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Our Miss Engel


2 September, 1909
I received a letter today from the Ursuline Academy. It seems I have found a job.
When I informed my parents of my decision, my father said, “You watch those papist types,
Clara. They're a funny lot.” I don't know what he means by that. From her letters, the
Reverend Mother seems perfectly kind.
13 September, 1909
We exchanged a few more correspondences before settling on 20 September as my first day of
teaching, a Monday. I will take the train to Paola on Saturday morning and should arrive before
noon, which will give me just over a day and a half to get settled in.
I myself went to a good Lutheran school, and have nothing but cherished memories of my
teacher, Miss Taylor. When I finished my eighth grade primer, she hugged me fiercely and said,
“Clara, you just make me so proud.” She had tears in her eyes. I knew right then that I was
going to become a teacher, like her. We are quite learned here in this part of the world, with a
fine theatre and the Carnegie library. Also, Papa is something of an intellectual. He was a
teacher back in Germany, so I suppose you could say it is in my blood. My brother and I were
brought up to be diligent readers and encouraged to express ourselves through writing and
discourse.
As I was studying to get my teacher's certificate, Papa was fond of telling me that many schools
in America are based on the Prussian model of teaching. “The German people know something
about education, Clara,” he would say. “Don't ever forget that.”
Behind my book, I would smile. “Yes, Papa.”
I must confess my tastes run far more to novels than to the philosophical treatises Papa is always
urging me to read. We find something of a compromise in poetry, thank the Muses! Like most
of the men in the tri-state area, Papa is a miner. Joplin is known for blackjack and lead. Both
my parents have worked very hard for everything we have. When they first came to this country,
they spoke very little English. But as their English improved, so did their prospects. Mama
worked as a seamstress for a time, and Papa worked his way up from shafting and drilling to
become a foreman, and we moved out of our cabin by the mining camp into a proper house off
Grey Avenue. They wanted my brother and me to sound like perfect Americans. That was easy
enough, as I was born in Joplin. Gunther was born back in Frankfurt, but he was just a little
thing when they brought him over, so doesn't really remember any German at all. I suppose that
is just as well.
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