Monday, November 15, 2010


"Retrospection can be illuminating, it can be numbing, it can be sobering; it can be fruitful, if can gladden my heart, and it can drown me in despair.  But looking back on my early days on our farm in Iowa, I find that I take enormous satisfaction in my memories of the past, and my reflections on how that time, so rich, so satisfying, so fulfilling, yet so undeniably challenging, affected me." 

--Mildred Armstrong Kalish, Little Heathens:  Hard Times and High Spirits on an Iowa Farm During the Great Depression

I just finished reading Mildred's autobiography.  I can't believe how the author, now 80+ years, remembered the copious details she included in her story.  Which got me thinking about my childhood and its rich, satisfying, and fulfilling moments.  Except that I can barely remember what I did last weekend, so my bygone moments are hazy.  Nevertheless, I thought it an interesting exercise to document my own history by recalling events from each of my school years... 

Kindergarten:  I walked to school most days with a boy, Michael Staiger.  If my memory serves me, we walked at least mile, I really can't believe two five-year olds were sent down the road like that to school.  This isn't to suggest my parents were irresponsible; it was just a sign o' the times. 

One morning, the "school is starting" bell sounded, and Michael and I were more than a stone's throw away.  We started running, and I tripped, and ripped open my tights and my knee.  I remember being afraid of getting in trouble for ripping the tights, so I hid my knee (under a scarf?), which probably needed some attention.  When my mom discovered the wound, I didn't get in trouble.  She just cleaned and bandaged me up.

First Grade:  New school, new town.  I only remember a neighbor about my age getting struck by a car on her bicycle.  She died.  

Second Grade:  New school, new town.  In the spring, walking to a babysitter's house after school, a kid named Randy found a dead, half-frozen rat on the playground.  He picked it up and flung it into the group of kids I was with, and it hit me in the back of the head.  Running to the sitters, crying, I fell again, and skinned my knee.  The babysitter washed my hair and had a talk with Randy's guardian across the street. 

Third Grade:  New school, new town.  My lovely teacher, Mrs. Reed, read Charlotte's Web to the class.  We devoured every word.  

My sister, friend, and I decided one day to create a "bouquet" for the school principal.  We cut a plastic milk jug in half, filled it with mud, and poked cattails and various other weeds in it. I think we actually brought it on the bus with us, and I vaguely remember proudly placing the heavy, wet mess on her desk. 

Fourth Grade:  I learned that nose byproducts were called mucous, not snot and boogers.  I remember practicing a ton of cursive handwriting, and my teacher, Mrs. Lovik, was generally hostile.  There was a boy in my class, Mark, who frequently used the word "indubitably."  And I think this was the peak of my stamp collecting years. 

A kid who was a year older than me, Scott Hardy, was murdered while out fishing with his cousin this year.  Some sick man wanted their fishing poles.  I used to chase him on the playground. 

Fifth Grade:  Our class raised enough money to finance a trip to Washington D.C.  I don't remember much about the trip, but I think we even flew there.  Mrs. Dorothy Feick was a amazing and inspiring teacher.  She gave me a handwritten note at the end of the school year that said something about her knowing that I could reach my goals.  I was under the impression that she didn't write those notes to everyone.  

Sixth Grade:  New school.  I remember one teacher using a paddle on bad students.  Being paddled vaguely seems like rite of passage, though I was never on the receiving end.  This year, I fashioned a motor out of a battery and some wiring to earn extra credit and therefore an A+.  My sister decided to test the motor one evening, and it didn't run the next day when I was to turn it in.  I believe I still earned the A+, and I have since forgiven my sister.  (My kids think this is a funny story about their aunt...)

Seventh Grade: In Art class this year, I made candles as an independent project.  Unfortunately, I spilled wax on the counter, and my Art teacher yelled at me publicly. I don't remember him as a nurturing person.  

Eighth Grade:  The apex of a very successful middle-school career.  I was awarded trophies for being the top academic, gym, and art student during all three years.  I was surprised, as my best friend Heidi was more athletic than I, and another girl Gwen, was general thought of as smarter.  Then there was that incident in Art.  

Ninth Grade:  New school--high school.  I didn't quite maintain the overachiever momentum I had established in middle school, but I was still an above average and conscientious student. One afternoon, in Fifth Period, the fire drill bell rang.  Outside, a boy approached us with a Lit test he had pinched from the class he was in at the time.  My girlfriends and I were due to take that same test next period, so we studied it furiously--under the eyes of another teacher unbeknownst to us, who passed her discovery along to the Lit teacher, a nun named Miss Nolan. 

In Sixth Period, after the test, Miss Nolan approached the class with the "steam a-comin' outen her boot heel" (thank you, Mildred Kalish, for this jewel) and said that she knew there were cheaters in the class, that she couldn't believe what she had heard, and that she wanted those cheaters to stay after class and tell her who had shared the test. 

Back into this corner of shame, my girlfriends and I stayed after to hear the wrath of Miss Nolan, yet nobody would step forward and rat out the boy.  Miss Nolan must have proposed some monumental threat, because I clearly remember that boy's name eventually coming out of my mouth and Miss Nolan hugging me for being honest.  We didn't get in trouble, but I'm pretty sure that boy did.  Miss Nolan was quite a lady. We read Great Expectations in her class.   

Tenth Grade: New school due to one of three high schools in town being shut down because the school budget didn't pass.  This led to too many students in one of the remaining high schools, so students with last names starting with A-K went to school in the morning, and L-Z in the afternoon.  I went in the morning, which left afternoons open for all sorts of risky and unhealthy pursuits.  What were the adults in charge of schools thinking? 

Eleventh Grade:  An undistinguished year. I could drive, and I earned money by babysitting and working weekends and the summer at a chiropractor's office.  

Twelfth Grade:  OMG. Homecoming.  My best friend Krystal and I were both candidates for Homecoming Queen, going up against another girl, Tracey Gordon.  Tracey won the votes, which was probably the best outcome for Krystal and I.  I wasn't hurt by the outcome, but talk about unhealthy--people voting for you to win a contest based on some superficial qualities?  I hope this tradition has lost favor over the years.  


That's it.  The abridged autobiography of my impressionable years--
illuminating, numbing, sobering, fruitful, gladdening, and disparaging--and sometimes just plain weird...


  1. Uncle Chase had you reading before going to kindergarten and you used to read to the class. He was always so proud of you. You were the granddaughter he never had. It wasn't even close to being a mile to walk to school. But it probably seemed like it at the time. One of these days I'll check it out. You also earned money by picking up beer cans at parties and cashing them in which left our car smelling like a brewery. You really took it easy on your sister with this recollection. Car accident just after getting your driver's license was left out. Your recollections are quite mild, I would hate to read Pam's. I was a little hesitant to read yours but found it to be so miniscule compared to the whole time period.

  2. I think she left out quite a bit. lol