I was in the sixth grade.
My parents felt like it would be a good idea to send my brothers and me to a private school.
They noticed the children of their clients and friends who were the most well-behaved and quizzed them on why they were so polite and sweet.
The first thing I noticed at the private Christian school was how nice the other kids were.
They would say "Thank you," and "Excuse me," at the drop of a hat.
There was no fighting or bickering.
It was culture shock from the public school, where I always felt on my guard.
I didn't exactly fit in right away.
For example, I dropped my pencil and two nice boys bent down to pick it up for me.
I pushed one of them over and kicked the other one's hand.
"That's MY pencil!" I yelled.
That's when I got to know Shirley.
Everyone else called her Mrs. Leibolt, because she was the Principal.
"I want to have lunch with you," she said, "In my office."
Mrs. Leibolt was a large lady, who wore pastel polyester knit suits and had a bouffant hair style that looked like pineapple flavored cotton candy.
She ruled with an iron fist and took lip from NO ONE.
Rumor had it that she kept a paddle in her office and would spank kids really hard if they were particularly naughty.
I went to Shirley's office and sat down in front of her.
She sat behind her desk, clasped her hands and began talking to me.
She was so kind to me, it was a little jarring. Was I going to get a talking to, or worse, a beating?
Shirley looked at me and began, "Why did you get so angry at those boys?"
"Well," I said, "I dropped my pencil and I thought they were going to take it from me."
"They were just trying to help you," Shirly said.
"Yeah, I know that now, but I'm not used to kids being nice, and honestly if anyone messes with me, I'm going to punch them in the face."
Shirley got up from behind her desk.
I looked at the paddle on the wall, then back at her.
I didn't even care if she was going to hit me. I was in self-defense mode.
She sat on the corner of the desk and said, "Ladies don't behave that way, and it's my desire for you to learn how to behave like a well-mannered, rule abiding young woman.
She told me that I wasn't in trouble, I just needed some guidance and she was just the person who was going to mold me.
"Ok!" I said.
Shirley and I had lunch three times a week until I understood what it was like to behave like a perfect lady.
Here were the names of my lessons, which, by the way, were delivered with love and compassion:
Ladies Do Not Bite Their Nails.
Ladies Do Not Get Into Fist Fights.
Ladies Do Not Wear Tube Tops To School.
Ladies Do Not Talk Back To The Teachers.
Ladies Do Not Swear.
Ladies Do Their Homework.
Ladies Are Polite and Say Please and Thank You.
Shirley was not my first mentor in the Lady Department, but certainly one of my favorites.
My poor Mom and Dad really tried, but they could only do so much.
For instance, I asked if I could take Gymnastics for an after school activity.
I got kicked out for fighting, so my parent's answer was to put me in karate classes.
That way I could fight, you know, legally.
When I was about seven or eight years old, my Sunday School teacher called my Mom to tell her that they were trying to teach the kids about love and peace, and I beat a kid up.
My Mom goes "Did he touch her food? because she REALLY hates when people touch her food."
I was a bit defensive for whatever reason and had some problems with managing my anger.
So, I sit her tonight, grateful to Shirley, for her love, compassion and belief that I could one day become a kind, loving and gentle person.
One that behaves like a lady, and incidentally has blossomed into a full fledged Primp Queen.
Thank you, Mrs. Leibolt, wherever you are...