Tuesday, January 15, 2008


I came very close to flunking out of kindergarten at Muhlenberg #5 grade school.
Luckily, my Gramps (with whom our family lived)was a regular customer at Emil Muller's Butcher Shop, a cash customer, rare in those Depression days. Mrs. Muller taught our class, so I squeaked by. But the kindergarten curriculum nearly sank me.

Coloring inside the lines,
cutting neat strips of construction paper and pasting them into long frivolous chains,
lying quietly on a mat on the floor, listening to the pipes in the school basement and pretending to nap,
standing quietly beside my little wooden chair and pretending to sing "God Bless America" ("stand beside her and guide her/ through the night with a light from a bulb"),
holding the thick green Ticonderoga #1 pencil and drawing something, anything, on soft grey paper--
it was all beyond my talents.

I used the blunt scissors to see how many tiny pieces I could make out of one big Crayola. (Nanny called little pieces of stuff like these "snibblings," a word I've always loved.) I ate the white library paste because it smelled interesting. Lying on the mat, I passed the time by kicking my heels vigorously on the planks of the floor, driving Mrs. Muller to pull my curls and hiss. I held the green pencil as if it were an ice pick. And when Bobby Fridley tried to kiss me one day in the middle of "God Bless America," I grasped my little chair by its curved back and smashed him.

First grade was more of the same, or so it seemed at the start. Mrs. Howell formed us into a little band, some of us with kazoos, one lucky fellow with a lovely silver triangle, some kids with big wooden rattles. After experimentation, Mrs. Howell gave me two rectangular blocks of wood, about the size of blackboard erasers. My job was to bang them together rhythmically. I actually got the banging part down pretty well, but counting and banging was something of a challenge. Before I really got the counting and banging synchronized, Mrs. Howell started having headaches, and the band's Halloween concert had to be cancelled.

But right about that time, we were issued the Dick and Jane books, and launched into Reading, our wooden chairs drawn into a semi-circle around Mrs. Howell's knees as she sat before us, hopeful and tense with responsibility. Now there were no scissors, no crayons, no blocks of wood. Instead, there were words, and I was home free. Suddenly I began to notice what a pretty smile Mrs. Howell had, and how differently she now said my name. She would call on Bobby, who stumbled over two or three sentences; then it was Myrna's turn, pretty, quiet Myrna who made such long, neatly pasted paper chains, and who now ended her stints with Dick and Jane by crying quietly but moistly into the sash of her flouncy dress. Finally Mrs. H would nod at me, and I would read, sentence after sentence, on and on, while she gazed out the window and watched the leaves flitter gently to earth until the bell rang.

1 comment:

wordsfromhome said...

Isn't it wonderful that we are each given our talents to develop. I am surely greatful for yours. The writing talent, I mean.