Tuesday, May 23, 2017
That Wonder of a Teacher ... 2
A few days ago, I posted a little bit about Mrs. Stella Rockwell, who was my fourth-grade teacher at Adams Elementary School (Enid, Oklahoma), 1953-54. I'd thought of her because Joyce and I were talking about how a teacher can read to a class of youngsters a book that they would, on their own, perhaps have a bit of trouble reading--or a lot of trouble. I was thinking specifically of Michael Chabon's 2002 YA novel, Summerland, which I had just finished, weeping at various places near the end. A baseball fantasy novel ... appropriate for our grandsons, 8 and 12?
And I recalled that Mrs Rockwell--one of the very best teachers I ever had, K-Ph.D.--had routinely read to us after recess each day--her way of calming us down, and, believe me, we needed calming down.
Outside recess was rough in my day. The playground was red dirt--the Oklahoma clay so close to the surface that when the dust storms came (and they still did come in my boyhood), the sky boiled red and pink. Along the highways, where unpaved country roads joined the main routes, you could see streaks of red that the turning cars had left behind as they joined the traffic flow.
Anyway, back in the early 1950s no one seemed to worry about kids getting hurt on the playground--or playing stupid, even violent, games. I remember during one period, we boys (well, mostly boys) divided into "Confederates" and "Yankees," moved to opposite ends of the playground, and charged--battling right in the middle of the red. As far as I can remember, that was the only time that the playground supervisors (teachers) ever stopped us--but only after a few days of delightful mayhem.
Broken scabs and leaking wounds were common, after recess. And we all--especially in the fall and the spring--were perspiring heavily. This was north-central Oklahoma. No schools had air-conditioning. We didn't have it at home; neither did any of my friends. Just the movie theaters, all of which had signs out on the street that said: It's Cool Inside! And it was.
So ... on those hot fall and spring days (when it could reach 100) we sat and sweated and maybe even bled at our desks while our teachers tried to settle us down.
Mrs. Rockwell knew how to do it. If we were "good" when we came in, she would read to us for, oh, fifteen or twenty minutes--until our perspiration dried, our wounds scabbed over.
I remember, very early that fall, she said she would read aloud to us from books we brought in. At home, we had a set of books--The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. One was red (Tom, I think); the other, green. Both had some full-page illustrations, in color.
They next day I brought in Tom--and she read it to the class, praising me for such a fine selection. Those were the days, by the way, when praise from a teacher was not a cue to the bullies in the class (and there were a couple) to look for us after school for a little whup-ass.
And then--right afterward--I swept in with Huck, which she also read aloud to us--though, years later, when I read it myself, I realized she had done some judicious bowdlerizing for her nine-year-old listeners.
After she finished Huck, I brought in Tom Sawyer, Detective from my grandfather's complete Twain set (they lived only a few blocks away), but this time Mrs. Rockwell--being Mrs. Rockwell--said we should let someone else have a turn.
Someone brought in Black Beauty, which I steadfastly refused to listen to ... pouty little jerk, I know.
Anyway, those two Twain titles had a profound effect on me. My friend Pete Asplund (RIP), who lived only a couple of streets over, was similarly smitten, and we ran around on weekends pretending to be Tom and Huck, pretending that we'd shimmied down the drain pipe to join up and have our wild adventures, adventures which generally ended at the neighborhood J & J Grocery, where we bought a Grapette or an Orange Crush for a nickle.
There was a little patch of woods across from our house, and I remember Pete, on Saturday mornings, would show up there, early, and cry out like a crow in his fourth-grade soprano: Caw! Caw! Caw!--my signal to sneak out and have some Tom-and-Huck adventures. (My parents were probably relieved I was out of the house so early.)
Mrs. Rockwell, by the way, who was rather ... stout, would not permit us to use the word fat to describe a classmate or anyone else. She suggested pleasingly plump, which has some alliterative power, I grant you, but it's not a phrase I've had a lot of occasions to employ ... But I learned her lesson ...
To be continued ...