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.

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