Shakespeare was a visionary; he looked into the future and saw a striking young woman. He named his character Kate. The vision he saw was Edith Waycott, striking anyone and everyone, physically and verbally, that got in her way.
In an age when it was not proper for a young lady to pursue higher education, she earned degrees in German Literature, Physics and mastered the piano (solo concerts on two continents). Being mildly unattractive and more accomplished than most men, she was not popular at parties (and didn’t really care).
Mom Vogt had many stories, all worthy of The Family Jewels, but I have selected one that took place in mid-1942 and is set in the Brooklyn Navy Shipyards, Mom was in her late 50’s and weighed about 115 lbs. Her eldest son was serving in the Navy, her second son in the Army Air Corp and her teenage daughter was driving her insane.
The shipyard was staffed by men, women, giants and dwarves, who, for whatever “defect” were felt to be unfit for military service; and a large percentage were functionally illiterate.
Mom had always felt the illiteracy was intolerable in any circumstance; race, gender or station; and at this time, the government agreed with her. The war effort was demanding much f our shipyards; building new ships, refitting commercial craft to military specs and repairing the vessels that had already engaged in action.
Welders, fitters, machinists and riggers walked through the ‘yard’s gates each day skilled in their trades but these new ‘yards needed workers that could do their respective jobs with less supervision, mobile enough to move from task to task, ship to ship, they had to be able to read instructions, instructions that might be unique for each job; measurements must be made within exacting tolerances; shipyards needed teachers.
Mom Vogt volunteered, she, like her students, wanted to do as much as she able; for the war effort and her students.
Her first day as teacher in this rag-tag school was quite memorable. She entered the room assigned to her; her students had already arrived and were greeted to a hollow voice yelling for help. The class sat quietly, hands folded in front of them and resting on cafeteria style tables. Twenty-seven bodies and the roster listed twenty-eight, “Help, get me out of here you assholes.” No one moved there was no reaction at all, “Get me out of here, hello…teacher, get me out.”
In the corner of the room was am industrial size garbage can, Mom walked toward it, the call for help got louder. Lifting the lid and glancing inside saw a little person sitting inside. He looked at her unsmiling face cupped his hands round his mouth and quietly let out a “Help, get me out.” At this point the entire class, the little man included broke into laughter.
As the laughter began to subside, Mom pointed to a huge young man, “Get him out, now.” She looked at the class, each and every face and knew that she was the teacher that had bullied, insulted, been bullied or just didn’t care in their lives, the reason they were here.
“Class is dismissed. I want you here at 8:00 am tomorrow and everyone bring a phone book.” She turned her back to the class, gathered her things together, pinned her hat in place and left.
By 8:00 the following morning there were twenty-two bodies sitting in front of Edith Waycott Vogt, she glanced up, jotted a line or two in a journal before stepping from behind her desk. She saw three New York City phone books (even then they were impressive). She pointed to the little man, formally of the garbage can, “Get the phone book from the pay phone in the hall. There was something in her voice that didn’t invite the word “no” (I knew that tone all too well).
He returned with the massive missal, “Pick one.” A book was selected; she picked it up, returned to her desk, turned and faced the class. She tilted back her bottom resting on the edge of the desk coyly crossing her ankles and with a little smile, a twinkle in her eye she preceded, with little effort, to rip the phone book in two.
“We will begin with the alphabet…”
The three intact phone books remained on the tables for the rest of her classes. Every day before or after class someone would try and fail to match the teacher heroic feat and her twenty-two class monitors never allowed any disruptions during class; and they were very, very glad she was on our side.
For those that doubt this phone book trick could be accomplished; Mom explained it to me (understand that she did have an octave and a half reach, big hands). First you fan the pages as if to show that the book is real, the purpose is to create a minuet space between pages. Second you grip the book with your hands about three inches apart. Draw the hands closer together further separating the pages. Finally, with a twisting motion you begin to tear the book, carefully, one page at a time.
I have seen this done by various strong man acts in several circus side shows and always with great staining and displays of triumph; but my Grandmother had the power.