Onesimus and Mrs Puddicombe
Working through the Bible on Wednesday evening sermons, preparing for next week’s look at Saint Paul’s letters to individuals brought me to the familiar words of the letter to Philemon. It’s just twenty-five verses long, a personal appeal from Saint Paul for compassionate treatment of the escaped slave Onesimus, a name meaning ‘useful’.
Mrs Puddicombe was fond of the letter to Philemon. Mrs Puddicombe probably wished that she had someone useful sitting at the back left-hand corner of her classroom, instead she had me.
The school was a special one for asthmatics and others with poor health – 80 boys in a remote spot on Dartmoor. There were meant to be seven classes – Class 1, 2 and 3, Class 4B and 4A and Class 5B and 5A, but 4A, 5A and 5B were all in Mrs Puddicombe’s classroom.
Arriving in the autumn of 1974, instead of being put into Class 3, where I should have been by age, I was put into 4A. Arriving after everyone else, I was assigned a desk beside a very quiet boy at the back. At the end of the 4A year, the boy beside me left. I moved into the desk he had occupied and positioned myself against the window, where I remained for two years, until the summer of 1977. Mrs Puddicombe smiled benignly, reasoning, I think, that I was a better option at the back than some of my classmates.
Mrs Puddicombe belonged to a fundamentalist Christian group, but was gracious with it. Mrs Puddicombe was always ‘Mrs Puddicombe’, never gaining a nickname the way teachers often did (her Christian name was ‘Ena’, which never sounded right as a nickname). She taught me English, history, religious education, environmental studies, and probably a few other things besides. If anyone ever deserved a long and peaceful retirement, it was Mrs Puddicombe. Sadly, she died while still young.
Philemon reminds me of Mrs Puddicombe. I don’t think I ever said ‘thank you’. I never ever went back to talk about school days or to tell her that her lessons had been put to good use. I had never even been ‘useful’ to her. There were people who did things, helped with stuff, I kept my distance. The only thing I ever did was the ‘post’, collecting from the school office letters to the boys and taking them around the classrooms, and that was only to have the chance to intercept certain letters that friends did not want Mrs Puddicombe to see, chiefly those from the parents of my roommate Paul containing £5 notes (our pocket money was limited to 50p a week).
Sometimes I hope that one day I shall see Mrs Puddicombe again just to say sorry for being ungrateful – and to say sorry for not being Onesimus.
I am very sure she was thrilled with your English homework especially your essays. She probably had a lot to thank you for – reading your essays in the middle of very mediocre ones must have been her treat.
Sadly, Barbara, I think that was probably unlikely. I was a horrible kid and did as little as possible.
Interesting story Canon!!! Just read Stanley’s sermon for tomorrow, he’s going to town on demons!!!! His is much longer than yours!!! but wish l could be a fly on the wall all the same. Think we all went through phases as kids at school where we were horrible!!!! it’s just a phase we all go through as we pass through this mortal coil. Your teacher sounds sweet, and she probably thought you were too!!! I hope you smiled when you were at school!!! If your writing was as good at school then as it is now, i’m sure Mrs Puddicombe would have been very impressed. When you meet again, give her a big hug and a huge smile, and all will be well!!!
I often think of my teachers at secondary school, what they had to put up with, not me so much, but some of the girls were like Stanley’s demons literally!!! Oh!! for those happy days once more, when we were young and innocent, and horrible!!!!! Hope you are keeping well, and that like Stanley’s congregation appreciate the time and effort that goes into writing sermons. God Bless.