This week’s RTT post theme is ‘end of days’. For every ending there is a beginning so this week I chose to share a story I consider to be a bit of a time of beginnings for me. I hope you enjoy.
In A Shocking Discovery (read me) I wrote about my favorite teacher, Art Adams. I shared his darker side and wrote about how he helped me as a young adult while attempting to earn my first degree. If I were asked who I would award the ‘Gold Standard’ prize to among my teachers, I would have to say the award goes to Mrs. Amy Wright, my third grade teacher at Fillmore Elementary School.
Walt Disney had died and Andy Griffith had the best show on TV. It was the 1966-67 school year and my new teacher’s name was Amy Wright. Mrs Wright was a compact woman who wore her hair in a braided wrap-around hairdo. Some kids considered Amy Wright to be “mean”, myself being one of them in the earliest part of the school year. Mrs. Wright could be stern, this is true, but she treated us fairly, dishing out rules but always giving us the benefit of doubt.
Her love for exploration is what I remember best about her – she told us she wanted to see the world. For a third grader who had only seen Hamilton-Ohio and Vincennes-Indiana, this was a big mystery to me and I didn’t really know what to make of it. I remember she had a bunch of shells and a king crab shell in the closet – no doubt a fishing expedition in Alaska, knowing her love for travel (or possibly it was that day’s lunch). Her big vacation trip during our third grade class was South America. She sent us each a post card from different South American countries and brought us back foreign currency. I still have both today.
The postcard made a lasting impression on me – I associate sending and receiving them as a special act. Think about it – they’re inexpensive to buy and send and they don’t really take a lot of effort. But the fact that you do take the effort says something to the receiver – I was thinking about you and I care about you. Since my boys moved out of the house I try to pick up postcards and send them one every couple of weeks. It’s an easy way of sending an additional ‘I love you’
The other aspect I remember well about Mrs. Wright, and why I consider her such a great teacher has to do with her working very hard at trying to recognize each of us and bringing out our individuality. As I mentioned, early in the school year I thought she was just a mean person. She shook me for something I did in class and that’s why I thought she was mean. I don’t know what it was but even as a young child, I was always trying to make others laugh so no doubt I deserved the shaking. Schoolwork always came a bit easy for me so perhaps I wasn’t challenged enough and maybe she saw this because one day she gave me a private lecture which I still remember today.
She had me stay after class one day and said she wanted to talk about a test score. I really don’t remember if it was an Ohio Standardized test of some kind or just something else we did in class and I don’t remember the whole conversation, just one piece. She asked me if I knew how smart I was in math. “Robbie – do you know how smart you are in math?” (and hopefully this wasn’t her way of politely telling me I was a dumb-ass in everything else). My response makes me chuckle today – I told her that my mom told me that I had the entire deck of cards memorized as a two year old. I guess at the time I thought that memorizing playing cards translated into ‘mathematical smartness’. I have this vague recollection of going to Vegas with my dad, our wearing identical suits and my counting cards – 1 for good, 2 for bad. Seriously though, it was this conversation which changed my opinion of Mrs Wright because I got to see that she honestly cared for me. I was to never get a B in math, always A’s, for all of school all the way through to high school graduation. In 9th grade Algebra, Mr. Chaney called out me and Peggy Pettit as the only 2 kids in class with A’s. Perhaps Mrs Wright had something to do with this.
Take a look here at a note she wrote from a museum and planetarium trip she took us on. Note that she tried to document something for every parent. I think that’s pretty special. I also find it pretty funny that I was questioning the bat skeleton. I do have a vague memory of this and am thinking that I thought the museum folks were trying to fool us with a model and not the real thing! Ha, you can’t slip one by 3rd grade Rob.
Ah, the mimeograph. This purple ink tells me that this was copied using a mimeograph or ditto machine. It used a stencil which got attached to a revolving circular drum. The ink was passed through the stencil onto the paper to make the ‘copies’. We kids just loved getting papers in class from mimeograph and ditto machines. The inks had methanol and isopropyl alcohol in it. We could smell the test papers as soon as the teacher walked into the room and we were always anxious to get our greedy little hands on the sheets so that we could quickly snort as much alcohol in through our nostrils as possible. Imagine an entire class of children lifting their fresh test sheets in unison, alcohol wafting through the air, looks of euphoria on all of us. It was the best part of taking a test, maybe the only good part.
Third grade was a year of change for me, the first year that I began to take notice that at times decisions were made “for you”, even if you didn’t want them to be made. I know now that all decisions were made for me then of course. My only point is that in third grade, I physically recognized that sometimes things were going to occur, things which would be totally out of my control.
For one, a couple of weeks before the school season began, I found out that my childhood best friend and neighbor would not be in the same class as I. He and I had shared Kindergarten, First and Second Grades together and had been there when I got hit by the school bus, (read me), so this was a pretty big change for me at the time. That was ok though since we lived right across the street from each other as we still walked to and from school with each other every day and we still played with each other after school and on the weekends. In fact, when I reflect on my days on Goodman Avenue, I can barely remember a time when Tim and I were not with each other outside of school.
Tim & I both loved to play the same games, (like Army), we both loved Creepy Crawlers (mentioned in Willows do not Always Weep), and we both loved the same music. We loved The Beatles and would play the albums together down in my basement. I was the peacenik of the duo, the John Lennon and Tim was the spiritual one, the protector, the George Harrison. We lacked a Ringo and a Paul that was our age so if we were trying to strike a ‘Yesterday and Today’ pose, (not the butcher cover), we’d have to go grab my two younger brothers perhaps or maybe the Hubbards’ boys.
Speaking of Creepy Crawlers and Tim, now that my buddy was no longer in the same class with me, there were many days spent sitting on the side stoop by the class exit with kids named Mike Tuley & Sheila Calvert. We’d sit for hours on end trading those little rubber bugs who gave us those nice burn marks. I found out at a reunion that Mike had committed suicide, (cannot confirm), and I don’t have a clue as to where Sheila is. I remember her moving away somewhere while in high school. We spent time together there and in junior high so I think about her from time to time.
The other major change I was to note that year was the first time for getting dumped by a girl. This was to happen quite a lot over the years and hopefully it wasn’t driven by my kisses (read me). My one and only, my first love, my first kiss (read me), my monogamous relationship flame since the First Grade, Tammy had decided to move on to greener pastures (or chalkboards in this case).
Did my kickball buddy Ricky Grubbs finally seize the opportunity to swoop in and steal away my girl? Surely Ricky would not do such a thing! He was my new friend in third grade, my new best class bud! I know we both had a crush on the same girl, (Tammy), and we both liked to play kickball at recess. Ricky and I were to play together every day on the monkey bars in fourth grade (read me), but there is another coincidental connection between me, Rick and my wife which I will write about in a later story. It is another account of how for me the world often times seems small and interconnected and I’m anxious to write it.
But back to getting dumped. No, it wasn’t Ricky; it was Mike Azbill – the little tramp had dumped me for Mike Azbill. So I got my first taste of having my heart broken at the tender age of 8. I can still recall the feeling of rejection. Tammy was MY girl; what gave her the right to declare she was moving onto Mike with his cute sense of humor and his perfect dark hair? I’m funnier than Mike! (Aren’t I?) And aren’t I smarter? Was she not impressed with my zipping around the classroom as we play Musical Math Chairs, the math flash card game where a person stands behind another student and then the teacher whips out a flash card and the two contestants see who the first to shout out the answer? If you got beat, you then had to take the student’s assigned desk while the winner now got to see how far he/she could zip around. Did you not see that I never got taken down? What? Math doesn’t impress you? (Note to self – don’t try to impress the girls with long division).
Oh wait, who’s that? What’s the name of that cute little girl on the other side of class? She wasn’t in my first or second grade classes. Cindy? Her name’s Cindy? Cindy & I were never boyfriend and girlfriend – let me declare that upfront. Although I noticed Cindy’s cuteness from the start, I was always a faithful little boyfriend. Besides, I was afraid Tammy might kick any other girl’s butt if I gave anyone else any attention. Ok, who am I kidding, let me be honest here – I’m a wimp; I was afraid Tammy would kick “my” butt! I did though get to play with Cindy a number of times at recess, (after Tammy dumped me of course), and what I’d like to record for you is that my childhood friendship with Cindy was the first time I can recall relating to another person on account of ’empathy’.
While growing up on Goodman we had a female calico cat named Puff (read me). Puff was a bit of a floozy evidenced by her numerous unwanted pregnancies. One day one of her kittens got himself stuck up in one of our backyard trees. I remember my dad and my mom, all of us, being out in the backyard trying to get the kitten down. I had been standing immediately under the branch where the kitten was mewing. I guess I thought I could catch the cat, but of course as it finally fell from its perch, I was to take one of its claws to the corner of my left eye. Yet another accident on my way to building up a healthy list of ‘things that happened to me that should have killed or maimed me‘ (read me).
Another trip to the ER later and I was to look like a pirate for a couple of weeks, (the wimpy pirate with the white patch). On my first day back at school, it was Cindy who approached me and showed concern. It was Cindy who pointed out I could have lost an eye and been blinded. Cindy didn’t point and stare and marvel at the white gauze pirate patch like the other kids. No, Cindy acted totally different – she acted like….well, a mom is what she acted like.
Like a lot of you I’m sure, you likely have some vivid, almost photographic accounts and pictures stored in your brains. I have one of young little thin Cindy looking at my eye patch with a huge look of motherly concern, placing her left hand on my right shoulder, asking me how badly my eye hurt. I remember telling her that it hurt a lot when the cat fell on my face but was not too bad now. She wanted to look under the patch so I let her peel it back to peek underneath. As we were out on the playground, she carefully lifted only a small section of the tape up to peer underneath. (Confession time – I was really liking the attention from this cute little girl. Maybe I should get hurt more often?) She told me it was pretty red still, (bloody is what she said). And then we carried on with whatever games were being played that day. The big game for third grade was kickball. Time for another quick confession – I was the best damn one-eyed kickball player in all of third grade!
Several weeks later and towards the end of the third grade school year, we took a class picnic trip to Millikin Woods. Millikin Woods Park was a favorite hangout for me and Timmy, especially for bike riding (to become a story at a later time). At the picnic, our class had commandeered one of the roofed shelters in the park. We had finished up with our lunch and had been given the signal to go off and play before we started our trek back to school.
We were playing some sort of running game like hide-and-seek or tag. Cindy ran around the back side of the shelter where it was a little slick and she fell down and scraped up her right knee pretty badly. It was more of a slice rather than a scrape, a small vertical incision caused perhaps by a sharp stick or a piece of glass. It was deep enough that it bled and it looked like it hurt like hell. I helped her up and Mrs. Wright was right there too with some water and then a Band-Aid. It took maybe less than 5 minutes to clean up. Cindy didn’t cry or complain a bit. As soon as the teacher was finished, Cindy just looked at me with that big smile she could command and said, “come on Robbie, let’s go play”.
And that my friends is my strongest memory of Cindy. I briefly mentioned Cindy’s name also in my fourth grade story (read me). I hope that each of you reading these stories have your own very fond memories of children who were once very special to you like I do as it is tremendously pleasing to be able to call upon these private recollections and to bring back that special feeling of youth. Cindy likely gave me little thought over the years but I never forgot that smile, her resilience and her empathy.
Third grade was a year for class trips, a year for learning the world was a larger place than my backyard and my walk to school, a year for experiencing my first taste of heartbreak, a year for making new friends, a year for experiencing a more connected and caring teaching style, a year for learning about caring for others and that there were more kids out there who acted and felt like I do.
Third grade for me was a year of change and the beginning of awareness.