Monday, December 20, 2010

It's Elementary

We were students at Ridge Road Elementary School through fourth grade. None of the three years that followed first grade with Mrs. Todd are so clear in my memory as that year was. Second grade is probably the least clear. I remember only that our teacher was Mrs. Miller, young and pretty, I think, who went off on maternity leave somewhere around mid-year. She was replaced by Mrs. Louise Smith, one of my mom's best friends from college, and a person I had known for as long as I could remember, which, of course, wasn't terribly long. I even called her by her nickname, "Butchie," when we weren't in school. My two sole specific memories of that year are when some kid, I'm not sure who, began behaving really badly, and our principal, Mr. VanHoover, came down to our class. When the kid continued to twist and shout, Mr. VanHoover whacked him one on the butt. How the times change. For most of my teaching career, striking a kid in any way was called "making a career decision." My other second grade memory involves "show and tell" or maybe we called it "news" that year. I had gone to the movies with my dad on a Sunday afternoon and seen a really cool science fiction movie and a western set in South America. The South American western included piranha and an anaconda, and starred Frank Lovejoy, I think. I loved both the movies, but when I told about it in "show and tell" the next day, I decided to embroider the experience, by saying we also saw 20 cartoons, and our whole family came. Then I worried for a week about getting caught in my untruth. I still wonder what possessed me to enlarge upon such a great time.

Third grade is basically memoryless. Our teacher was Mrs. Cataldo. I remember her as kind of brusque but basically nice. That's all I remember. Was that the year we learned long division?

Fourth grade is more of the same. Basically zip. Our teacher was Mrs. Martin, wife of Ralph Martin, who was high school principal for a long time, I think. I struggle for a single memory--drawing a pilgrim or making a mailbox for valentines--but I cannot locate anything specific.

In 5th grade, we moved to the new Bay Road Elementary School. When I arrived, I was surprised to find that my room was way down in the area where the first and second graders, the little kids, had their classrooms. What had I done? I hadn't flunked or anything. But when I went and found my class down in the little kid wing, I also found a bunch of kids I knew, Charlie Moore, Jim Ross, Bill Merritt, Gary Masline, and more. There were some other kids there, too. Big kids! Sixth graders! Bob Moline, who I knew from Little League, and Todd Cooper, who lived near us, and Steve Custer, who would get rheumatic fever that year and be out of school for months. Soon, as we sat in our new desks, our hands folded in expectation, we discovered that we were part of what I guess was an educational experience. We were in a class with fifteen 5th graders and ten 6th graders, and our beaming teacher was named Mrs. Steepee. She was amazing, wonderful, remains one of my favorite teachers ever. As that fantastic year rolled along, I came to understand that we 15 fifth graders were often given our heads, so to speak, to work on projects, while Mrs. Steepee brought the sixth graders along on their work at a little slower rate. Often we were together on stuff. I remember many great things about that year, but the two I most cherish and which I tried to adapt to my own teaching style were the sense of security we always felt with Mrs. Steepee and the magic of her voice as she read to us from wonderful books! She introduced us to Freddy, the Pig. What a milestone.

Sixth Grade. Our teacher that year was a formidable instructor. Our teacher could enthrall students with a subject, delight them, excite them until they were jumping in their seats, but then, sometimes, crush that youthful wonder with a ridiculously angry overreaction to a word or a waving hand. We learned lots that year! I remember science and math, the first little intro to algebra, our social studies units, especially the one about Maine, and Bill Merritt's model viking ship with the sail made out of a piece of pajamas. My greatest memory of sixth grade was the day our teacher slipped and fell into the waste basket.

When I next blog, it'll be about 7th grade at the old Webster Junior-Senior High School, the school with the giant study hall, where the desks were bolted to the floor so they could never step out of line.

Addendum: Anyone who read this earlier might notice that I have edited my paragraph on the 6th grade. It's two days before Christmas after all, and high time to forgive the goings on of 50+ years ago.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Memory of Michael

When I attended my 45th high school reunion in August, I talked to a bunch of people about my "Dubois Hill" blog. I assured them that I would be blogging more, and soon, about our growing up. It didn't happen, though. I was overwhelmed with family responsibilities and the responsibility of writing and directing a play as a fundraiser in mid-October for our town library. September and October passed and I hadn't blogged at all. Then November began, and I started thinking about the play I have to write for next summer. "Thinking" is the operative word; I was suffering from writer's block. Now December has begun, and I am still without an idea for SUMMERPLAY. I hope that blogging again might get my stalled creativity started.

Back in August, I wrote about first grade and Mrs. Todd. A talk with Gary Masline at our reunion, reminded me of a student whom I had failed to mention. His name was Michael, and he was very interesting and a little frightening to us first graders. He had a wild look in his eye, little to say, and whenever he walked down the hall or ran across the playground, he slapped his leg as he rode his imaginary horse. I remember being assigned to help Michael with his pumpkin person project. This project involved cutting out a big orange circle and a lot of smaller green ones and joining them together with those two pronged bendable attaching things and creating a pumpkin man. I don't remember how we did on making a gourd guy, but I remember being pleased that I had been assigned to aid his efforts. At the reunion, Gary and I talked about Michael and wondered if he was autistic, victim of a condition that I don't believe was labeled in 1953. I think of all the help a boy like Michael would receive if he were in school now and realize that he probably got no assistance back then, save for Mrs. Todd's determined efforts and occasional help from kids like me with his pumpkin-people kinds of projects. I can only think how tough it must have been for his parents, and I have real admiration for them. I can also think how very tough it must have been for Michael. What became of him, I cannot say, as he was gone from our school by second grade.