Dawn Reader

Dawn Reader
from Open Door Coffee Co.; Hudson, OH; Oct. 26, 2016

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Geography Lessons

I threw up in geography class.

Fall of 1956. Seventh grade. Hiram Local Schools (Hiram, Ohio).

We had a class called "geography" that year. Our teacher was Mrs. Esther Nichols, who'd lived for a time in South America and loved that continent. In ninth grade she also taught Algebra I (which I vaguely understood), and, some years later, was teaching at Aurora High School (eleven miles west) when I began my middle school teaching career in Aurora in the fall of 1966. There was no way I could call her "Esther"; it remained "Mrs. Nichols."

Anyway, throwing up ...

There were some ... complications. I was new to the school. We had moved to Hiram in August of that year from Enid, Oklahoma. So I was a "different" new kid--I dressed differently, sounded different. Oh, and my voice was changing, too. So this dirty constellation of differences made me uncomfortable at first. Below is our (entire) seventh grade class that year. I'm amused to see our class advisor, Mr. Sechrist, apparently flipping off anyone looking at the picture--something I'd not noticed until a few years ago (enlarge the photo--you'll see). I'm the kid in the cowboy shirt, 2nd from the left, front row. Mr. Sechrist's flip-off finger is on the back of my chair (hmmmm, maybe he was flipping me off; I wouldn't blame him).

Hiram Schools, Fall of 1956, 7th grade (all of us!)
I had a crush on a girl at the time; she is in the picture, but I ain't telling you who it is. But she is a factor in this story.

Okay, so one morning in geography class I was not feeling too well. But I was ... holding it in. In Mrs. Nichols' room that day we were sitting in a circle--was someone doing a report? Whenever we studied a continent, we would each have do do a report on a country (I remember doing Ecuador and Honduras), and I always copied mine directly from the World Book Encyclopedia, a routine that did not seem to bother Mrs. Nichols.

The Love of My Life was seated near me. Which may be another reason I did not want to leave class. This was special.

But then ... out it came. There was no opportunity to sprint from the room, to raise my hand and ask permission. It was just out. Most of it landed in the center of the circle so that all could see and evaluate. Some, unfortunately, landed on the Love of My Life.

And the possibility for Love died ... rather, drowned.

As I was leaving, the custodian, Sherm Leach, came into the room with a can of that greenish-bluish powdery stuff that he would sprinkle on the pile. I would see this other times--as a student and, later, as a teacher.

Anyway, I got to go home for the rest of the day. The only good thing about the experience.

So ... why am I writing about this episode today?

This morning, I was reading the New York Times and saw some little short pieces about Tanzania, Zimbabwe, and Nigeria. And I realized that if I were to take a world geography quiz today, I would fail.

I was once pretty good at it, geography. The US was easy: Because my dad's family was from Oregon, we drove throughout the Western states, and I knew them very well. (I did get confused about which New England little-thingy was whatever state.)

And Mrs. Nichols (and other teachers) had maps that she would pull down like a movie screen, often leaving them in view. I stared at them (better than algebra).

Things were fairly static then, too. We still had Gold Coast and Ivory Coast. And post-WW II Europe was making sense.

(Just checked: Ivory Coast still has its name ... see what I mean?)

But since seventh grade, the world has re-arranged itself, re-named itself myriads of times, and (Honesty Is the Best Policy) I have not always ... kept up.

And I have decided: This is going to change. I'm going to carry around some little maps of geographical areas, learn (again) the names of the countries (if not the capitals?), maybe some major rivers and mountain ranges.

And somewhere--maybe?--Mrs. Nichols will smile. But the Love of My Life will still wrinkle her nose at the thought of Danny, who decorated her shoes with some substances from his fetid core.

My 7th grade self

PS--I just checked my transcript: B for the year in 7th grade geography. Bet I woulda had an A if not for ... you know ...

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