In which we go to school and meet the witch, try to find the permanent record to take a quick look and wonder who started the fire.
Our Millie used to say that growin' up in the country you learned not to be afraid of much of anything. Copperheads under the stairs, Mr. Jackson's mean old bull shakin' his head at you, floods, hornets and wasps, and even Big Mil comin' after you with a hickory switch that stings worse than any bees. She could deal with all that but one mention of her permanent record made her break out in a cold sweat and shake like Billy Bug's old dog when he had just come out of a dip in the icy creek.
Our Millie thought and thought but never could understand why teachers had to be so mean. It all started in the first grade when Miss Grenwich, or the witch as everybody called her, got up in Our Millie's face and all but shrieked, "This is going down on your permanent record!" Our Millie shrank back in her seat and spent the rest of the year wonderin' where that record was and what else was there. She knew that "Talks too much" and "Doesn't try hard enough" were there. But what about the time she switched desks with Bobby Lane just so he couldn't find his stuff? Or the time she copied her arithmetic from Lennie Roy, the smartest boy in the class? But he let her 'cause she gave him a Tootsie Roll Pop. Or any number of things that she couldn't remember right now. And, who would read it and what would they do with it? Would St. Peter pull it out when she tried to get into Heaven and boom, "What about not finishing your geography test in Third Grade? Explain that young lady or you can't get in."
And, what about Billy Bug's record? He laughed and said not to worry about it. There ain't enough room to write all about him, and there's all the things he's done that they don't even know about.
Our Millie thought that second grade might be different but it wasn't. She tried to be good, but she kept havin' nightmares about the witch and the permanent record. Even though the teacher was nicer and never threatened, Our Millie knew that piece of paper was out there somewhere and it could be pulled out at any time. It was growin' and was probably lots of papers by now. It had her grades and what she did, and didn't do and should have done.
It was this way all through school and it even followed her to the consolidated high school on the other side of the mountain. She knew it was there 'cause she had to take a note to the teachers lounge one day and heard the teachers talkin' about it and saw a bunch of folders out on the table where they were workin' and drinkin' coffee. Our Millie decided she had to find that permanent record and see what was there, so she was real good, and real sweet and got a job in the Principal's Office answerin' the phone and takin' messages. She kept lookin' at the big old file cabinet there and wantin' to open it. She even came close one day and had her hand on the drawer, but then what if she got caught and that went down on her permanent record? She went home in tears 'cause she was that close and couldn't do it. She left her job in the office the next day 'cause she couldn't stand to look at that file cabinet anymore.
One mornin' the school bus didn't come and Our Millie and Pearlie Gates and all the other kids were really happy to just go home. On the way they met Uncle Filmore who had just come from town and was goin' house to house spreadin' the word. The school house had caught on fire the night before and was still burnin'. The only thing that was damaged much was the principal's office.
Our Millie wondered who could have set the fire. It must have been somebody who didn't like his permanent record. Billy Bug laughed but since he didn't care much she knew it wasn't him. Then she thought. What happens to your permanent record when the school burns down? Do they start all over again or just forget about it? Our Millie just smiled. She got a really good sleep that night.