make me travel the straight and narrow without question. Today, corporal punishment is not allowed in schools. Back then, it was a daily occurrence and it sure kept us in line.
Her real name was Mary Tyson, but we all called her Tiger Tyson. She had been a WAC in World War II and she ran her classroom like we were soldiers under her command. Despite the fact that she was tough as nails, everyone couldn’t wait to get into her science class.
Her science class was legendary. Considered a rite of passage. You see, it was in her class that students learned about the heart. When you walked across the threshold of her doorway, you knew you would learn everything about the heart and that you would stand up one-by-one and recite the parts of the heart in front of the class. Like I said, she was legendary.
And we were all her babies.
Mary Tyson never had children of her own, but she claimed every student who passed through the doors of her classroom as one of her own. She loved every single one of us.
She was old school—and tough. You were going to learn something in her classroom if it killed her. She was strict and expected all students to do their best—and she had a way of bringing out the best in all of them.
I remember one day I had the hiccups. I walked up to her desk and quietly asked if I could step outside to the water fountain. She turned to me with a cross face.
“You think you need to go to the water fountain do you?” she said at least two volumes above normal. I jumped a mile high.
Then she went all soft and giggled. “I scared them out of you, didn’t I?”
Well, I didn’t have the hiccups any more.
But she took that opportunity to teach me something about ear pressure that has stayed with me the rest of my life. I have often shared a little trick she taught me about getting rid of hiccups—not by scaring the person, but by drinking a glass of water while pressing both ears closed. And it really works. Every time.
After I was grown and married, and living on a farm outside of Lenox, Mrs. Tyson and her husband John lived on the main drag right across the street from Lenox Baptist Church in a modest white house. By then, she was retired from teaching. In 1983 when I was pregnant with my first child, she stopped by the Bank of Lenox where I worked holding a rectangular package in her hand, pretty baby paper wrapped around it. Inside was a blue and pink baby blanket crocheted by Mrs. Tyson’s loving hands. I would see her in the bank from time to time and we would chat, but I never imagined that she cared enough about me to gift my baby.
The card inside read something to the effect about her babies having babies.
That tough, strict teacher had sat with a ball of thread on her lap and stitched her love in every single square.
My first born is now a thirty-five-year-old man. I still have that blanket.
They don’t make them like Tiger Tyson anymore.