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Who's the Fool?

 TALKING TO MYSELF 1 April, 2014 It’s April Fool’s Day, that hilarious date on the calendar that continues to trick us even into the 21th Century by mysteriously hiding its origins. Ever ready to enlighten my readers, I’ve scoured the Internet in my effort to find out why it has become traditional to make people we care about feel foolish on April 1.

The most plausible explanation comes from the folks at Discovery.com although they admit they can’t be sure. About 1582, Pope Gregory XIII whipped up a new calendar which he modestly named for himself. The Gregorian calendar moved the celebration of the New Year from Julius Caesar’s April 1 to January 1. In the northern hemisphere where the Popes hang out, I think starting a new year at the beginning of spring, when the flora of the earth re-news itself, makes more sense than the dormant middle of winter. But who am I to argue with Pope Gregory XIII?

Despite a papal degree, old habits die slow, and for decades some continued to insist that April 1 was the beginning of the New Year. In my humble opinion, this was probably an excuse to throw a New Year’s Eve party two times within three months, but nevertheless, it became socially acceptable to ridicule these April 1 New Year’s revelers. They were called “fools” and pranks and tricks were played on them to make them feel, well – foolish.

Other theories claim April Fool’s Day is older than the 15th Century. They point to an ancient Roman festival called – are you ready for this? – “Hilaria.” Non-western cultures also claim a piece of the day’s history. In India, for example, the Hindu festival “Holi” is similar to April Fool’s Day, and in Persia, they celebrate “Sizdahbedar.”

Arguably, the BBC carried out the most famous April Fool’s prank in 1957 when it aired a three minute news story about the bumper crop of spaghetti growing on trees in Italy.  http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-26723188 The most successful prank I ever pulled off, however, occurred in 1954 when I was in the second grade. I had noticed that my wonderful, laid back teacher, Miz Zell True, went to pieces when the county curriculum director, Miss Louella Forsee, dropped in unexpectedly to observe our classroom. Whenever we saw her little Studebaker pull into the gravel lot, we’d shout out, “Miss Forsee’s here!” and Miz Zell would fly into a predictable routine (much like I do when unexpected guests phone that they’re passing through town and are five minutes from my house.)

Two more different women could not have entered the teaching profession. Miz Zell was tallish, not fat but definitely on the sturdy side. Miss Forsee was petite and thin to the point of frailty.

Miz Zell spoke in a loud, deep, resonant tone and favored cotton wraparound dresses. Miss Forsee’s voice was thin and high like a bird’s, and she was always dressed impeccably in a grey suit with a silk blouse of various hues discreetly peeking around the lapels.

Miz Zell’s hair was a mass of snow-white fluff surrounding her face. Miss Forsee’s hair was dark brown and held under control by hairpins.

Miz Zell was nonchalant about schedules and our classroom was creatively messy. She individualized her teaching, meeting each of her first and second grade students, thrown together in a country classroom, where we were. She was years ahead of her time, and was probably the best teacher I’ve ever known.

Miss Forsee was all about order and staying on the book. Her job was to help her teachers get their lagging-behind rural charges up to grade level performance on the state's standardized achievement tests. A huge heart rested in her devoted tiny frame, and I grew to love her over the years.

But on April 1, 1954, I was a full of myself kid, already pointed toward a college degree in theater. I casually looked out the large window near my desk, and in my best version of a surprised voice said, “Miss Forsee’s here!!” Immediately, the panic I’d anticipated took over Miz Zell. She began to frantically straighten her desk, pat her hair and apply lipstick. She ordered two of us to quickly pick up any paper that might be on the floor and ordered all the rest to sit down and “be quiet and get to work.”

What haunts me still is the worried look I saw on that magnificent woman’s face. In that instant I glimpsed the insecurity at the core of this gifted woman. You see, Miz Zell had not graduated from college. Although she’d begun teaching in one-room schools as a teenager after she passed the old county exam – a good forty years before I was born – she was teaching on a probationary emergency certificate under Kentucky’s new teacher accreditation standards. Miss Forsee, anchored in the county school superintendent’s office, had multiple college degrees and a secure and important job as the county curriculum director.

I cried out, “April Fool’s!” to end this painful incident as quickly as I’d initiated it.

I’ve never played an April Fool’s prank on anyone again.

©Georgia Green Stamper