The Problem with Amelia Bedelia

Watching a mother lead two elementary school “Back to School” shoppers brought back a weird set of memories.  It was of my teacher — maybe first but certainly second and third grades —

Classroom full of lots of colorful and bright placards and posters all around the room, professional and not, lamenated cardboard of educational content through which students might possibly glean something through a sort of Osmosis —

A horrible memory from the start of fourth grade.  They were coming down at us from the ceiling!  Motivational messages — “If life gives you lemons, make lemonade!”, cut out in the shape of a lemon!  OH THE HUMANITY!

— Reset.

Amelia Bedelia always left me with a certain amount of disporportionate frustration and angst.  The story of Amelia Bedelia’s severals books was of a maid hired with s list of house-keeping instructions.  She would go through them — literally fulfilling idiomatic expressions, thus botching every one of her jobs.  She would then bake a lemon merangue pie.  The upper class New England gentry would then return home, be aghast at each of Amelia Bedelia’s botched jobs, fumigate in anger, prepare to give Ms. Bedelia what for, but then — have a mouthful of that lemon merangue pie, and suddenly all was forgiven and she’d be hired again, except next time with very carefully written instructions.

Ignorning a smidgeon of an inability to identify with the upper class New England gentry.  There was a further problem with my inability to understand why anyone desire lemon merangue pie.  But those were not terribly problematic.  What always put me on edge, whenever one of these two or three teachers read one of these books — compounded by that sort of feeling I garnered that the teacher thought this was somewhere near the pinacle of these stories and a personal favorite / classic — what always annoyed me was that on multiple occasions, spliced throughout the book, the literal interpretation that Amedlia Bedelia pursued was not at all literal.  For instance, she might have an instruction to “Draw the curtains”.  She would then draw ON the curtains.  This was not the same thing, and I knew it.  So, I sat in my seat, or in the “story – book corner” (legs crossed “Indian Style” — do they still use that term?) , not able to process why this error exists, and as whole not really having any outlet for my frustration.  Even if I somehow had that opportunity, I would not have had the necessary vocabulary to explain the books’ essential problem, and I knew that I’d get stuck in suggesting this problem to the teacher that she’d think I’m grappling with the simple “literary” / “idiom” matter, and not see the deeper problem with “false literary” / “literary”  “idiom”.

So, if nothing else the great lesson to be taken from my expreiences with Amelia Bedelia was to grin and bear it, as the teacher smuggly and self-satisfied read this supposedly brilliant piece.  It’s probably an important lesson, really.  There are a number of reactions to different stimuli through the years I hav ehad where I am left wondering one of two subtley different things: Am I the only one? or Is this common at all?  Or was it just little old neurotic me?

I think I am going to have to poke into the Amelia Bedelia books to see if my grade school problems were at all founded, or if maybe I wasn’t at that proper age to appreciate them.  (The primary audience for these books are an ‘elementary school teacher‘ type, the secondary audience the captive classroom who the teacher is trying to mold their minds away from, say, the morning’s GI Joe cartoon and whatever it is the girls watched.)

Leave a Reply