grade school

The Letter is “T”

Mrs. G.  was my first grade teacher.    Now, keep in mind I’m from a small town in South Central Texas and this little hamlet wasn’t very enterprising.  In fact, I think back on it now and I believe progress scared the hell out of the City Fathers (this was 1965, there were no City Mothers yet).  Construction of a Dairy Queen in late 1972 made some quake in their boots.

Even so, many who graduated from High School especially after World War II went to college  and then came back for some reason.   Family perhaps; it was easy and  familiar.    Others  left and never returned.  Still,  a few went home the night they graduated from High School  and just stayed there.

My father and mother dated in High School.   Both went to college and both came back home.   They got married and spawned three girls.    I’m the youngest.  Many of my parents’ siblings also came back home, settled down and had kids, so it wasn’t a big deal that my first grade teacher and a few subsequent teachers in later grades, also taught my older sisters, most of my cousins, my parents, every aunt and uncle.  They were also either friends or members of the same clubs and organizations as both of my grandmothers.

So misbehaving  in class: not an option.   Comparisons to older family members:  a constant occurrence.

I was hardly unique.  Lots of kids I knew were second generation students, especially in Mrs. G’s.  class.    She taught everyone in my family.   She was also principal of the school which housed first and second grades.   She was kid savvy, large and imposing.   She could be stern when need be, but basically, she was good teacher and above all, she was extremely patient.   One would  have to be in order to teach students with varying degrees of aptitudes..  And back then, kids were piled into three separate first grade classrooms.    I’m not sure of the methods used in terms placement, but I remember my first grade class being a mixed bag of quite gifted kids and others who (in the simplest terms) weren’t.

For privacy’s sake, I’ll call him Carl.

He came from a large family from “the wrong side of the tracks” as they say.    He sat across the aisle from me in  Mrs. G’s class.   He was very tall, lanky and shy.   He kept to himself, in class and during recess.   He’d talk infrequently.   Occasionslly, he’d initiate a conversation.   At other times, you might attempt to talk to him, but he’d ignore you and look straight ahead.   When he and I did speak, which was rare,  conversations were  always brief and about mundane things, such as the the Friday night football game or the raging thunderstorm that blew through  the night before.    Yes, Carl was different,  but he remains a very vivid first grade memory for two reasons.

Reason #1:  I remember looking at him;  his long legs,  the well worn, hand me down   “highwater” pants he wore.  I stared at his profile and saw  longish, blond whiskers growing above his upper lip.    At the time, I didn’t quite understand what that meant since none of the other boys in the entire  school  were as hairy or as tall.   Later on, I realized  he must have been held back several grades.   It was either that or Ma Nature cruelly bestowed puberty upon him at the tender age of six, which college biology later taught me, was highly unlikely.

Reason # 2:  One day in May, when the end of first grade loomed near, Mrs. G decided to test us on spelling and our familiarity with the alphabet.   She’d hold up photos of simple objects and we would either be called upon or we’d raise our hand s to tell her what the object in the drawing was and then we’d spell it out now for her.    These were easily identifiable things, nothing above our reading  level.

For example, she’d hold up a picture of a boat and Sheila would raise her hand and tell Mrs. G that the item began  with a “B.”    It was boat and spelled  B-O-A-T.      Gold star for Sheila.     Then, she’d hold up a pic of a car and Timmy would get a chance to demonstrate his spelling prowess.

Mrs. G got all the way down to “S” without a hitch.     Then came the next letter in the alphabet.     She held up a photo of a common vegetable, a terrific side dish, often baked or mashed, great with fried chicken or diced and fried, making it the perfect accompaniment for a hamburger.

Carl uncharscteristicslly raised his hand and announced to Mrs. G and the entire class that the object in the drawing began with the letter “T”.     Mrs.  G stopped him before he could say anything else.  I distinctly remember the perplexed look on her face.

“A “T” Carl?    Why would you say the item in this picture begins with a “T”?, she asked.

To which Carl replied adamantly, “Well, it’s a tater, ain’t it?”

I don’t remember how Mrs. G handled it.    I don’t remember how the class  responded.   But I remember thinking it was funny and to a six year old girl, it was.  I knew what a tater was a slang term for a potato.   I was six.  Name a youngster who doesn’t like Tater Tots or know they are born from potatoes.     But for me, it was also the emphatic way Carl answered Mrs. G’s questiin, as if every other  human was an idiot  for NOT knowing  the object in the photo wasn’t commonly called a tater.   There was an unusual certainty, a surprising confidence in a voice rarely ever heard.    There was  no gold star for Carl that day, but you have to give him credit.     If the bulk of what’s learned in childhood comes from home, he merely proved  that point, whether right or wrong and in his In his world, a potato was a tater.   Case closed.

My childhood memoties are getting blurrier everyday, but while I clearly remember Carl’s tater comment, I honestly don’t remember him after that.  I can’t remember him being in any my other classes.  I have no point of reference, either.  After a million moves,  I have no idea where any of my yearbooks are and I’ve only been to one of two class reunions.   I went to the first one, 30 years ago.    And I don’t keep up with my classmates, so I’ve no one to ask, not that they’d know of his whereabouts either.   You see, this particular  class of 1977 has never been very close.    But if I were to see Carl today, I’d ask him if he remembered me then I’d hug him, if he’d let me, and I’d ask him about his life, hoping he’d be willing to fill me in on things since 1966.

At the appropriate time,  I’d say goodbye and wish him well.   And I’d silently  apologize to him  for being a victim of ignorance to certain disabilities, which  at the time, was also used as another means of exercising prejudice.    Once again, I don’t know what happened to Carl, but it was obvious his problems hadn’t been properly dealt with by his family, but due to certain circumstances, might not have even been aware there was a problem.  Nor was he properly dealt with by the educational system in the place I once called home.    I’m currently far removed from anything school or student-related, but I’m pretty that 51-years ago, having developmental issues, coupled with being from a poor, struggling family  meant it was easier for educators to label, allow those particular kids to slip through the cracks, then simply look the other way.

I think Carl was a prime example of an unspoken caste system that once existed in public education.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Growing Up & Loathing It

I like to write, but I do so from a different approach, I think.

I sit down in front of my computer (named Darren– a misspelled tribute to Bobby, the cool, hep-cat 60’s crooner, as opposed to Dick York) , turn it on and stare at it as it glares back at me.   Oh, how I do hate the tyranny of the blank screen.

Nevertheless, this is a daily ritual.   I never know what I’m going to write about and I think this lack of preparation bothers Darren.

In fact, I know it does.  Because Darren intentionally mispaills words and desropts sintax.   I assure yoo that it aren’t goht nuthang to do wit my aibiliteez as a righter.  It coitanly aLL goes in korrektlee.

I REMEMBER

I’ve had an interesting life–I think.   Normal, by most standards–I think and often, that serves as fodder for my blogposts.

I’m the youngest of three girls.  Father now retired, was a successful car dealer and my mother, for the most part, spent most of her time toiling in the fields of Amana, Kenmore and Maytag drudgery.

She was a hausfrau; which of course, is German for “martyr”.

Growing up in small town South Central Texas was interesting, too.  When I was a kid, we only had three networks–four if you include PBS, which back then, we rarely did–and this was when stations weren’t 24 hour stations.  Once you heard the national anthem at midnight, that was it,  until the early morning inspirational show,  ”Lamp Unto My Feet” started the next broadcast day.

Variety was not the spice of life back then.   There were two small grocery stores in my hometown and they carried the same things; one library,  two pharmacies and one clothing store, three car dealerships and a bank and a savings and loan.   I don’t remember their being more than a couple of restaurants.   Chains stayed away, save for the Dairy Queen which didn’t arrive until early 1973.

My father thought this meant real progress.  See, he and my mother were high school sweethearts, both born and raised in that little berg.  Not that they were “hayseeds” or anything like that, but they liked small town life.  It was safe and secure and familiar.   They also liked seeing progress.   For my father, this fast food chain represented that.

So, in order to give Dairy Queen a reason to reign supreme over her small town subjects, my father insisted that we eat there regularly.   Hamburgers one day…chili dogs the next…a steak finger basket later in the week.

A dipped cone for dessert.

So, in between lunch and dinner at DQ, we lived the nice, quiet life of a small town family.   I had an OK relationship with my parents, but there were things we just didn’t talk about.   Was it avoidance?  I’m not sure, but it forced me to learn about life on my own.  And I did.  TV helped, so did my friends; there was the “Weekly Reader” and of course, Walter Cronkite.  I’d come home from school each afternoon, do my homework and finish up just as old Walt was announcing the number of B-52’s lost over Hanoi that day.

Vietnam.

My father was very supportive of that conflict.   In his opinion we were there for a “damn good reason”.  He also loved Nixon, considered LBJ to be a polecat  and thought there was a Communist lurking behind every trench coat.   He’s mellowed some in his old age, but for a while there, he was, in some ways, Archie Bunker with a college degree.

For example, in High School, I went out with a Vietnamese boy named Trahn.   Great guy, first generation American, born and raised in the states.  Still, all my father could see was that he wasn’t Occidental in appearance.   Daddy knew his name, but insisted on calling him “Charlie”.

I didn’t understand what that meant until much later in life.

My mother?   She was better–more tolerant of the things my father couldn’t deal with, but rather strict and all about propriety.  We were forbidden to call boys––ever.  We couldn’t accept phone calls after 9pm and NO dating until age 16.

And for some reason, she and I never had “the talk”.   I don’t know how I learned about the birds and the bees, but I did.  Perhaps it was that educational film the school nurse showed just the girls back in fifth grade.

The made-for-prepubescent females, school flick, “Growing Up and Liking It” addressed all the issues.  We learned about our impending monthlies and all the feminine hygiene products that end in an “X”.    We also learned that it was OK to bathe and ride a bike when in the throws of our  menses but we should stop short of swimming.

You see, “Growing Up and Liking It” was produced in the late 50’s.

I saw the film, took my new found knowledge home, fully prepared to “grow up” and “like it” someday, but I never told mother about the fact that I’d ever seen the film.   That I knew a thing about the punctuation of my own pudendum (periods), nor did she ever broach the subject.

Years later, I asked my mother why we never had “the talk”.   She replied, “OK Laurie.  Better late than never.  What does my adult daughter want to know”.

I asked, “After all these years, would you please tell me about the facts of life?”.

Her response?   “It was an NBC sitcom which starred a black chick named Tootie”.

Well, that explained cramps.

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