School Daze: Grades 4 Thru 6

Hey, it must be a sign that I have fully moved into marketing from editorial, as I’m now willing to bend the rules of grammar a bit and use nonstandard English, such as “Thru.” Well, what do you know?

I’ve had several blog ideas brewing but decided that since my last post was about memories from elementary school and just included grades 1-3, I needed to go ahead and finish that line of thought. So here are some memories from grades 4-6:

Grade 4: My teacher was Mrs. Lane, a firm but kind teacher. I don’t have any outstanding memories from 4th grade other than the fact that I could fit into my teacher’s shoes, size 9. I’ve always had big feet. (Thank goodness they finally stopped growing sometime in my late 20s, and I’ve landed at size 10.5, which makes it challenging for me to find shoes.)

I do remember our art teacher in elementary school. I believe his name was Jim Lane, no relation to Mrs. Lane. He had long salt-and-pepper hair (maybe it was dark brown when I was in elementary school and I just remember him later from pictures) and wore bell-bottom pants. Seems like I remember a pair of orange corduroy pants. I’m sure a paisley shirt was somewhere in his wardrobe. Mr. Lane was a great art teacher. I looked forward to the interesting projects he’d come up with each week. I remember making things with papier-mache (imagine the carat over the a and an accent over the e, because I don’t know how to get those special characters in WordPress…ah, the wonders of technology) and lots of other fun hands-on projects. I wish I’d taken more art after elementary school. I don’t remember taking it at all in junior high and college. We also had chorus with Mrs. Akard. Funny, I don’t remember much about that. I probably was daydreaming again.

We had a Social Studies unit on Colonial America, and I remember researching (as much research as a 9-year-old does) the history. But the main thing that stands out in my memory about the report I turned in (besides my fantastic, in my humble opinion, drawings…which I think I traced on onion skin paper…uh, I should have done my own sketches) is the cover of the report. My aunt Myrt helped me make a colonial quilt pattern. I think it was a flower. It was really beautiful, again, if I do say so myself. I know my mom saved that report…so maybe I’ll unearth that treasure someday. I’m sure it’s in one of the ever-present boxes in our house.

Grade 5: Mrs. Jean Loggins was my teacher. I remember her being softspoken and funny. Maybe that perception is because she was good friends with my mom (their classrooms were across the hall from each other). I don’t remember much about this year except the wonder of getting glasses and realizing that there were actually defined branches and limbs with leaves on trees instead of the Impressionistic style trees I’d been seeing for a long time. I recall Nancy Watson and maybe Sally KIng (they hung around each other a lot) singing the song “Crimson and Clover” (over and over). But the most traumatic event of my childhood years occurred that year. My friend Rhonda got hit by a car as she was crossing the street, and she died. My mom took me to her house, where they had her casket. I couldn’t grasp that such an awful thing could happen to my friend and that I’d never see her again. I cried and cried. Then when we went to her home (a rather humble dwelling, in my memory), I worried about what to say. My mother told me there was really nothing I could say that would take away her family’s pain, but it was important for us to be there. So I think I hugged Rhonda’s mother or at least took her by the hand and told her I was so sorry. I thought about Rhonda a lot after that.

Oh, a pleasant and humorous memory from that year was that a girl named Carol Peacock came to my house. Her mom drove her across town (we lived in Lynn Garden, which was a humble neighborhood compared to the subdivisions where most of my schoolmates lived, Preston Woods, for example). It had been raining a lot, and our yard was soggy. Our family had taken in a stray dog that I named Wilhelmina (don’t know where that came from!), and Wilhelmina showed her gratitude by killing rats (I guess they were outside near our garden) and leaving them as trophies around our yard. I remember Carol coming over to deliver my Christmas present, and I was so embarrassed because there were at least two dead rats, swollen and smelly, in our soggy front yard. I can only imagine the conversation Carol and her mom must have had on the way home. She was still friends with me after that. Sweet girl.

Grade 6: Mrs. Sue Thomas was my teacher. She had curly brown hair and was soft-spoken. (I wonder now if kids took advantage of her good nature, but to me she was just the perfect teacher.) That year I remember a few things: First, I was so relieved that the sixth graders didn’t change classes that year, because that would have meant I would have had my mom as a teacher. Having experienced her as my Sunday school teacher and the teacher of a couple other classes at church and knowing how much she reined me in (translate: I felt suppressed), I was dreading having her for any subject at school because I knew she’d be harder on me than any other student. Life lesson: Sometimes your worst fears aren’t realized. Whew!

Another important happening in sixth grade was the arrival of a student from France, Valerie Dravet. Her dad was an executive at our glass plant in Kingsport, then called American St. Gobain. (The last I heard, it was AFG Industries.) I was intrigued with Valerie and attempted to talk to her in my halting French. Mrs. Leibman, our French teacher since 3rd grade and a native of France, did some translating for Valerie to help us sixth graders learn about her. Valerie and I became friends, and this friendship continued after she returned to France, I think after 7th grade. She was one of two French pen pals I had.

Also in sixth grade I realized that the other girls were interested in boys. My hormones hadn’t hit yet, so I was a little mystified by their attraction to boys. Sally King had a crush on Robb Lee. Probably several other girls did too. I thought a couple of boys were kind of cute, but that was the limit of my attraction to boys.

We had a Bible class once a week, taught by Mrs. Kathryn Lockett. I enjoyed the classes but felt sorry for a kid who was a Mormon: William Reed (later called Chuck). He sat out of the Bible classes, and I remember thinking, “Well, that must be awkward for him.” I believe everyone else in the class participated in Bible class.

I was in Girl Scouts, and we met at a nearby Lutheran church. I remember Emily Schneider, Nancy Watson, Sally King, and Nancy Robertson (accurate, Nancy?) being in my troop. I loved working on the badges for different things but selling Girl Scout cookies? Not so much. My best times in Girl Scouts were when we went on REAL tent camping trips (as opposed to the wussy sleeping in a cabin that my daughter’s Girl Scout troop called camping) and learned how to pitch a tent, make “aluminum foil stew,” and sang as we hiked. My first memory of singing in harmony was “White Coral Bells,” a song I learned in Girl Scouts. And most autumns I take a hike and sing “Swinging along the open road, in the fall of the year…” as I recall those fun times in Girl Scouts. And oh yes, I was trained in the domestic art of cooking in Girl Scouts. My mom was so relieved to outsource a little cooking (and the teaching of cooking) to me. Our first meal to prepare for our parents had poppy-seed bread and chocolate fudge pie (the only dishes I can remember, probably because those were the ones I prepared). I cooked fudge pie for years after that! I need to pull out that recipe again…it was certainly yummy with vanilla ice cream.

Ah, Dickson Elementary School. What memories. We kids were learning about how to interact with each other and discovering some important life skills. I remember being chosen last (or close to the last) to be on whatever team we had in Phys Ed, mostly because I was fat and couldn’t run so well. I did okay at kickball, although I ran a little slow. I excelled at Four Square, but we didn’t play that much. I abhorred the Presidential Fitness Tests, which started sometime in the 1960s as a result of John F. Kennedy’s emphasis on fitness. I dreaded the 300-yard-dash because it wore me out, and I was always one with the slowest times. And the flexed arm hang: while most other girls could do this for what seemed like an eternity, I could barely put my chin up to the bar and hang there for a few seconds, all the time shaking like crazy. I managed to play softball, but again, I was one of the last chosen for a team. This made me feel really insecure about my physical abilities, and I was naturally awkward anyway.

And oh yes, I nearly forgot to mention that in 6th grade we had band tryouts. My mom wanted me to play the saxophone; I wanted to play the flute. (The saxophone just sounded horrible to me at that time.) When the band director looked at our mouths to assess which instruments we might do best at playing and he realized that my mom and I were at odds on  my instrument choice, he wisely recommended the clarinet. I decided that wasn’t such a bad instrument as the saxophone. Our dog Sandy (which we got when I was in 7th grade; sorry, I got a little off subject here, since the topic of this blog is grades 4-6) didn’t like my practicing the clarinet so much, though. She howled when I practiced, squeaking a lot as beginning band students tend to do. When I practiced the piano, Sandy would come and lie under the piano bench, giving her stamp of approval to that instrument.  

Thus ends my chronicle about my elementary school years. If you’ve lasted to this point, you deserve a reward. I just can’t think of what. Any suggestions?

School Daze: Grades 1 Through 3

It must be a sign I’m getting older:  I’ve been reminiscing a lot lately. Maybe my daughter’s college graduation got me in a reflective mode. Perhaps it was because my friend Nancy Robertson, whom I’ve known since first grade and who went to my college, visited recently and we started talking about childhood as well as college memories.

In the last month I’ve thought a lot about my elementary school days. I still remember many small happenings and lots of people from Dickson Elementary School, which also happened to be where my mother taught. (Confession: I was embarrassed that my mother taught at my school. I heard other kids talk about her and how mean she was. Actually, I think she was just strict and some kids couldn’t handle that. But still I was sensitive about their comments.)

I’ve written about some funny memories in other posts (“First Grade Exposes,” for one).

Here are some  memories of my elementary school days:

First grade–In addition to writing  revealing stories about my family, I  recall Jeff Jennings sticking his foot in the commode during a bathroom break. The class was grossed out by his behavior, and this was one of the few times I remember Mrs. Ingram being a little frazzled. I recall this incident every time I wonder why a child did something crazy. I discovered while raising my own kids that young children cannot answer the question, “Why did you do that?” Guess it’s all part of learning impulse control.

I remember Show-and-Tell in first grade. I took my Chatty Cathy doll, my prized Christmas present, for Show-and-Tell once, and that was not a wise move. Scotty Thornton pulled her string…hard…and Chatty Cathy was speechless after that. (Do I have lingering issues with forgiveness? No, it was just one of those things that happen with young kids.)

Also in first grade, I was playing on the playground one day after school, waiting for my mom (as always, she was one of the last teachers to leave the building. That habit of working late has rubbed off on me in my career, unfortunately). I must have been absorbed in my play, because I didn’t notice that I needed to go to the bathroom. Also, it was muddy on the playground that day. After I tired of playing, I decided to go get in the car and wait for my mom. I thought, “Oooh, my feet are messy…Mom won’t like this,”  so I sat in the floorboard on my mud-caked feet. It must have been a fall day, because when I cracked the windows, the temperature inside the car was comfortable yet slightly warm. I grew sleepy. When my mother finally came to the car to go home, she discovered her muddy daughter asleep. An added surprise was that the car reeked of urine…because I peed on myself while asleep. I remember my mom just shaking her head as she awoke me.

Oh, and the challenge of keeping up with my lunch money…my mom finally bought me a little snap-shut change purse to wear on a chain around my neck, because obviously I needed some organizational assistance. (She was probably tired of my knocking on her 6th-grade classroom door and saying, “Mom, I need some lunch money again.” )

Second grade–Mrs. Patton was my teacher. After Mrs. Ingram, my sweet, gentle, fun-loving first grade teacher, Mrs. Patton seemed a stern presence, and she intimidated me. Once just as our class began a spelling test, I raised my hand to ask to go to the bathroom. Mrs. Patton had just dismissed the class to the restrooms before the test, but for some reason I didn’t go. Perhaps the line was too long, or maybe I was daydreaming (I did that a lot). Anyway, she refused me permission when I asked to be excused, much to my chagrin. I sat at my desk, crossing my legs and wiggling a bit during the test. Finally I couldn’t hold it any longer, and a yellow puddle appeared on the floor. My observant distant cousin, Harry Barry, who sat in the aisle next to me, looked over, pointed to the puddle, and whispered, “What’s that?” Of course I was mortified and blushed, but I bluffed and whispered back, “Oh, it’s just some lemonade.” Yeah, right. I didn’t fool him.

I think I mentioned in another blog that I slapped a guy in second grade while we were out on the playground. Mrs. Patton was kind that day, for she asked me why I slapped David Crawford, and I told her, “He looked up my dress. ” She said, “Well, then he deserved to be slapped” and she proceeded to fuss at David. (Poor guy. He did grow up to be a nice man, BTW.)

Third grade was a memorable year. It was an exciting time as we were learning cursive writing (I hate that many schools have dropped cursive writing from their curriculum…I just read an article this week about how good it is for developing fine motor control and also engaging different parts of the brain). I loved learning all those loops and the weird capital letters like Z, for instance.

Third grade was a challenging year as we memorized our multiplication tables (my mom drilled me nightly). Memorization was kind of a breeze, but I had trouble building on my knowledge of multiplication when we learned about division. Our classes rotated among teachers for certain subjects, and I had Mrs. Murrell for math. I began struggling with math in third grade. It had always been a little abstract to me, but in third grade I hit the wall.

To my horror, one day after Mrs. Murrell handed out graded math papers and I saw a big red “F” at the top of my paper, she called me to the front of the class. I’m not sure whether she said it loud enough for all to hear, but my face burned as she told me, “You are lazy.” I was so humiliated. When I told my mom about it that night, I witnessed her getting mad for one of the rare times in my school career. I can only imagine what Mrs. Murrell heard from her, but I do know that Mom stood up for me (again, a rarity, because she almost always took the teacher’s part) and said something to Mrs. Murrell. Never again did any teacher call me lazy.

I learned the facts of life (sort of) in third grade. One day I heard some girls whispering and giggling, and being the curious child I was (and wanting to fit in with the cool girls, Sally King, Nancy Watson, and Becky Hawk), I approached them and asked what they were talking about. They said, “Mrs. Murrell’s pregnant.” An only child and the youngest in my family, I had no idea what that word meant. I asked, “What’s ‘pregnant’?” The girls looked at one another, and Becky kindly replied, “I think that’s something you need to ask your mother.” My mom was so grateful that Becky answered me that way. She didn’t tell me much, just what she thought I was ready to hear. (What a contrast to the way some children are raised today.)

A very sad incident occurred in third grade. One of our classmates had leukemia. She had been absent for a while, and I think our teacher ( Mrs. Milam or Mrs. Bush?) had mentioned her from time to time. We wrote letters and sent her cards. One day our teacher gathered our class and had us sit in a circle on the floor. She explained very sensitively that our young friend had died. I remember being totally shocked. How could that happen to someone our age? I don’t remember much else about it, but I’m sure that writing about our feelings was probably part of the “therapy” that followed.

And the infamous “Race to 100 Pounds” challenge took place in third grade. I’ve always been a competitive sort…this trait runs in my family, especially among me and my cousins…so when Harry Barry said, “Hey, let’s see who can get to 100 pounds first” (I then weighed a fairly normal 85 pounds), I accepted his challenge, and I won! Harry, I will never forgive you for that. (OK, not really. It was a stupid mistake for me to accept his challenge.) I was fat for at least the next 4 years. And I felt fat all the way up into my 30s.

Ah, memories. I see I have gotten up to over 1,400 words in this post, so I think it’s way past time to shut up. When I can find a picture of 3rd grade (if I have one), I will add it to this blog.

First Grade Exposés*

I’ve told my family (John, Julie, and Daniel) about some of the writing I did in first grade. They were amused (slightly), so I thought I would share some of these stories in my blog.

First, you need to know that my mom was a teacher. She lived and breathed education. She was always encouraging me to write stories to express my feelings. For example, when my beagle Floppy died when I was in second grade, Mom said, “Why don’t you write Bobbie Murphy [my cousin] about it?” So here’s one more thing I can blame on my mom (heh-heh): my NEED to write.

I had the good fortune to have the best first grade teacher ever, Mrs. Shelby Ingram at Dickson Elementary School in Kingsport, Tennessee. I don’t recall many details about her except that she was pretty, nurturing, and kind. I remember her blond hair and her sweet voice.

Mrs. Ingram read a lot to our class. (The boring Dick and Jane books were in vogue back in those days…”See Spot run,” etc. This was before Dr. Seuss became popular.) Mrs. Ingram knew there was much more to life than what happened with Dick and Jane, so she had us write stories about our lives.

I must have had a reporter gene in me. My mom saved lots of my writing samples from each grade. I think she must have been embarrassed by some of my reports. Mrs. Ingram taught at the same school as my mom, and she was probably tickled at some of the insights she gained on my family. She even shared some of them with the principal, Frances Coates, who was good friends with my aunt, Reba Robinette, also a principal.

Here are a few of my first grade writings:

“Mommy told Daddy to shut up!” I wrote this brief note, complete with stick-figure illustrations, after hearing a rare argument between my parents at the kitchen table. My mother had drilled in me that it was rude to say “Shut up” to anyone. But on this particular occasion, she and my dad were having a “discussion” that obviously frustrated them both. Finally Mommy said, “Ah, Walt, why don’t you just shut up!” To which Daddy replied by rapidly working his jaw, sticking out his tongue (not in a nyah-nyah-nyah fashion but more of an “I’m so frustrated I can’t even put into words what I’m thinking” manner), and not saying a word…but his face reddened, and I thought he was about to bust a gut. Meanwhile, I looked on with big eyes, thinking, “But Mommy told me NEVER to say ‘shut up’!” I kept quiet at the time, but of course, my thoughts had to come out eventually, and they did when Mrs. Ingram gave us our next writing opportunity.

“Janet comes to our house and irns.” This “story” was about my cousin Janet, the teenage daughter of one of my dad’s sisters. Evidently my mom was having trouble keeping up with the ironing (everything had to be ironed back then, in the days before permanent press). My parents wanted to help my aunt and uncle, who were financially challenged with several kids and my uncle’s low-paying job … plus, they wanted to encourage Janet to stay in high school and pursue further education. So once a week, Janet came to our house from Gate City, Virginia (about 15-20 minutes away from us) to do the ironing and other housework and earn a little money.

“Reb comes to our house, eats a lot, and then she gets fat.” My principal (Frances Coates) especially enjoyed this story and teased my Aunt Reb about it. Reb always had a Rubenesque figure; she was about 5’7″ (compared to my mom’s lanky 6′ 1 3/4″ frame) and weighed somewhere between 160-170 pounds. She was perpetually dieting but never quite succeeded in losing weight. That was probably because she liked foods such as what she called “diet cantaloupe”–half of a cantaloupe with a big scoop of vanilla ice cream. Anyway, she often joined us for dinner in the days before she bought the house next door to us. And when she came to our house, she ate with tres bien appetit (Reb did everything with gusto).

And my favorite, “Mommy wears a braw.” Even at a young age I was fascinated with the mysteries of the human body.

These are all the stories I can think of at 6:30 on a Saturday morning. I’m sure I have more stowed away somewhere, as my mom saved stacks of my elementary school papers. At any rate, all I can say is that:

1. First grade teachers (and any elementary school teachers) must be paragons of discretion.

2. Childhood writings are precious creations that reveal a lot about the personalities of children. Thanks to my mom’s habit of saving my “creations,” I saved many of Daniel and Julie’s writings and stashed them in their memory boxes. I have every intention of making scrapbooks, but so far life hasn’t slowed down enough for me to do that. I’ve taken to just pulling together snapshots in small photo albums and not worrying about whether they’re in chronological order…I just write captions for them. Someday I’ll get the rest organized…

3. My parents were patient people. They tolerated my yellow journalism. 😀 They cherished me and did everything they could to nurture me and encourage what they saw as potential gifts.

4. I am a lucky woman to have been the object of such love. I have read that parents are our first glimpses of God, and I agree with that assertion. I believe in a loving, forgiving God largely because of my parents’ modeling of those traits.

5. Life is a gift. Often we don’t realize what a gift we possess until a health scare happens or our family undergoes a crisis. I am most grateful to have wonderful childhood memories of a loving family.

*Or should that be First-Grade Exposés? Only editors worry about these details.

What’s It All About, Alfie?

Those who remember this song are, well, old. I hate to admit that I think I remember the correct title. I cannot remember the lyrics, though.

Just a brief entry today because I’m in a hurry (marketing mode). The answer is, I don’t know. And I don’t mind admitting that, which just goes to show that I am EMBRACING my old age.

Yeah, right. Every now and then I kick and scream. Mostly I kick. Every now and then I say, “Dammit.” And then I wonder where that came from. I try to whisper it most of the time. Every now and then, though…it just feels good to yell that.

Or, as a woman speaking at a women’s luncheon at my church on Sunday said, ‘Yell, HO! HO! HO! Now, laugh!” (big belly laughs) I took joy in yelling “Ho, ho, ho!”, all the while enjoying the double meaning of that word. There is a reason I’m an editor: I have a dirty mind. Somebody’s got to think about these things, or else Christian publishers get embarrassed by printing something awful. (Still, funny errors slip through. I could probably write a post about those.)

Enjoy the day. And say “Ho! Ho! Ho!” while you’re at it, followed by deep belly laughter. You just might smile.