My high school English teacher was “Gertie.” That’s what we kids universally called her. Miss Gertrude Simmons had frizzy blond hair and wore silk blouses and multicolored skirts. She was animated when she spoke, waving her arms in the air to make what she talked about important.

She was a larger-than-life teacher, the kind who made it a pleasure to sit in her class and listen to her explain the classics. During a lull in class, she would tell us that in a former life she was Cleopatra, hinting about her relationships with Julius Caesar and Mark Antony.

She was a great lover of Shakespeare and encouraged us to memorize important parts of famous plays. I tried the “Band of Brothers” speech by Henry V. I liked the idea of a crown welded to a helmet and the “let’s go defeat the hated French” attitude. (Years later, I was on tour as an extra in a re-creation of the Battle of Agincourt. Sadly, I was assigned the part of a French knight who was unseated and killed by a 10-year-old girl in the role of an English archer.)

Our class project for the winter term was “Romeo and Juliet,” reading and explaining great portions of the play. A perfect play for 14-year-olds with raging hormones, trying to figure out what was going on in the play with all the plots.

Let me say at the outset that Shakespeare’s plays have humor, puns and sometimes dirty jokes. You have to dig deep to find them, and understand the language of the times, but they are there. I’m being defensive now, because in the short span of a week I was bodily hauled to the principal’s office by Gertie and accused of everything from rude behavior, soiling the words of the greatest playwright of the ages, acne and whatever else came into her mind.

One morning I got into my seat in the back of the room early and cracked open the book to get a jump on the homework assigned for the night before. “How do you find yourself these cold winter mornings, Frederick?”

“I just throw back the covers and there I am, Miss Simmons.”

She grabbed my earlobe and led me bodily to the principal’s office as the rest of the class filed in. I was accused of having a “smutty mind” and not fit to be with the rest of the clean-cut, 1950s students. After a stern talking-to by both adults, I was allowed back into the class.

We were studying the balcony scene at the time, and to show she bore no grudges I was called upon to recite Juliet’s “wherefore art thou Romeo” speech.

My ear still rang, and I was a bit disoriented. About all I could manage without actually finding the place was something about “breaking wind in the East and his passionate love for Juliet.”

Same ear, which still throbbed, and back down to the principal’s office, handed off to be disciplined. After Gertie left, the principal asked, “Did you really say that?” I admitted it, and he let out a great laugh and told me to take a seat outside his office for the rest of the period and try not to talk to anyone.

I passed Gertie’s class and, as luck would have it, majored in English literature in college. I think about her from time to time, and when I have dinner with former classmates a few times a year, someone always brings up “breaking wind in the East.”

Fortunately, I have broad shoulders and a sense of humor. I couldn’t have planned it better if I tried.

Fred Marks,

Wantagh

My high school English teacher was “Gertie.” That’s what we kids universally called her. Miss Gertrude Simmons had frizzy blond hair and wore silk blouses and multicolored skirts. She was animated when she spoke, waving her arms in the air to make what she talked about important.

She was a larger-than-life teacher, the kind who made it a pleasure to sit in her class and listen to her explain the classics. During a lull in class, she would tell us that in a former life she was Cleopatra, hinting about her relationships with Julius Caesar and Mark Antony.

She was a great lover of Shakespeare and encouraged us to memorize important parts of famous plays. I tried the “Band of Brothers” speech by Henry V. I liked the idea of a crown welded to a helmet and the “let’s go defeat the hated French” attitude. (Years later, I was on tour as an extra in a re-creation of the Battle of Agincourt. Sadly, I was assigned the part of a French knight who was unseated and killed by a 10-year-old girl in the role of an English archer.)

Our class project for the winter term was “Romeo and Juliet,” reading and explaining great portions of the play. A perfect play for 14-year-olds with raging hormones, trying to figure out what was going on in the play with all the plots.

Let me say at the outset that Shakespeare’s plays have humor, puns and sometimes dirty jokes. You have to dig deep to find them, and understand the language of the times, but they are there. I’m being defensive now, because in the short span of a week I was bodily hauled to the principal’s office by Gertie and accused of everything from rude behavior, soiling the words of the greatest playwright of the ages, acne and whatever else came into her mind.

One morning I got into my seat in the back of the room early and cracked open the book to get a jump on the homework assigned for the night before. “How do you find yourself these cold winter mornings, Frederick?”

“I just throw back the covers and there I am, Miss Simmons.”

She grabbed my earlobe and led me bodily to the principal’s office as the rest of the class filed in. I was accused of having a “smutty mind” and not fit to be with the rest of the clean-cut, 1950s students. After a stern talking-to by both adults, I was allowed back into the class.

We were studying the balcony scene at the time, and to show she bore no grudges I was called upon to recite Juliet’s “wherefore art thou Romeo” speech.

My ear still rang, and I was a bit disoriented. About all I could manage without actually finding the place was something about “breaking wind in the East and his passionate love for Juliet.”

Same ear, which still throbbed, and back down to the principal’s office, handed off to be disciplined. After Gertie left, the principal asked, “Did you really say that?” I admitted it, and he let out a great laugh and told me to take a seat outside his office for the rest of the period and try not to talk to anyone.

I passed Gertie’s class and, as luck would have it, majored in English literature in college. I think about her from time to time, and when I have dinner with former classmates a few times a year, someone always brings up “breaking wind in the East.”

Fortunately, I have broad shoulders and a sense of humor. I couldn’t have planned it better if I tried.

Fred Marks,

Wantagh

YOUR STORY Letters and essays for My Turn are original works (of up to 600 words) by readers that have never appeared in print or online. Share special memories, traditions, friendships, life-changing decisions, observations of life or unforgettable moments for possible publication. Email act2@newsday.com. Include name, address, phone numbers and photos if available. Edited stories may be republished in any format.

SUBSCRIBE

Unlimited Digital AccessOnly 25¢for 5 months

ACT NOWSALE ENDS SOON | CANCEL ANYTIME