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MARY FRANCIS AND THE BEAR
By: Christina J. Johns

Miss Mary Francis Lanier was my piano teacher, and the piano teacher of scores of children who grew up in the tiny west-Georgia town named after her family.

She was tall and elegant; proud, and very demanding. Since she had no children of her own, she had little patience with foolishness.

Because of that I can't imagine why, but once, when I was about ten, she carried a car full of dressed up little girls to play in a piano concert in Birmingham.

Every little girl was combed and ruffled and pefticoated to the hilt. All sifting in Ms. Mary Francis'gold Chrysler uncomfortably traveling along to be shown off.

Only one thing got in the way.

Little girls being what they are, somebody had to go to the bathroom. Miss Mary Francis Lanier did not want to stop, and was not about to stop just anywhere. After all, she had charge of proper little ladies, or so she thought. She drove a considerable distance, rejecting as inappropriate every possible place to stop, before the whining got too much for her.

Finally, with obvious distaste at the idea of the precious little bottoms of her "liffle guds' as she called us, sifting on a service station toilet, the pulled off the road. She shook her head in dismay. You could hear her thinking. "Daddy would have died before he would have stopped and let me go to the bathroom here."

But stop we did, and as the line of giggling little girls was taking turns at the bathroom, one of them made a discovery. Behind the gas station, there was a small bear incarcerated in a cage. Before Miss Mary Francis discovered the secret, rufflesocked little girls were all around the cage, cooing and talking to the bear.

"Gurls," She shouted with horror. "Get back in that car this minute This minute, I tell you."

Well, when Miss Mary Francis took that tone, you did what she said and five little girls clambered back inside that Chrysler.

I think we drove a little over a mile before it became apparent that the smell was inside rather than outside the car. Then a shriek came up from the back seat as little girls tried to get away from Made Scroggs.

. Marie seemed to be tangled up in her own arms and legs, thrashing about, looking at her dress and her shoes and her socks.

Miss Mary Francis looked in the rear-view mirror, her eyes bulging and pulled off the road. She got out of the car, went around it and jerked the back door open.

Miss Mary Francis stood their in her beige linen suit and pearls, staring at Marie, then reached inside the car and jerked her out.

"Bear!" She exclaimed in horror. "My God, it's bear." She said. "Child, you have bear on your shoes."

"And she sat on it." Squealed Mary Alice McLean with obvious delight, pointing at the back of Marie's baby blue dress.

Miss Mary Francis wheeled Marie around "You have bear all over your dress and panties." She said.

An enormous gasp for breath came out of Miss Mary Francis' mouth and she put her hand to her sinking chest. I thought she was going to faint, but Miss Mary Francis was made of sterner stuff than that.

She opened the truck and whipped out a white sheet. What it was doing in the trunk, I don't know. It made me think of something you would carry around if you were planning to dispose of bodies, but then, I've always had a curiousturn of mind.

Marie Scroggs was wrapped like a mummy. She was crying and protesting, but Miss Mary Francis was like a woman possessed. She pushed Marie back inside the car and all the rest of the little girls in the back squealed. 000000000000.

"What are we going to do?" Ann Marie whaled. "Hush." Miss Mary Francis responded and proceeded to drive over the winding mountain roads like a demon.

Marie sobbed quietly in the back seat, but other than that, there wasn't a sound. We looked over the edge of the cliffs as we drove into Birmingham, afraid if we did anything else, we might just die as Miss Mary Francis drove over the edge.

The first store we came to, Miss Mary Francis slammed on breaks, almost puffing my forehead through the front windshield. Miss Mary Francis got out, walked around the car and snatched Marie out.

Fifteen minutes later, Miss Mary Francis came charging out the door dragging Marie behind her. Marie had on a different pair of socks, shoes, and a garish plaid dress, which on any other occasion, Marie Scroggs wouldn't have been seen dead in.

But, she didn't have bear on her. We made the recital just a little late, and Marie played Hoecake Shuffle and Waltz of the Fairies with her head down, wishing away the dress.

On the drive home, when everybody else was asleep, I heard Miss Mary Francis say to herself. "Lord, I wasn't cut out for children."


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