Last night I was reading a book about an animal scientist – a woman who thinks in pictures. She was born autistic and did not speak even at age two. She credits her family, teachers and mentors for “surviving in the social jungle.”
As I was reading the first few pages of her book, I was suddenly transported back to my fourth grade class with our teacher from hell. I don’t know why… but somehow the word teacher triggered my memory about Mrs. Terror. I do not remember her name, that’s why I am simply going to call her Mrs. Terror. However, I can vividly remember her frame. She was built square and heavy, with curly, graying hair. Hers wasn’t a typical Filipino features. It was apparent that she had plenty of Spanish blood in her genes, with dark brown eyes and thick lashes to boot. And so we attributed her meanness and being a terror to her Spanish heritage. She was very mean and abusive to one particular boy in our class who gets very nervous each time he is called to solve a basic math problem on the black board.
“On the board… write the problem and solve it.”
Reynaldo slowly got up from his chair and started walking to the front of the class – to the black board. He picked a white chalk and proceeded to write the problem:
5/__ + 1/9 = 2/3
And then he just stood there. His eyes fixed on the black board.
“Reynaldo. What are you doing? You wrote the problem. Now solve it!”
“Fill in the blank!.”
Reynaldo glanced at Mrs. Terror and shifted his gaze on what he had written and just stood there – frozen.
Whoooossssh – Ugk – Powww!
Mrs. Terror hurled a heavy, hard covered, textbook across the room to Reynaldo.
It whacked him on the head.
Reynaldo kept rubbing his head, with tears in his eyes… the book that hit his head is on the floor, next to his left foot…
“Teresita! On the board!”
“Help Reynaldo and solve that problem!”
I must have flew to the front of the class, to the black board, I walked so fast. A little shaken after witnessing what had just happened. I prayed that she won’t throw a book at me too… and hit me in the head.
Reynaldo’s head tilted to his right, looking down on the floor… not saying anything. Just standing there. His face ashen white. He must have felt totally humiliated getting hit in the head with big, thick book in front of the class just because he couldn’t solve a basic math problem.
I reached for the white chalk and wrote 9 on the dotted line…
“Now… you see that Reynaldo! The answer is 9. The fraction is 5/9.”
“Ye – Ye- Ye- Yess, Ma’am.” Finally looking up.
“Now both of you, take your seats!”
This was one of many occurrences during the whole year in fourth grade.
The whole class was in fear. We were all afraid to have the thick text book land on our head at a high rate of speed. Though, I do not recall seeing other kids having a book hurled at them. I only remembered Reynaldo. For reasons I didn’t know and still do not know, Mrs. Terror always picked me to help him out! And this kid always froze up each time he was called to solve a problem on the black board. Now… I wasn’t sure if he stood frozen because he was terrified, or he simply didn’t know the answer to the problem. I’m thinking he was overwhelmed with fear and it was simply too much that he froze…
In fourth grade I excelled in Math. The only time I ever excelled in Math. I was awarded “Best in Mathematics.” This was because I was so afraid of Mrs. Terror. I was afraid of not knowing the answer to a math problem if she calls me to the front of the class. So… every night I stayed up, until my eyes were tired and droopy. I studied the math book inside the mosquito net with a kerosene lamp, with the mosquito net catching on fire at times which explained the holes in several places. I wanted to make sure I was prepared when it was my turn to solve the problem on the black board.
In her class we did other things too that weren’t part of the curriculum, like watering her plants inside the classroom; pulling and weeding the tall cogon grass in the back of our building; and every Friday, the whole class went to her house.
Mrs. Terror shared a large house made of bricks and stones, with steel roofing, with her husband who was also a teacher. A high school teacher in the same school. She didn’t have a housemaid, though she could have easily afforded one. And that’s why she brought us to her house every Friday afternoon to do all her house cleaning. The jobs were divided among the girls and the boys.
“Alright girls… here are some rags. Here! Take one for each of you. Some of you can dust the furniture and cabinets. The others can wash dishes in the kitchen, and sweep the floor.”
We obediently followed her orders. We all scattered and do our assigned task while she instructed the boys on what they need to do…
“Boys… you take turns scrubbing the floor. Here…” She began handing out several coconut husks – mature, whole coconuts with the shell and husk split in halves. Coconut meat and at least ½ inch of the shell removed from the cut part, exposing more husk. These were cut and made especially for scrubbing wooden floors.
“Some of you boys can cut the grass… And be sure to sweep the grounds after you finished…”
We spent our Friday afternoons cleaning Mrs. Terror’s house before she let us go home for the weekend…
Comes Monday… and the week started all over again…
Reynaldo still hasn’t overcome his fear of solving a problem on the black board. Each week he gets hit in the head with thick and heavy, hard covered text book because he couldn’t solve a problem… and the whole class still went to Mrs. Terror’s house on Friday afternoons… This was what happened in fourth grade each week until the school year was over… And Mrs. Terror finds her new victims… The incoming students knew what to expect from Mrs. Terror so they are all terrified. But there’s no escaping fourth grade…
This cake is one of the easiest cakes I’ve ever baked. The recipe for this cake was given to me by our neighbor in Okinawa, Japan. Her name is Janine. She was a grade school teacher. Janine was so unlike Mrs. Terror. She was kind, generous and a great cook.
We have been living next door to each other for six months before Willie met her…
He was coming home for lunch after a bad morning at work. When he pulled up to our assigned parking, he saw a very pregnant woman holding a little boy with her left arm and struggling to untie a mattress off her Jeep with her right. My husband briefly looked at the woman and proceeded to the elevator… He was tired and wanted to enjoy his hour lunch break. He planned to take a quick restful nap. But as he was ascending to the 8th floor, he had a flash back of how it was… when Ramon was very young and how difficult and troublesome it was for me to do anything with a little boy in tow, especially when he wasn’t around. He felt so bad that when the elevator door opened on the eight floor, he pushed the button to go back down… He went back out and saw that Janine was still struggling to get the mattress off her vehicle.
“Hi. Let me help you with that…”
“Oh thank you. Thank you very much!”
“I’m Janine and we live on the 8th floor, Apt. 8C.”
“I’m Willie. I think we live next door to you!”
It took Willie almost 10 minutes to untie the mattress. He took it up into Janine’s apartment and helped her get her old mattress down; tied it on top of her jeep and drove with her to drop it off… By the time Willie got back to our apartment, his lunch break was over… and so he just hopped into his car and went back to work… He did not get to eat lunch that day… and missed the nap he wanted so badly…
The next day, Janine knocked on our door.
“Hi, my name is Janine. I met your husband, Willie yesterday. Actually… he helped me get a mattress up here… “
“I brought you guys a chocolate cake… I want to say thank you. And I hope you all enjoy it …”
“Wow! Thank you very much…”
“Please tell Willie, THANKS…!”
“No problem. I’m sure he’s glad to help…”
I liked the cake so much that I asked Janine for the recipe. And now I’d like to share it with you. I hope you enjoy it…
Death by Chocolate
2 cups all purpose flour
1 Tbsp. baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda
2 cups sugar
2 large eggs
1 stick or ½ cup butter
1 cup sour cream
½ cup water
2 tsp. vanilla extract
½ cup plus 2 Tbsp. cocoa powder
1 (12 ounces) pkg. semi-sweet chocolate chips
Sift flour, baking powder, and baking soda twice. Place in a small bowl.
Beat the sugar and eggs in large mixing bowl until sugar is dissolved. Add butter and mix into egg mixture thoroughly.
Add sour cream, water, vanilla extract and beat.
Slowly add flour mixture and cocoa powder and beat slowly just until the flour is absorbed. Do not over beat. Fold in chocolate chips,
Pour into buttered bundt pan. Bake at 350F for 50 – 60 minutes. When cool sift powdered sugar on top.
Serve with French Vanilla ice cream and chocolate syrup drizzled on top.
Tess’ Kitchen Secrets
#1 – When using a dark coated bundt pan, the cake will bake faster. Here, this cake was done in 50 minutes. I use a bamboo skewer to test the doneness by inserting it into the cake. It should come out with cake crumbs not wet batter.
#2 – When sifting flour, I simply use a medium size fine strainer. I get the same result.
Enjoy and Happy Cooking!