the biography of someone

random happenstances | shedding a little light on people we've met in life

February 11, 2011

Remembering Mrs. Burrows

We have all had different and unique elementary school experiences. School helped to build your mind and define who you are. Most of your recollections include shenanigans with your friends and bullies beating you up for things such as drawing a happy face on their favourite eraser. But all other memories of this pivotal time in your life probably revolve around the horrors that we know as the school faculty. Everyone has a specific teacher who helped, scarred or confused them through the years. Don’t get me wrong, not all teachers were sent to school for the sole purpose of slowly torturing us. But many of them were, and this is one of their stories.

Sifting through all the teachers I had was difficult. Some memories were best left untouched, like the time I had to use the bathroom so badly I was crying. So I ran to the closest bathroom which also happened to be the staff washroom and opened the door on Mr. Hall while he was “freeing the chocolate hostages”, if you will. *Shudders* Anyhow… was getting off topic. I was able to narrow my choices down to one (although my other two choices will probably be written about in the future) and the winner is my old grade school librarian (and sometimes she would act as a substitute teacher)! She was known as the lair master. From grade 2 to grade 6, I had the pleasure of spending 2 mornings a week in the presence of a real monster. I remember my first memory of her like it was yesterday. We were in grade 2 and my class walked, single file, into the library and sat on the floor in front of a vacant rocking chair. I had seen Robert Munsch live not too long before that, so I was bouncing around on the inside with excitement to have a story read to me again. My best friend sat on my left and my second best friend (ah, to be a kid again) sat to my right. We were whispering and laughing about something, god knows what, when she appeared. The whole room went silent as in walked a woman who I would get to know very well over the years.

She stood in the door way of the library wearing a matching dark navy suit with a ruffled white blouse beneath her jacket. She was of the larger sort but seemed to be confused about what size clothing she should wear. I think we were all afraid she would take too deep a breath, fearing that her polyester suit would rip at the seams. Your eyes were forced upwards by the ridiculously bright red lipstick she wore on her lips and teeth. Her spectacles sat close up on her nose and her blue eyes blinked rather quickly as she scanned the room of students with an expression close to disgust. Her hair was short and brilliantly white. When I say white, I mean the only other colour on her head were the pink patches of scalp peaking through. One could say her hair was curly, but it was more like she had super glued a package of pulled-apart cotton balls to her big head; light and wispy. So wide eyed and unsure, we waited for it to speak.

“Good morning class.” It said without any emotion.
The group of us murmured something that was technically ‘Good morning Mrs. Burrows’. Apparently this was not good enough.
“When I say good morning, you will respond with GOOD MORNING, MRS. BURROWS. Let us try again; Good morning class.”
And so we responded over and over until she felt our “Good morning Mrs. Burrows” was satisfactory. She walked up to the chair sitting in front of us and we took a collective breath. The backs of her knees were bulging and looked oddly similar to the front of her knees. She lowered herself into the chair and it creaked and groaned loudly. Her heavy breathing was very audible and it was obvious the journey from the doorway to the chair had taken its toll on Mrs. Burrows. Then a movement from below drew our eyes to her feet. Her shoes (the same colour as her navy blue suit) must have been 3 sizes too small. The fat in her feet strained within their coverings and proceeded to spill over the edges. I had never in my life (that isn’t saying much as I was only in grade 2 at this point, but still!) seen something so hideous yet at the same time so mesmerizing. The tops of her feet were raised like that of a new born baby’s, except they were on a 50+ year old woman. Even as a child, you knew something is not quite right.

She read us a story that day. A story about a girl who is forced to sell matches on streets covered with snow and then dies from hypothermia. I’m guessing most of you probably know the book I’m talking about; The Little Match Girl (I have a wiki link for those who are not familiar with the story). Every child’s face showed the same horror as we envisioned the match girl’s hallucinations about her dead grandmother and then dying alone and cold in an unforgiving world. Needless to say, the story was a killjoy for the rest of the day. But this was just the beginning. I was once selected to help set up the craft table in the back of the library. We were decorating paper plates with sparkles, feathers and crayons that day (although I admit I still do this kind of art nowadays). Everyone was supposed to get 2 blue, 1 purple and 1 yellow feather. In my child-like confusion, I put random coloured feathers down on the plates. She came up to me screaming about how my listening skills are lacking and proceeded to knock the paper plates and feathers to the floor. I still remember staring at those colourful feathers as they floated softly to the ground, a single tear running down my face…(click here to see how I felt that day)

She was an unhappy woman. But how did she come to be at this school? And how did they allow her near children?

Story has it, that Mrs. Cheryl Burrows was once a doe eyed maiden from northern Ontario who wanted to be a writer. She fell in love with a man who wanted a city life. After much convincing, they got married and rented an apartment in the heart of Toronto. Unfortunately, the city wasn’t looking for any writers at that time, so she became a waitress in a family restaurant instead! Hooray! This is where I believe her hatred of children began. Dealing with annoying brats day after day, cleaning up after their sticky fingers. After a particularly hard shift (something to do with a child, feces and a stack of menus), she arrived home to see surprise visitors. A woman with 3 children sat in her living room with her love. The Ex-Wife of said husband had come to discuss the father’s lack of child support. What was the husband to do? He had not had a job for the past few months (apparently no one needed a mime in the city either... who knew). And so Mrs. Burrow’s hatred grew as her pay cheques from the dreaded family restaurant went to a bunch of brats. After many arguments, she finally left her husband and home. Mrs. Burrows moved back up north poorer then when she originally left. But she got a day job in her home town as a babysitter (heh). She moved back in with her folks which allowed her to go back to school. She would finally start rebuilding her career and be the famous author she so desperately wanted to be.

Mrs. Brown entered university and started to feel really positive. Mayhap a little too positively... Especially towards one of her professors. A budding romance started and ironically ended with a pregnancy. But she finished her schooling and started looking for a temporary job in order to support herself and her child. She couldn’t expect to live on writing work, at least not yet. So one day she was scanning the newspapers ‘job’ section (they didn’t have internet back then) and came across the perfect job! “Something to make some cash, until my writing career kicks off” she said to herself, I’m sure. ‘Librarian at small Ontario school’ the job posting read... And 15 years later she was still going strong at the school. One can only assume her books weren’t received very well? Poor Mrs. Burrows. Doomed to teach and be around the very things that ruined her career. But I like to look at it as revenge for her bad attitude towards myself and my fellow classmates. I’m sure she will be able to retire soon.


  1. I know this woman. I can't remember her name but she was the dreded teacher that I was hoping I would miss. In 4th grade I had Mrs. Thornburgh who was wonderful. In 5th I had her... she scared us all and we all hated her. Ha! Brought back memories.

  2. Oh my goodness, I went to school with you for all those years, you just brought our elementary school screaming back into the forefront of my mind. Oh the horrors!