October Spotlight: Donna Nelson

Each month we shine a spotlight on a member of White County Creative Writers.

This time around we feature a short piece by WCCW Member Donna Nelson. 

We hope you enjoy her story!


Forbidden Treasure

Brring! Brring! The two-buzz alarm rang over the classroom intercom. Students froze at their desks and looked toward the teacher.

Amelia Coffey, third grade teacher at Herrington Elementary, finished posting the date on the blackboard: Monday, October 8, 1951. Then, she turned and placed her yardstick and chalk on the front of her desk. She would draw the types of triangles after the duck and cover drill. Her twenty-five students sat in silence and awaited her instructions. She took a deep breath and began her memorized speech in a calm, decisive voice.

“Students, close your workbooks, push back your chairs, and crawl under your desks. You will receive further instructions once you are seated beneath the desktop with your chair pulled over your feet. Do it now.”

Twenty-four students scrambled under desks and pulled their chairs in after them. The twenty-fifth student, Charlotte Ledbetter, who sat in the back on the first row nearest the door, turned her manual wheelchair around and rolled to the back wall between the restrooms. She removed the first five coats from the coatrack, placed them on the floor at the opposite end, and positioned her chair underneath the shelf above the empty hooks.

When the room was quiet, Amelia resumed her instructions. “Thank you, students, for obeying. You performed the drill well. Now we must wait for the all-clear. Can someone tell us how we know it is okay to return to our seats?”

Several students raised hands from under their desks. Amelia chose a student from the many raised hands, “Yes, Jasper.”

Jasper’s voice sounded small in the quiet room. “The all-clear will be a repeat of the two rings. Mrs. Coffey, may we say The Lord’s Prayer together?”

“That is correct, Jasper. When you hear the two rings again, students, return to your chairs and finish your math skills practice. Jasper, yes, you may say The Lord’s Prayer with a soft voice. Anyone who wishes may join in, but you must not be loud.”

As most of her students joined together in prayer, Amelia prayed inside her thoughts. Father, watch over my charges today and every day. Keep them safe in this crazy world. Protect them, not only from the dangers across the ocean but from the dangers here at home. Amen.

While she prayed, Amelia looked over her left shoulder at the “Duck and Cover” poster which hung above her desk. Bert, the cartoon turtle, depicted safety techniques to prepare for Soviet nuclear attacks. Amelia read the words on the poster to herself, “Bert ducks and covers. He is smart, but he has his shelter on his back! You must learn to find shelter.”

The prayers ceased. Amelia walked up and down the aisles, stooping to make eye contact with each student. Any who seemed nervous or tired of the wait received her touch on his or her shoe and a smile.

The minutes stretched long as Amelia returned to the front of the room. She opened the middle drawer on her desk, reached in, and touched the cover of a small book. She had pulled the book from her classroom library at the mandate of the school board. She thought of the Cold War her students knew little about—the Red Scare Communist hunt, the organized burning of books written by known and suspected Communists, and the book bans of suspicious books by other authors which ranged from classics to children’s books. Her friend, Rose, served as a librarian in a nearby high school. The list of books her school board asked Rose to remove from shelves grew larger by the week, and she despaired the loss of classic literature for students in her community.

Brring! Brring! As the two-buzz alarm sounded all-clear, Amelia traced the title on the front cover of the hidden book: R-O-B-I-N. H-O-O-D.

You can find out more about Donna Nelson on her profile page.