Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Mr. Pendergrass's Cake

When I was in elementary school, I had a teacher named Mr. Pendergrass. I have to admit that I was not especially pleased, at first, to end up in his 6th grade class. I had been hoping for another teacher who seemed a lot more with it than Mr. Pendergrass. But no one asked for my opinion and so I spent a year with a southern gentleman who was tall and stern and . . . interesting.

Mr. Pendergrass talked with a southern accent, a lot like most of my relatives at the time. He wore nerdy type glasses and he had thick wavy hair that didn’t behave. You might have laughed at him if you thought you could survive it, but we all knew better. And he wasn’t afraid to tell us we were acting stupid. He never called anyone stupid, but he let us know when we were acting stupid.

One thing that really stood out about Mr. Pendergrass is that he had what used to be called a “sardonic” sense of humor, which is a little hard to explain. Webster says it’s about being “disdainfully or skeptically humorous.” Yep. Whatever that means, that was Mr. Pendergrass. Yet, somehow, by the end of the year, I absolutely loved this teacher. I learned from him. I liked his sardonic humor. Somehow he was really likeable. It made no sense, but there you go.

So. Close to the end of that year there was a bake sale to raise money for something at the school. All the teachers made something. Cookies, pies, whatever. And Mr. Pendergrass had produced, marginally, a chocolate cake, which was my favorite. In all honesty, it wasn’t a very attractive cake. The frosting looked like it had been applied by distracted chimpanzees. But, still. It was made by Mr. Pendergrass, so I wanted it. It just seemed right that I should have it. But they were auctioning this stuff off to the highest bidder, which was bad news for me because my family wasn’t exactly floating in the green, if you know what I mean, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean.

But, for some strange reason, my mom was with me on this one. The bidding started and I shouted out my bid. But the price kept going up. And up. I would look at my mom with a look of “Yes, I Know Mom, This Is Crazy,” and she would give me a little nod and I’d add another quarter to my bid until, finally, we won the cake. I can’t remember how much it was, but it was ridiculous. I think it was the highest bid of the night.

And it was a very different, very pleasant, Mr. Pendergrass who immediately walked up to me and my mom. Apparently aliens had taken over his body. He was all smiles. He laughed and shook my hand and thanked my mom. He and my mom talked about how they were both from the south. He was blown away that we would pay that much for his cake, and I suddenly saw that he was just a young man who was teaching kids at a little school in Michigan because he liked kids. Kids like me.

So here’s what went down:

1. We ate the cake that night. It was delicious. Well. Delicious enough, anyway.
2. Mr. Pendergrass gave me an A for effort, marked with a note on my final report card saying something like, “Thanks for buying my cake!” Yes, he did.
3. I never forgot him.

Peace to you.

© LW Publishing 2010


  1. Crazy aint' it, when you realize the true age of that "old person" you remember... Really cool that you recognized at your young age the truth that Mr. P was himself a young man.
    I remember just a year or so ago, realizing that my mother was about my age (43-44) at the time when she divorced my dad and began to date and travel the world.... I wish I hadn't resented her being gone with her boyfriend (traveling, being loved and cherished). I wish I had realized this before she died and been able to tell her she deserved all those things, even if my 12-year-old self felt like "my mom" was long past those things

  2. Apparently by the amount of bids, this teacher made an impact on a lot of kids. God bless him

  3. You know, I don't know who else was bidding. It was some woman who I didn't know, I think. Maybe it was his wife! Or his girlfriend! Or someone who wanted to be his girlfriend! == I did realize he was kind of young, but he was younger than I was able to comprehend at the time. After writing this post I went and found my yearbook and there he was, just like I remembered him, except even younger. I just find it amazing how certain people for odd reasons can really stand out in our memory, while others seem to slip away, even though they seemed so important at the time. Ya know.

  4. I wonder if this is the same Mr. Pendergrass I had in Pine School Taylor, Michigan. I have been looking for him for years. I'm sure he wouldn't remember me. He made my life easier while I was in school. Life at home was living in hell. He must have some how known that. I think of him often. I hope he is well.


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