Remembering Mrs. Fannye Wallace
by Ronella Stager, Columnist
Jul 25, 2012 | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Each of us has been influenced in one way or another by one or maybe several people during our formative years. If we are very fortunate, that influence as been good for us. I was very, very fortunate that Mrs. Fannye Wallace came into my life when I was seven years old and moved with my parents and sister to Canton, a small village on the Cumberland River. Miss Fannye, as everyone called her, was to become my mentor, my teacher, my Sunday School teacher and my friend.

Miss Fannye and her husband, Mr. Robert Wallace, whom we children all called Uncle Rube, lived in a stone building which had been Mr. Robert’s store at one time. They converted the back of the store into a small apartment and the front of the store still had much of the old merchandise on the shelves. I remember trying on old buttoned up ladies’ shoes, children’s shoes and much else. My mother and Miss Fannye became close friends and my parents often spent the evening at their house and they had such a great time. I would spend my time there out in the old store reading forbidden books, such as All The King’s Men, which I didn’t understand but they were Miss Fannye’s books and not for little kids so I had to read them.

The Canton school was a two room school with lots of space for baseball and games of all kinds. I was one of two girls who were allowed to wear overalls, the bib kind, because we were the only two the boys would let play baseball. And we had to wear pants of some kind to slide into base and run the bases. Those exceptions were Miss Fannye’s so that was the rule. She was the boss of the four upper grades. The little old grouchy, sickly teacher who taught the first four grades was a miserable old woman who whipped the kids unmercifully. Once I heard my little sister crying and begging for her not to hit her again and I tore into that room, grabbed my little sister, and she was really little, and ran all the way home with her. The next day, the teacher was not at school and never came back. I later learned that my mother called a member of the School Board and explained what a cruel old woman she was. Miss Fannye backed Mama up and she was finally replaced.

One astonishing things Miss Fannye did was to take the whole four grades to the zoo in Evansville. Now, that was a long trip especially in the back of a cattle truck. She put a few stools in the back for parents that went along to help with the students. Miss Fannye always rode in the front with the driver, a local farmer who probably had a hard time just finding Evansville, Indiana. What a great time we had. When we got home, it would be after dark and parents would be anxiously waiting at the school for us to get back. I remember that we took sack lunches and bought cold drinks. Riding in a marvel of a vehicle today wouldn’t compare with the joy we had at that zoo. It was the first zoo any of us had ever seen. The star attraction was the largest snake in captivity anywhere. He lived a long life and was eventually quite famous.

When I was in the seventh grade, Miss Fannye accepted a job as teacher in the high school about ten miles away. She decided that I would go to the eighth grade there and ride with her. What fun rides we had. She was considered one of the best drivers in our area and she was fearless. When we lived at Canton, if someone was in dire distress and needed to get to a hospital or a doctor in a big hurry and my father wasn’t available, Miss Fannye was the person to drive. I remember she drove a Plymouth coupe and she could get anywhere on icy hills and deep snow.

Miss Fannye was not a tall woman, probably about five feet and maybe eight inches and she was neither fat nor skinny. To my young eyes, she was perfect. She was not a pretty woman but had the most pleasant happy face with almost always a smile. I remember so many interesting stories about her but one I love best concerned two eighth grade boys who were sixteen or seventeen. We always lined up each morning in front of the school, boys in one line and girls in the other. This one morning a fight started at the back of the boys’ line between two of the oldest boys. Miss Fannye walked back to break it up and one of them pulled a knife to cut her. In a flash, she doubled up her fist and hit him with all her might on his temple. Out he went, down in the grass, out cold. She sure knew how to break up a fight.

Once, just before recess one of the older boys went out to draw buckets of water for the shelf where we always got a drink. He came running back in, shut the door and hollered “Mad dog!” Miss Fannye looked out the windows until she spotted the dog, then she told two big boys to hold the door after she left and not to let any kids out. She sent two more boys to the room with the smaller kids to also hold their door. To my horror, she slipped out the door and ran like the wind down to the service station at the edge of our grounds to call for help to kill the dog. We all stood up in our seats to watch her get to the station. Then someone came with a gun and killed the dog as he ran toward the front school door. I must have been around ten and I still remember what that dog looked like.

We had a stage in the room with the big kids and the folding wall could be pulled back to seat a lot of parents. Miss Fannye always had a big Christmas program and a huge Christmas tree with all the trimmings. She had a gift for each child under the tree and fruit for each one. She assigned parts to each child even though few had speaking parts. Some only held up signs. My most memorable program was one when I played Mary and my sometime boy friend played Joseph. I was maybe 10 and he was a year or two older. We dressed the part and were waiting for our cues in the dressing room on one side. He made fun of me for holding a baby doll, I hit him and he kept laughing and I kept hitting till I had just about destroyed my costume and the doll and pulled off his headdress. We were so busy hitting and defending that we missed the cue and by that time we had gotten onto the stage. Someone pulled back the curtain and there we were. The audience could not restrain themselves from laughing. I looked out at Miss Fannye to see if she was as mad as I thought she would be and she was laughing!

When I graduated from high school, Miss Fannye wrote me that I had always been her favorite student of all time and she thought I had the ability to really get somewhere in the world. She also said that she had always loved me. That meant so much to me.

Years later, when she was an old lady, I wrote her a long letter telling her what she had always meant to me and I am so glad I did. She had never had children and I think we were her children.

In writing this article, I thought of other people who have influenced me and some would make an interesting story. But none could compare with my Miss Fannye who passed away in 1974 leaving many, many to mourn her.
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