Gooney Bird and the Room Mother
It was early November. Mrs. Pidgeon's second grade students were hard at work on their Pilgrim mural, which had been laid out on the floor. All of the desks had been pushed to one side to make room, and the second-graders were on their hands and knees, working with crayons.
Gooney Bird Greene was right in the middle, as usual.
"I like to be right smack in the middle of everything," Gooney Bird always said.
The children's shoes were lined up in the coatroom because Mrs. Pidgeon had suggested that it would be wise to take them off. If they walked on the edge of the mural, their shoes would leave marks.
"We always take our shoes off at home," Keiko had said as she untied her sneakers, "because my family came from Japan, and in Japan people never ever wear shoes in the house."
One by one the children had removed their shoes. Gooney Bird took the longest because she was wearing hiking boots that laced halfway up to her knees. When, finally, her boots were unlaced and removed, everyone could see that Gooney Bird was wearing one red sock and one yellow one.
"Gooney Bird's socks don't match!" Malcolm called out, pointing.
"Of course they don't," Gooney Bird said. "I hardly ever wear matching socks."
"Doesn't your mother roll your socks neatly into balls when she takes them out of the dryer? Doesn't she match them up very carefully?" Beanie asked.
Gooney Bird thought about that. She looked down at her own feet and wiggled her toes, one set of toes in a red sock, one in a yellow. "No," she said. "My mother puts all of my clean socks in a basket on the floor of my closet. And every day I choose two. Some days I feel like matching, but most days I don't.
"Most often," she went on, "wearing matching things gives me a feeling of ennui."
"Oh, my," said Mrs. Pidgeon. She went to the board and wrote ENNUI in big letters. "Class? You know what to do."
All of the second-graders took their dictionaries out of their desks.
At the beginning of the school year, the classroom had only one dictionary, which sat on Mrs. Pidgeon's desk, next to her coffee mug.
But Gooney Bird Greene, the new student, had arrived in October. Gooney Bird had very strong opinions about things. She had brought her own very large dictionary from home. On her first day in the classroom, she announced that she thought that every second-grader should have a very large dictionary.
Mrs. Pidgeon, who was not accustomed to Gooney Bird yet, smiled. "We've always just used this one," she said, picking up the dictionary from her desk. It was slightly dusty. "The school provided it. And it's pretty old. But the school budget doesn't allow for bigger or better dictionaries."
"If someone provided newer, more interesting dictionaries, one for each child, would you use them?" Gooney Bird asked.
Mrs. Pidgeon laughed. "Yes," she said. "Of course I would."
"Give me one week," Gooney Bird said.
Exactly one week later, a very heavy box containing twenty-two very heavy dictionaries was delivered to Mrs. Pidgeon's classroom by a man who had tattoos and big muscles. He brought the box in on a wheeled dolly.
"How on earth did you accomplish this, Gooney Bird?" Mrs. Pidgeon asked as she unpacked the dictionaries and passed one to each student.
"I planned my work," Gooney Bird said, "and then I worked my plan."
"What was your plan?" Barry Tuckerman asked as he examined his thick new dictionary.
"First I put on the right outfit."
Everyone giggled. They had known Gooney Bird Greene for only a short time, but each day she had worn a different outfit, and some of her outfits were amazing.
"What did you wear?" asked Keiko. "Pajamas and cowboy boots?" That was what Gooney Bird had worn on her first day at school.
"Of course not. This was for a businesslike visit. I wore my long, black, up-to-the-elbow gloves, my silver wet-look ski pants, a T-shirt with a picture of Albert Einstein on it, and my straw hat with a small artificial flower. I think the flower is a camellia."
"And where did you go, wearing your businesslike outfit?" Mrs. Pidgeon asked. She handed a dictionary to Tricia and reached for another.
"I went to the public library. We only just moved to the town of Watertower, as you know. But my parents have always told me that the public library is one of the first places you must visit in a new town. So I did that..."
"Wearing your hat with the camellia?" Mrs. Pidgeon asked.
"Yes, of course. I introduced myself to the head librarian, the assistant librarian, the children's librarian, the reference librarian, and the janitor."
"Just the way you introduced yourself to us on the first day? I remember you said—"
All of the children remembered too. They said it together. "My name is Gooney Bird Greene and I want a desk right smack in the middle of the room, because I like to be right smack in the middle of everything."
"Well, why would I say that to the librarians? I didn't want a desk in the library. I wanted dictionaries."
Mrs. Pidgeon was laughing. "And so you said—"
"I said, 'I'm Gooney Bird Greene and I'm new in town and I would like to know what you do with your old dictionaries, because my second-grade class needs twenty-two of them.'"
The children all applauded. "And so they sent us the dictionaries!" Mrs. Pidgeon said in delight.
"Oh. Well, what happened?"
"They said that the old dictionaries were in the basement collecting dust, but they didn't have twenty-two, and also the old dictionaries were obsolete—we can look that word up after we get them all unpacked—and anyway what we needed were nice new dictionaries."
"These do look brand new," Mrs. Pidgeon said, examining one.
Gooney Bird continued. "Then, suddenly..."
The class grinned. They loved it when Gooney Bird said "suddenly." They waited eagerly to hear what came next.
"...the head librarian went to the phone and called a rich man she knew and said, 'Charles, get down here right away, because there's an enterprising young lady you must meet.'
"So a man named Charles came and shook my hand, and—"
"With your glove on? Or did you take your glove off?" Chelsea wanted to know.
"On. He shook it through my glove. Then we talked and had tea, and suddenly..."
Everyone grinned again, and waited.
"...he ordered twenty-two brand-new dictionaries, and here they are."
When the dictionaries had been distributed to every student, Mrs. Pidgeon moved the empty carton to the coatroom. "Gooney Bird Greene," she said, "you are indefatigable."
The students tried to say the word.
Mrs. Pidgeon wrote it at the top of the board, in large printing. "Class," she said, "get out your dictionaries. We will have a lesson in dictionary use."
Gooney Bird and the Room Mother
Gooney Bird and the Room Mother
The word INDEFATIGABLE was still on the board, in the upper-right-hand corner, followed by its definition: never showing any sign of getting tired. Now, after the discussion about matching socks, Mrs. Pidgeon carefully wrote ENNUI at the end of the word list, because Gooney Bird had said that wearing matching socks gave her a feeling of ennui. The children knew exactly what to do when a new word appeared. They each got out a dictionary and began to look carefully through the pages.
"I found it!" Tricia called out, with her hand raised.
Mrs. Pidgeon pointed to Tricia and she read the definition aloud carefully. "A feeling of weariness and dissatisfaction."
"That's right," Gooney Bird said, nodding her head. "That's exactly how I feel when I wear matching socks. Weary and dissatisfied.
"May I be right smack in the middle of the Muriel, Mrs. Pidgeon?" she asked. "I want to work on Squanto. I want to color his feather."
"It's mural, GooneyBird," Mrs. Pidgeon said. "Not Muriel."
"I know that," Gooney Bird replied. "I just like to call it the Muriel. Because of Muriel Holloway in the office."
Muriel Holloway was the school secretary. She had spiked hair and fancy fingernails. If you threw up in school, first you went to the school nurse, and then Muriel Holloway called your mom to come and get you.
"May I be right smack in the middle and do Squanto?"
Mrs. Pidgeon nodded. Gooney Bird knelt in front of Squanto and began to examine her crayons.
"Everyone choose a place on the, ah, mural," Mrs. Pidgeon said. "We want to get it finished before the pageant. Nicholas, could you work on the forest in the background? Chelsea, how about you? Could you do the turkey?"
Gooney Bird had begun to color Squanto's feather blue. But all of the other children remained standing. They were all looking at their own feet. They looked weary and dissatisfied.
"My feet match," Felicia Ann whispered. "I have a feeling of ennui."
"Mine too," Tyrone said loudly. "My feet are the boringest ones in the whole room. I feel a whole lot of ennui. Can I switch one sock with Nicholas?" He sat on the floor and pulled off one white sock.
"Trade with me!" Barry Tuckerman called. He was grabbing at Ben's left foot.
"Me!" Malcolm called loudly. "Someone switch with me!"
"My goodness, class!" Mrs. Pidgeon said. "Can we keep our voices down, please? Look how carefully Gooney Bird is coloring Squanto. We must all get busy on this mural!"
But the class wasn't listening. The children were examining their own feet and their classmates' feet. They were comparing socks and grabbing and yelling.
"You've lost them, Mrs. Pidgeon," Gooney Bird said with a sigh, "and it was my fault. I apologize. I'll try to make it up to you." She stood up. "Class!" she said.
Gooney Bird had a very loud voice when she wanted to use it.
"CLASS!" she said again.
The children looked up. They became quiet.
"Here is what we are going to do," Gooney Bird announced. "Arrange yourselves in a circle, please. Try not to step on the Muriel."
She reached out and took the hands of the children nearest to her, Tyrone on one side and Ben on the other. Tyrone reached for Chelsea. Ben took Beanie's hand. One by one the children arranged themselves in a circle around the mural.
Mrs. Pidgeon entered the circle by taking the hands of Nicholas and Chelsea and standing between them.
"Now," Gooney Bird announced, "at the count of three, we will each remove our left sock. One. Two."
"Oh, dear," Mrs. Pidgeon said, "I'm wearing pantyhose. I think I'd better drop out."
Gooney Bird nodded. "You be the supervisor," she suggested.
"Ready?" Gooney Bird said loudly. "THREE. Left socks off."
Every child, including Gooney Bird, removed a left sock.
"You'd better help Malcolm, Mrs. Pidgeon," Gooney Bird said. "Remember, he has that problem with left and right?"
Mrs. Pidegon nodded. She went to Malcolm and pointed out his left foot.