Priscilla is the female form of the Latin name “Priscus”, which means “ancient” or “from ancient times”. In the last 128 years, Priscus, as a boy’s name, has not made the “top 1,000” list even once. Priscilla has been far more popular. A baby naming website tells me that 114,866 girls in the United States have been named Priscilla since 1880. Most priscilliamania came between 1930 and 1950. The name’s peak year was 1942, when 1,987 baby girls were given the name.
There was an important Priscilla in my early life.
That Priscilla was Priscilla Fischer, who taught at the West Tisbury School from 1952 until 1976. I first met her in September 1954, as a brand-new first grader. My family had just moved to Martha’s Vineyard, and I was now a brand new West Tisburyite. Our classroom was a single room on the south side of the second floor of the old Dukes County Academy building. That September, our four grades had about two dozen students. There were five of us in first grade.
The West Tisbury School of those years had four grades. Older children were bused to Tisbury, for fifth grade through high school.
We first graders sat in small chairs at small tables, in the front of the room. The “big” kids sat in real desks, further back from us. The big kid desks were wood and cast iron, the wood of their tops well initialed by previous generations of West Tisbury youngsters. The desks were so old that each desktop had a hole at the right-hand back side. The holes were for inkwells. There were still boxes of “J. L. Hammett” brand steel pen points to be found in the supply closet in the school’s upstairs hall.
In the playground outside were a steel jungle gym, seesaws, a big slide, and swings.
A few years ago, the old school, long since turned into our Town Hall, was being renovated. Demolition was underway, and when I checked the dumpster, I saw this swing, from the old swing set, in the piles of trash. Of course, I immediately dove in, to rescue this priceless antique memento. Soon afterwards, I installed it on the limb of an oak tree in the yard at home.
It sure is nice to look out in the yard on a summer day to see the swing in use.
But I digress. Let’s go back to the 1950’s………
One day during recess, I was on the swings. I had been on them a long time, and a schoolmate wanted a turn. I replied “no”, stayed on the swing, and watched as the fellow student went to the schooldoor steps to appeal to higher authority.
Consultation over, the classmate came back and said it was too her turn, that “Mrs. Fischer had said so.” Still refusing to yield the swing, I told her, “If Mrs. Fischer wants to tell me that, she needs to tell me herself…” The classmate trotted back to the steps to relay what I’d said.
Guess who stood bolt upright on hearing this news? Who came and told me herself?
She brought me back to the steps, probably by my ear, and the rest of my recess was spent sitting on those schooldoor steps, at the side of Priscilla Pettingell Fischer.
Priscilla Fischer died last year at the age of 94. You may read her obituary here: http://www.mvgazette.com/obituaries/2012/06/21/priscilla-fischer-94