Paynesville Press - May 1, 2002

Community Perspective

The Pencil Sharpener Incident

By Emily Mehr

Detention, tardies, unexplained absences - I'm always getting in trouble. And it's always for things I don't do - my homework, listening to the teacher, or even going to school in the first place. And when I am a "good little girl," they frame me! (Sigh.) It's as if they enjoy seeing me suffer. And perhaps no teacher of mine has enjoyed torturing me more than my old first grade nemesis, Mrs. Todson.

A prime example? An infamous little disaster that eventually became known as "The Pencil Sharpener Incident."

(This is based on a true story and then grossly exaggerated.)

I was in the first grade (January if I remember correctly) when it happened. What started out as a broken school supply ended as a big greasy stain on my permanent record.

The whole thing started innocently, to tell the truth; I had just gotten in from recess and was waiting in line to sharpen my pencil...and waiting...and waiting...and finally I just couldn't take it anymore.

Craning my neck towards the front, I soon spotted the problem; some idiot had tried to sharpen a crayon and busted the sharpener in half! No one would be able to write now - unless you wanted to write with a dull pencil. And that was no fun, because then how could you poke the person next to you for test answers? ...and SPELLING was coming up next!

That snowy January afternoon had become about as fun as slush in your snowpants.

My worried classmates, however, had already moved beyond that, and were crowding around the teacher, inquiring about the fate of their poor, dull leads.

Mrs. Todson, who looked as if she couldn't care less, was not exactly helpful. Thirty years of teaching had taught her that children weren't worth educating, and that her schooltime was better spent reading the tabloids. But she wasn't getting paid for nothing, so a tap here, a toggle there, and...

"Well," said Mrs. Todson, "It's off, all right. Look what you little brats have done this time! I guess we'll have to wait until I'm finished to fix it." And with that, she went back to "Lose 10 Lbs. in 10 Minutes!"

One of my classmates spoke up. "When you're finished with that, Mrs. Todson?"

"You'll find out when I'm done with it," she replied nonchalantly, and yawned. "Besides, it's just a pencil sharpener. You can live without it - for a while." She laughed - cackled, really - and resumed reading.

The rest of my classmates went back to their seats, confident that the problem would soon be corrected - after all, Mrs. Todson was NEVER wrong. But I stayed where I was.

"Oh, great," I thought, "I'll be stuck with a dull pencil for the rest of first grade if Mrs. Todson has her way." Suddenly, an evil thought emerged in my head. If the pencil sharpener was broken anyway, what was stopping me from just throwing it away? That's what we always did at home when I broke something.

I elbowed the girl next to me, Melinda Jorgenson, and asked her excitedly, "Dare me to trash the pencil sharpener?"

Melinda shrugged. "I don't care," she replied, staring boredly out into space. That was all Melinda ever did, so I went with my gut feeling. I surveyed the scene, slicked back my hair, and with a gentle THUD, the pencil sharpener was out of commission.

Wow! That felt great! I had POWER! I had AUTHORITY! I could PUSH STUFF! Into the TRASH! ...but before I could exercise any more power or authority, Mrs. Todson had grown bored with The National Inquirer and had decided to give us a surprise math quiz.

Nevertheless, I boasted about my heroic battle with the pencil sharpener to everyone who would listen. And for the next few days, I felt like Cinderella did, after she pushed her evil stepmother's pencil sharpener into the trash. I was walking on air.

In fact, I couldn't be happier if Mrs. Todson had decided to retire. But what she did the next day was even more unexpected. As I sat daydreaming in class, Mrs. Todson went up to the front of the room and told us that someone had STOLEN THE PENCIL SHARPENER!

She pointed to the bare hole in the wall where it formerly resided. If we had ANY information about this ATROCITY, said Mrs. Todson, we must go directly to her and tell on the person who did this, said Mrs. Todson, so she could WRING THEIR NECKS. We assumed she was kidding - assumed - but nobody wanted to take their chances.

But surely nobody would squeal on me? ...well, someone did.

A few days later, I was still smug. If they hadn't caught me now, they never would. A fugitive before I even turned eight. So there I was - flippin' my hair, actin' smug, when all of a sudden a familiar voice beckoned me up to the front of the classroom.

"Emily, I'd like to speak with you for a moment." I casually walked up to her desk, confident as ever.

"Yes, RUTH?" I asked innocently.

"Don't call me Ruth," Mrs. Todson snarled. "Remember how the pencil sharpener magically 'disappeared' last week?" Ugh oh. My heart began to beat faster.

"Ugh no, Mrs. Todson, I never even noticed. Did it really?"

Mrs. Todson grinned her evil grin, showing her few remaining teeth. "Why, yes, it did. The custodian had to root through the trash to find a new one. We couldn't find it, so the school had to pay TEN DOLLARS for a new one, not to mention the cost of screws."

I gulped. TEN DOLLARS? Not to mention the cost of screws? I would be in debtor's prison 'til I died!

"Oh," I stammered. "THAT sharpener."

"Yes," said Mrs. Todson, "THAT sharpener. It just so happens that a little birdie told me that YOU threw it away." She folded her hands sternly. And although I seriously doubted that "birdies" could talk, I knew she had me. Game over. I was dead.

There was nothing I could do - well, there was one thing I could do.

"It wasn't me!" I blurted out. "It was Melinda. She told me to throw it away!" Mrs. Todson glared at Melinda, who doubled over as though she had been shot. Melinda tried to crawl behind her desk, but it was no use - no one could escape Mrs. Todson.

Now I was REALLY dead.

"I'll be seeing both of you at recess tomorrow, then." And she cackled.

The next day, Melinda and I were stuck inside writing apologies to the custodian. Melinda got out right away, but for some reason, I had to stay inside for a few rewrites.

"But WHY can't I go outside yet, Mrs. Todson?" I asked her. Mrs. Todson glared at me.

"Have you read your paper, Ms. Mehr?" She cleared her throat.

"Dear Mr. Custodian,

It was all Melinda's fault. Signed, E.M."

She looked at me. "You just don't get it, do you? Rewrite it again."

By the time I got finished, recess was almost over. So I went back inside. Mrs. Todson wasn't happy.

"WHY are you back? YOU'RE supposed to be at recess!"

I glanced at the clock. "I only have about 30 seconds left, Mrs. Todson."

"Then go outside and spend your 30 seconds on the playground. And DON'T come back." She pushed me out the door, slammed it, and went back to reading the tabloids.

Oh, well, only five months 'til summer. Would you like to participate as a Community Perspective writer? Call Michael Jacobson at 320-243-3772 to express interest and get included on the schedule.

Mehr is an eighth grader at Paynesville Area Middle School. She wrote and performed this creative expression piece for the speech team.

Would you like to participate as a Community Perspective writer? Call Michael Jacobson at 320-243-3772 to get scheduled as a writer or e-mail him at

Contact the author at | Return to Viewpoint