Ah, Richard Peck, how you make me laugh! I don’t know if this book is as funny as it seems to me, or if I just read it when I really needed to find something amusing, but this one just hit the spot. The Teacher’s Funeral: A Comedy in Three Parts is the story of fifteen year old Russell Culver and his little brother, Lloyd. The story opens with them positively dreading the commencement of the Hominy Ridge School in a few weeks, but hope is reborn when they learn that their venerable teacher, Miss Myrt Arbuckle, has died. The boys’ hopes are dashed when they figure out that their older sister, Tansy, is jockeying for the job. What follows is both hilarious and heart-warming, as only Richard Peck can pull off. Here are a few excerpts to whet your appetite:
Charlie hadn’t emptied the bottle himself. He could be a handful, but even he wouldn’t take up hard liquor. His dad was the Methodist preacher. Us Culvers were Methodists too. It meant you could do pretty much as you pleased as long as you didn’t drink liquor or dance. Especially dance. Us Methodists said dancing was nothing but hugging to music. (21)
This, from Miss Myrt’s funeral:
The congregation was about ready to witness now. They were on the edge of their pews.
“And who remembers a time when chilrun wanted to learn?” Preacher Parr’s mighty fist exploded on the pulpit. Charlie had inherited his dad’s big fists.
“Who remembers when chilrun were happy to learn?” (Wham)
“Who remembers when chilrun were eager to learn?” (Wham)
Mrs. Darrell Embree jumped to her feet a pew behind us and called out, “Tell it like it was!”
“Sister, that’s what I’m doin’,” Preacher Parr retorted, leather-lunged. Dimly, I began to see how he operated. Nobody would miss Miss Myrt, so Preacher Parr got them to miss the good old days when the winters were worse and the kids were better. At a funeral you want to miss something. (39)
Preacher Parr fell suddenly silent. The afternoon sun sparked off the square specs riding down his nose. You could have heard a bee belch. (40)
Tansy does indeed get the job, so off to Hominy Ridge they go:
The three of us, me and Lloyd and Tansy, hoofed it down the Hog Scald Road to school. It was only about a mile, and uphill both ways, as the road to school always was back then. And we were barefoot, as we were all winter in our memories later. (63)
We call my daddy’s stories of the good old days “Cotton Pickin’ Stories” since most of his involve picking cotton as a kid. 😉
Russell and one of Tansy’s suitors-turned-students, the unlikely Glenn Tarbox, are helping Tansy ready the school for the superintendent’s visit. They inadvertently use too much gunpowder to clean out the stovepipe:
Once the schoolroom looked like its old self, me and Glenn went out to stick our heads under the pump. Big, scorched shreds of our shirts came away with the soot. Only the bibs on our overalls preserved our modesty.
“I got any eyebrows?” asked Glenn, coming up agasp from the freezing water.
“Not a whisker,” I said. “Me?”
“Nothing,” Glenn said. “Over your eyes you’re smooth as lard.” (172)
And later, with the superintendent:
“Well, I’m glad to see that the study of natural science is not neglected,” Mr. Whipple admitted. “But, son, tell me this. Why do you look so surprised? Didn’t you know we were coming?”
“I ain’t surprised, mister,” Glenn replied. “I just don’t have no eyebrows.” (182)
I can’t think of another writer as versatile as Richard Peck. He can write a rural tale that is memoir-like, poignant and hilarious, and he can write a talking mouse tale that’s as good as any I’ve read. If you haven’t read him, you’re missing out. Highly, Highly Recommended. (Dial Books, 2004)