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  • Anything large enough for a wish to light upon, is large enough to hang a prayer upon. George MacDonald

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

READING, WRITING, AND ARITHMETIC: MY SCHOOL YEARS

My first grade teacher’s name was Mrs. Green. My mother later told me that when I was a young child I had an imaginary playmate named Mrs. Green. Mom said I talked to her often, pretended to have tea together, and that I often talked about our adventures. Mom always felt that having a 1st grade teacher named Mrs. Green helped me make a transition that was difficult for many children. Most children of that time did not attend kindergarten. It was not included in “public” education.

Summer AGE 5

I started school the September I was age 5, and finished my school years the spring after I turned 16.
About AGE 16
School was wonderful. I loved almost everything we did, and each day could hardly wait to get there. My siblings and I rode the huge, yellow school bus to “town” from the rural area south of Cardston, Alberta, Canada. Cardston was about 10 miles away from our home, but the route began in the hills south of Kimball (an extinct village) where I lived, and went to each farm along the gravel roads converging onto the main highway leading to town. One year, out of the 50 or so students the bus picked up, there were 10 from our family boarding. The other kids loved to chant a count as we got on and off the bus—“1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10!” The teasing was not mean-spirited at all, but my older brothers sometimes seemed embarrassed. The drivers always knew if we were all present and accounted for, or if anyone was ill or missing school for any other reason.

Although more modern, this bus is about the same length.
I loved riding in the back seat of the bus. When it went over a big bump (like a texas gate) I would bounce right into the air. Usually big kids were back there but eventually they were mostly dropped off, and then my friend Jacqui Rothe and I could sit back there and bounce. We would giggle and giggle until the driver would frown at us. And no matter how many times we were told not to bounce, we just couldn't resist!

READING: I love reading! It was my heart’s desire from as long as I can remember. In September 1960, I got a chance to start school. First I had to pass a test.

Since I was so young, not yet to my 6th birthday, the test was required to demonstrate my school readiness. I felt so privileged to be permitted to sit in a school desk, but a bit nervous about my mother not being with me. I was still very much attached to her, but didn’t want to be called a “baby” by my brothers. She told me she would wait right outside the classroom door, with the other parents, until after the test.

The teacher, Mrs. Green, gave us each a “test” consisting of several pages with pictures in groups of 4. I was with a small group of other boys and girls also taking the test. She instructed us kindly, and thoroughly, about procedures. She would ask a question, describe a row of pictures and we would circle the “correct” picture to answer her question. She had a helper that assisted her watching to make sure we were following along properly. They walked up and down the rows to ensure no one was confused, and that we had all answered each question.

I don’t really remember the picture questions, but I thought I did very well. They all seemed so simple to me. I was asked to wait to talk with the teacher and my mom afterwards. I wondered if it was because I was as smart as my parents thought, or if I had done something wrong. When all the other children and parents were gone, the teacher first talked to mom and then called me into the room and began to go through the test, question by question. I stood beside her, seated at her desk, and could see her face to face.

The one question I can remember was about 4 animals. I was to circle the picture that was not the same as the others, one that was different. There was a picture of a lion, a tiger, a bear, and a kitten. I grew up on a farm and the answer was obvious to me. The kitten was tame and the other animals were wild animals. I was absolutely incredulous that my answer was wrong. The teacher tried to explain that the lion, tiger, and kitten were all the same (because they were cats), and the bear was the correct answer. That made me cranky. That was ridiculous! My mother explained to me that there could be more than one answer, and helped me accept that another answer could be about big and small: the kitten was a baby and the other animals were “big” adults. I could accept that. She was “wrong,” too, and made better sense.

We went through quite a few more questions the teacher had wrong [in my young mind]. After I talked to Mrs. Green about the test, my mother and Mrs. Green met privately again. Except that I badly wanted to read, I was no longer too excited to go school; my day had been long and tiring. Apparently I had failed the test, but after her discussion with me, and with my mother, Mrs. Green recommended that I should begin 1st grade. She explained to my mother that I could state and defend my reasoning, and that mostly my answers were at least as “correct” as the answer key, and in some cases more so. Learning that questions have more than one “right” answer, and that I should try to think of all the possibilities began a significant change in my perspectives of others and the world around me. So began my school years.

WRITING: Pencils were not my favorite things. I didn't mind small pencils, but our big, red pencils were almost half an inch in diameter and their length and width made them heavy in my little hands. I still prefer smaller pencils; half-length is perfect. I was small for my age; in fact, for many years the smallest in my class until Wendi Wilson moved in.

I found an similar old scribbler for beginning printing.
I learned to print, using scribbler pages lined in triplicate sets. The center line of each set was dashed. The scribblers were made specifically for learning how to form letters, below and above lines. Someone pointed out that it was as easy to print neatly as to make a mess and my father encouraged good penmanship. I remember an epiphany-like experience the day my father demonstrated how to “fix” an error without the need to redo all my work. I would sit for hours practicing the strokes and curves of “perfect” letters and cry in frustration when I discovered a mistake several letters or lines previous to where I was working. I wanted it to be right AND pretty. Dad showed me how to change a 6 to an 8 by just drawing over the circles to complete the top of the 8. He knew many “tricks” to help repair ‘problems’ and my printing began to improve and go more smoothly.

As an adult I attended Lethbridge Community College drafting program and learned the formal art of lettering. I did so well that I was recommended for employment doing hand lettering on legal legends (on linen), and in the spring of 1979 I dropped out of my program to work for Brown, Okamura, and Associates at about ten dollars per hour as a junior drafts-person; an excellent wage for that time.

ARITHMETIC: I never could understand why arithmetic couldn't just be called math, or vice-versa. I loved elementary school math but did not do well in high school. It always felt like the rules were changing.

wooden 'spoons' like these were common
with small cups of ice-cream at social events 
In first grade we had small wooden spoons, and other objects, that we counted and grouped. I could have spent all day every day counting but we had to take turns. One day the teacher had to explain to me that other children might also want to count the spoons too. I knew (I was positive) most of them didn't really like it as much as I did and reasoned I should have longer turns. Mrs. Green wisely diverted my attention to reading—did I mention I love reading?

front cover of book

In 4th grade I won a prize, from my teacher Mrs. Shields, for the most books read—a book, of course, titled “Long Lonesome Train Whistle.”

A  page spread inside. 
In first grade, one day while counting spoons, a large sliver wedged itself into the left side of the middle finger on my right hand. The teacher and the school nurse did their best to remove it, but it was very sore and I had to wait until late in the afternoon to go home on the bus. (Our family did not always have an automobile or a phone, and gasoline was a major expense.) When I got home my mother couldn't get it all out, and later when my father got home he also had difficulty. I think a piece of that sliver remains in that finger to this day. It is just above the fingernail and below the knuckle. I have an unusual grip when I write because that area was so tender for so many years. Many people get a “writer’s bump” from the pressure of pen or pencil to their middle finger. A swollen lump formed on that finger where the sore from the sliver healed and has never gone away; so my “bump” happens to be where that sliver was.

Arithmetic and I often seem to have a less than positive relationship. It started young. I am attending college presently, and yes I am taking math classes. I still find many answers ridiculous. This semester I have needed to email my teacher almost every week. I still dispute answers and the sense of many things I encounter. Math is math—or rather arithmetic!

My patriarchal blessing promises that I will be able to complete my education to my entire satisfaction. I have always thought that would be impossible outside the eternities, yet technology and programs like “Pathways” breathe life into dreams and hopes long since laid aside. I love to learn. I love to study. Many of my ancestors have lived long and healthy lives. I could live almost as many more years as I already have. What will I study next?

Decisions, decisions, decisions! What a wonderful dilemma to enjoy.