For Diane Schneider McArdle
At Colfax Avenue Elementary School in North Hollywood I had Mrs. Grover as my fifth-grade teacher. Mrs. Grover was the most elderly, in appearance, of anyone who taught me before college with her fully grey head of thick hair and her leathery pruned face and old fashioned eyeglasses. She was very alert though. From any vantage point, she could spot the slightest nuance of a ten year-old’s mischief at any desk in her classroom. I was pretty sure I could outrun her, if I could only get to the door first.
One day, the most attractive girl in our class, Diane Schneider, came to school with terrible scabs on her face. The story circulated among the children in the class was: she had been bitten on her left cheek by a dog through a fence. It resembled a mauling. The long scratches looked as if the canine’s fangs had briefly dragged across her perfect complexion. Of course, everyone who saw her wanted to ask what had happened. Mrs. Grover tried to put a stop to this by explaining the injury to the class and that it wasn’t polite to stare or to ask about it. I remember thinking, though I had only a half a dozen friends in the class of 29 students, this was our fifth grade class, and our Diane. The kids’ and Mrs. Grover’s.
Diane was a magnetically charismatic girl. She had, to her classmates, what was commonly referred to as “it” or “je ne sais quoi”, in the twentieth century. Boys and girls alike paid much attention to her at our school. She had luminous, nearly black, straight hair, shiny Van Dyke brown eyes and flawless olive skin. Her fine nose and heart–shaped face seemed to fittingly reflect the always pleasant expression she wore. She was fairly tall and long-limbed for her age, was a good dancer and had hip taste in music. On the strength of her charm, combined with her beauty, she was often the topic of after school discussions among her male peers and her name was brought up regularly at Cub Scouts’ gatherings. There was one sleeveless orange velour top she wore that I remember so vividly. Velour was quite popular then and very few people ever looked good in that color ― she looked great in it.
I remember admiring Diane more than ever for the way she was handling herself immediately after the dog attack. She looked on the verge of tears at times but it wasn’t for feeling sorry for herself, just the rush of emotions in a ten year-old girl getting too much of the wrong kind of attention. I could see resilience in her; it was palpable. (In this day and age a cosseted girl would be stroked and coddled by her alpha super-mom and assured that only the best plastic surgeon would repair her face.) Diane wasn’t about to let this become central to her social life at school. On the playground, I was solemnly told the whole story by a boy who said he got the details from one Diane’s best friends in our class.
She had noticed a beautiful dog in a yard as she was on a walk in her neighborhood and went to befriend it. Speaking to the animal lovingly as she approached, it attacked as soon as she leaned forward. I thought it was terrible and unfair. What a frightening and vicious animal! All Diane wanted was to show it affection and it attacked ruthlessly without warning. I really hated to see her like this, but I couldn’t let her think I was too worried. I also thought that because she was a girl, she was less wary than a boy would have been approaching an unfamiliar dog. By the way, there is a difference between the way a man and a woman regard a dog. A woman sees a dog as her child, she will teach it, feed it, shelter it and walk it accordingly; a man sees a dog as his companion or buddy ― hence the moniker “man’s best friend.”
To my knowledge, Diane never applied any kind of topical treatment, such as aloe vera or a special cosmetic ointment, yet her face healed as if it had been reborn. She was pristine and flawless again within weeks. And she was cheerful throughout, and because of this misadventure, I knew she was brave.
Today, decades later, I finally got the actual facts of the story from Diane herself. What follows is, in my opinion, truly the actions of a feminine psyche.
She wrote: “I was actually bit on my back (still have the scar) however, there were scratches on my face from the dog’s nails from when I was trying to run away. It was a female German Shepherd who had just had a litter of puppies. One of them had gotten out from under a chain link fence. I was in the process of trying to return the puppy over the fence to the owner’s teenage daughter, but I wasn’t tall enough to meet her hands, so she opened the gate ― ever so slightly ― and the mother dog pushed the gate open and began to chase me down the alley, even though I didn’t have the puppy any longer. She attacked me, and bit my back and I do remember her jumping up on her hind legs. Probably in trying to get away, I turned around and that’s when she clawed me. It was a very terrifying experience! I am not surprised that you would remember it and were so thoughtful about it.”
Diane recently reconnected with me when she discovered my name on facebook . I then learned she married one of our good mutual friends from middle school, Tim McArdle, whom I had not heard from since our days at North Hollywood High School together. (I left California when I was 20 and did not return, except to visit a few times, for 13 years. I came back to live here again for 19 months and left, for a second time, for more than a decade.) The two of them had not seen each other for nine years when another good friend of all of ours from middle school, Joe Horvath, reintroduced them. Tim and Diane have two grown daughters, one attending college, the other an LAUSD elementary school teacher who recently bestowed a granddaughter on them. The whole family still resides in the Greater Los Angeles Area.