21 November 2005

So I need to get some of this stuff written down before my memory is totally gone...

No, there's nothing wrong with me. Well, nothing that hasn't been wrong with me from the beginning. It's just that on this side of 50, it seems like I'm having a more and more difficult time remembering stuff that was sort of second nature to recall in years past. And I'm not far enough along in years not to care, so I figure maybe I ought to try to capture what I can now, while I still can dredge up a few details.

Today I was trying to remember the names of my teachers from kindergarten through 12th grade. There's always been the one kindergarten teacher from my brief hiatus at Gladstone Elementary over in North St. Paul, during the cold, early months of 1961 whose name I couldn't recall, even back when I was still in high school. I'll track that down one of these days—I e-mailed someone over at that school district a year or so ago, and probably ought to follow up on my inquiry.

But anyway, teachers' names.

I started my educational career at Oak Park School, just on the other side of Orleans Street, the then-southern boundary of the city of Stillwater, Minnesota. My teacher's name was Mrs. Harsh, and I probably ought to recall her first name, but don't. She wasn't particularly harsh—well, except that time when I was trying to learn how to skip and was faking it, and she told me to quit fooling around (tough curriculum)—to the contrary, she was a nice enough lady, although in my mind about the age of a grandmother. So I suppose she was in her fifties. (Like I am now.)

The problem was, I didn't really want to be in her class. The reason had nothing to do with her. Rather, it was because in the other kindergarten room across the hall (Miss Stanek's class), they had a playhouse. And there was no playhouse in Mrs. Harsh's room. But I was going to be in Mrs. Harsh's class anyway. So I found out early on that what I wanted and what the school system was going to provide for me were two different things.

I did, however, meet Jim Crea, who'd turn out to be one of my best friends in the years to come, and Greg Tuenge and Peter Erickson and a whole bunch of others who would populate my childhood back there in Stillwater.

There's a scrapbook that my mom started for me that fall—one of the perks of being the oldest, I guess, since none of my brothers and sisters have scrapbooks—and at some point I need to pull that down from the top of the shelf over my "desk" at home and scan a few examples of both my artwork and some of the notices that the school was sending home in those days (all of them done in that purple mimeograph ink that we'd all get to know so well in those last years before the advent of the photocopier).

Back then, a piano was pretty much a fixture in the classroom, and it seems like every day at some point the teacher would have us all gather around it, cross-legged on the floor (we sometimes called that "Indian-style" in those less-PC days) and she'd play and we'd sing. About the only song I recall actually learning in kindergarten--as opposed to those we sang that I already knew—was one for Halloween called "Black Cat Looking for a Witch." For some reason that became my favorite, and I remember asking the teacher to play it one more time for us after Halloween that year. She didn't, though—Halloween was over and it was time to move on.

The school was only three blocks from where we were living at the time, and that was at my maternal grandparents' house: 1019 South Fourth Street. In those days we called them "Nanny" and "Bumpa"—don't ask me why, I told you I can't recall all the details anymore! We'd returned from a couple of years in Northern Ireland a little more than a year earlier, and if I remember right, my dad was still looking for a new job, and until he found one, we basically shuttled back and forth between Nanny and Bumpa's house in Stillwater and my Grandma Luebker's house in North St. Paul. (1677 Rosewood Avenue South, by the way. The phone number was SPring 7-5876 or something close to that, and out in Stillwater the grandparents number was HEmlock 9-2820. Remind me to talk about that some time, how in the old days they'd start the phone numbers with a word that represented the first two digits—apparently on the premise that when phone numbers expanded to seven digits, that was too many for a normal person to easily remember—and how modern it all seemed when they dropped that in the early sixties. Hey, I guess I already did talk about it...)

Anyway, we were living with the Stillwater grandparents when school started, but by Christmas that would change. And the way I recall it, part of why had to do with me not wanting my mother to give me a haircut...

More about that next time.