Mrs. W.

Mrs. W. was the lunch lady at my elementary school. She was mean and everyone hated her. She was obese, with a softball sized goiter and a severe hunchback. Her eyes bugged out in that unattended thyroid kind of way.

Her cantankerousness was legendary. She ran that lunch room like a drill Sargent. There would be no walking around. There would be no shenanigans. She’d be all up in your face if you even looked at her funny. She’d inspect your tray and send you back to your seat if you tried to dump any of the soggy school lunch in the trash.

It was cool in elementary school to have your parent come visit you for lunch once in a while. One day my mom was visiting me. I was in third grade. But my sister was in sixth, and my mom got up to go over and say hello to my sister on the other side of the gym/cafeteria. My mom is petite, and she was only about 27 at the time. From behind, Mrs. W. mistook my mom for a fifth or sixth grader, grabbed her by the shoulders, and laid into her for being “up from her seat” without permission. Mrs. W. was shocked to realize it was a grown woman she was manhandling.

It was a glorious moment. Mrs. W. looked foolish. Oh the glee! Here, a grown up, my mom, had proof of how mean Mrs. W. was. Inwardly, we children were dancing jigs. We snickered at our table and talked about it for weeks.

Thirty five years later, I know what it feels like to have your thyroid out of whack. My out of whack must be a speck of what Mrs. W.’s was…with that goiter, those eyes. Her physical condition spoke of some serious neglect throughout her life. The world had not been kind to her. That woman did not feel good and it wasn’t just the thyroid. The proper term for hunch back is “kyphosis.” I looked it up, and with kyphosis comes musculoskeletal pains, tension headaches, back aches, and joint pains.

Try dealing with that while being in charge of a gym full of rowdy children, squeaking out pennies for it, I’m sure.

No one is born hateful.

I’m not saying it was okay for Mrs. W. to terrify the kids in my elementary school.

I just wish she would have experienced being cared for, so she’d have known how to be kind to the children in her charge.

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11 Responses to Mrs. W.

  1. Meg says:

    You have offered a possible (and quite charitable) explanation for my childhood experiences with nuns: Sister Thomas, Sister Clemicus, Sister Maria Goretti, Sister Cecelia, Sister Jude. None had obvious physical symptoms, but the behavioral manifestations were certainly there!

  2. shannon coates says:

    I just love you.

  3. Kathi says:

    There’s always more to a story than we know. Thanks for a great post . It makes me think about all of the “mean” adults in my life and what they must have been going through. 🙂

  4. kario says:

    This is what I live for (and why I write). To give the compassionate perspective. Thank you.

    And I love the notion of her pushing your mother around. Yikes!

  5. Carrie Link says:

    YAMH. BTW, I will never forget your words on this blog, “The weight is the size of the wound.” I think about that all the time.

  6. Wanda says:

    Yes! Brilliant. And I hope your thyroid is back in whack soon. Feels awful to be run off the road by our bodies.

  7. mom says:

    The wisdom of age and experience. I am blessed and proud to be your mom. Just wish that I was closer so that I could give you some time to yourself and to be an on hands gramma to Riley and Seth. Hugs!!!! I can still feel her grips on my arms.

  8. Courtney says:

    Oh my, Michelle, this is amazing.

  9. Michelle O'Neil says:


    That is a Marianne Williamson quote. I love it too. xo

    Mom…too funny.

    Wanda…my thyroid is doing okay.

    Thanks for the sweet comments everyone.

  10. And some are just born that way. Of course, they aren’t, but it’s fun to say. 😉

  11. amber says:

    This is why you are in my life– I see it all the time with you, btw– to remind me to be more kind. Because I know what you say is true. My highest Self knows it.


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