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.

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