Karen, Judy and I were the last ones back in the school room after
lunch. We put our metal lunch boxes on the shelf above the coat
hooks, which were mostly empty. All of the other sixth graders were
already outside, playing marbles or hop scotch or jumping rope,
since it was a pleasant spring day.
"Look what I found this morning in the storage cupboard when I was
getting out some art supplies for Mrs. Eiffler." With a conspiratorial
grin on her face, Karen held up a wooden box filled with short pieces
of chalk in every color of the rainbow.
"Wow! What fun it would be to write on the chalkboard while everyone
is outside." Judy's eyes twinkled with anticipation.
"But Mrs. Eiffler doesn't want us writing on the chalkboard," I
responded, already feeling guilty, although we had not yet done a thing.
"Don't be such a 'fraidy cat', Janet. No one will ever know," said
Karen, reaching into the box and drawing out a piece of chalk.
"Right. Everyone is outside, so we're safe. No one will tell on us."
Judy was already drawing a house with sure strokes.
I reluctantly joined my friends in the artwork, wanting to be part of
what was going on, but afraid of being caught. I knew well that we were
breaking not one, but two class rules. The second rule was that no one
was allowed to stay inside at noon without a written excuse from home
if the weather was nice.
Trying various colors, we drew houses, trees and three-dimensional
boxes. It was fun! All the time we were watching the clock, knowing
that our fun would be over if anyone walked into the room.
Then Judy had an idea. "We're all right-handed. Let's see who can
write their name best using their left hand."
Judy and Karen picked up their chalk and started writing. I chose a
white piece from the box and wrote my name. The handwriting was
a bit shaky, but no one would doubt that it said "Janet."
"I think Judy is the winner," said Karen. "Hers is the best."
"We'd better get this board cleaned off before Mrs. Eiffler comes back,"
said Judy, eying the clock. She picked up an eraser and began erasing
our handiwork from the board.
Everything came off . . . but my name!
In disbelief, I looked at the chalk I held in my sweaty hand. On closer
examination, it wasn't chalk at all. I had picked up a small piece of
white color crayon which was mixed in with the pieces of chalk.
My stomach churned and my knees felt weak. What would Mrs.
Eiffler do to me?
My mother had a saying: "Fools names and fools faces always appear
in public places." I never understood fully what it meant before. Now
I did! I was a fool, and there was my name in crayon to prove it. And
the teacher would be returning soon.
"Quick, let's get some wet paper towels," said Judy, springing into
After vigorous rubbing, my name still remained.
"I think I saw a can of cleanser by the sink in the coat room," I said
as I raced to find it. Precious minutes were ticking away.
We rubbed and my name came off all right, but in the process of
removing it, we left an abrasion on the chalkboard.
Listening for footsteps coming down the hall, we dried the scrubbed
area as much as we could with more paper towels and fanned it with
a book to remove every tell-tale trace of wetness.
We were just slipping into our desks as the bell rang and the
other students began entering the room. The teacher walked in
Mrs. Eiffler never asked about abrasion and maybe never noticed it.
But I did. Every time I walked past the marred surface of the
chalkboard, I remembered. Oh, how I remembered.
The lesson I learned that day is one I never forgot, even though over
forty years have passed since the event. "No one will ever know" is
never true. Even if no one else found out, Jesus knew and I knew.
Sometimes living with a guilty conscience is punishment enough.