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Mrs. Viskil And The Periodic Table Of Elements

by Mary Mills

Ask yourself, “What is the hardest thing I have ever had to do?” As a young child my answer would have been learning the Periodic Table of Elements while in the second grade. Mrs. Viskil was our teacher, and she expected us to learn. Learn we did. Most of us, myself included, were at least a bit afraid of her displeasure and tried very hard to act as she expected of us, work as expected and learn as expected.

Our graded papers, with commentary, were sent home to be reviewed and signed by a parent. If all were not brought back the next school day with appropriate signatures, we were questioned and a call was made to our home. If we were to blame for leaving them at home or not asking for them to be signed, we would have to write one hundred times, “I will not forget to have my parent sign my papers.”

One morning I brought my papers back to school without signatures. I had asked my Mother to sign them as usual, and thought no more about it until I pulled them from my book bag the next day. When I saw that my Mom’s familiar signature was not on the papers, I was panic stricken. To my shame I must admit that the first thing I thought of doing was a bit of forgery, but I knew I couldn’t fool the all-seeing, all-knowing Mrs. Viskil. Reluctantly I took them to her desk and told her what had happened.

She listened to my story and asked me just one thing, “Are you certain you asked your Mother to sign your papers.” I promised, cross my heart, that I had done so. She then told me that she would verify that with my Mother during lunch and that I could take my seat.

When I got home after school my Mother handed me four sheets of notebook paper to take to Mrs. Viskil the next day. Each sheet was covered with the sentence, “I will not forget to sign Mary Ann’s papers when asked.” Each sentence was numbered. There were exactly one hundred.

Mother explained that Mrs. Viskil insisted it was only fair that Mother should write those hundred sentences. Not as a punishment or reminder to her to sign my papers, but so that I would realize that everyone, even my Mother, had responsibilities. No one is exempt.

Life is a lot like Mrs. Viskil. When we fail to live up our responsibilities, whether to ourselves or to others, life extracts a price. No exceptions. I think that’s what Mrs. Viskil was trying to teach us.

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