Sunday, July 29, 2012

Everything I need to know I learned in Kindergarten

That was the title of a popular book in the late 1980s.  I had the poster on the wall of my dorm room.

I'm not sure if it is because I'm getting older or because we just graduated our oldest daughter this week, but I've been a bit nostalgic these days.  For today's Saturday project, I tackled one of my closets that has been neglected for a long time.  When we moved into our house 6 years ago, the last bits and pieces from my childhood that remained at my mom's house were boxed up and shipped to me in Utah.  I've opened the boxes a few times....then promptly closed them because I was overwhelmed by the amount of work it would take to go through those boxes.  Today, I tackled the job head on.

I wasn't too terribly surprised by the contents of the boxes.  I had packed them myself.  I was surprised by the stuff that I had held on to over the years.  I graduated from college 20 years ago, and I found all of the ballots from my college speech tournaments (or several of them).  Why did I ever hang on to that stuff?  I also found almost ALL of my exams from my undergraduate political science courses.  Again, who keeps that stuff?  Apparently, I'm three steps way from being a guest star on "Hoarders."

Then I got to the "good stuff."  I'm a sucker for kid art, and I knew that deep in the dark corners of these obnoxiously large boxes were some art projects dating back to my Kindergarten years.  My mom had seemingly kept almost everything from that first year.  As I was admiring my handiwork, I found the Kindergarten handbook for Millington East Elementary School.  I attended Kindergarten in Millington, Tennessee where my dad was stationed in the Navy.  For those who aren't aware, it is not far from Memphis.

If I had seen this document before, I wasn't aware of it.  I remember many things about Kindergarten.  I know that might be difficult to believe, but it is true.  I actually remember my very first day of school.  I went with my parents and met my teacher with a small group of kids....I think there were four or five of us in the group.  We got to play on the playground equipment.  I remember that I had a locker at school.  I remember doing crafts...lots of crafts.  I remember learning how to read.  I remember that we had nap time.  Most of all, I remember my teacher:  Mrs. Carter.

Over the years, I have wondered about her.  She was a young teacher in 1975.  Last year when Dean and I took the kids to Memphis, we drove out to Millington to get some Steak and Shake.  I had programmed the GPS to head to the the elementary school, but by the time we managed to get out of the restaurant, it was too dark to drive by.  There is not a year of my life that has gone by that I haven't had fond thoughts of Mrs. Carter.  Now that I have children of my own, I appreciate teachers more than I ever thought possible...and I already had great respect and admiration for my own teachers.  I cried when Dominique was done with elementary school, and I'm sure I'll cry when she's done with middle school next year.  Those young years are so important, and the teachers that we have are such an important part of our lives in so many ways.

I had randomly googled Mrs. Carter over the years, but I was at a disadvantage because I didn't know her first name.  Then, wouldn't you know!  In the Parent's Handbook...on the very last page....there it was!

Ginger Huffman Carter.  It took me about three minutes of searching online to track her down.  It was a long shot that she'd be home in the middle of the afternoon on a Saturday, but without a real plan, I picked up the phone and called.  Wouldn't you know that she answered the phone!  I was so glad that she did!  I told her that I was one of her students from 1975, and I thanked her for being my teacher.  I meant it, too!  If it weren't for hard working and dedicated public school teachers, I wouldn't be the person that I am today.  It all starts in Kindergarten.

This is me on my very first day of school with my Raggedy Ann and Andy lunch pail (with thermos, I might add).  I would never let my own kids out of the house with a dress that short, but I am pretty sure it was cool back then.  Those knee socks?  One of my trademarks.  What color is that fridge....I'm going to call it "tract house brown."  That's my little sis in the chair at the table.  My parents also lost their minds and let me walk to school all by myself.  It wasn't that far, but if I remember correctly, it was across a big field.  It definitely would not meet the standards for "safe walking routes" by today's regulations.  But...just like all kids in the 1970s, I managed just fine.

This is my "official" school pic.  The yellowing at the top and bottom is from age....37 years will do that to a picture!  See the liberty bell that I'm holding, that's because it was the Bi-Centennial Year!  We put on an amazing American EXTRAVAGANZA performance.  I still remember all of the songs.  I was becoming politically socialized at a very young age.  Patriotism is learned, and I think I received my "booster shot" of it in Kindergarten!  We sang, "You're a Grand old Flag," "Yankee Doodle," and "Davey Crockett.  There is a line in Davey Crockett that goes, "Kilt him a bar' when he was only three."  I remember one of the teachers asked the children, "Does anyone know what a 'bar' is" (referencing the song)?  One young boy responded that it was where his dad went to get away from his mom.  The teachers laughed and laughed and laughed.  Then then explained that it was a "bear."

We sang "Home on the Range" and "This Land is Your Land."  I'm telling you, this performance was a BIG deal!  I searched all night for my pictures from that night.  We met in the classroom before the performance, and my mom took pictures of me and Mrs. Carter.  I know that I'll find it as soon as I stop looking for it.  I did find one picture from that night, though.

That is Mrs. Carter on the stairs.  I'm the cowgirl that is in the top row, far right.  I fell of the risers that night because I didn't wear the shoes my mom told me to.  (I told you I remember a lot from Kindergarten!) 

Two more stories, then I'll end this post.  I remember one time we were in gym class, and there was a boy misbehaving.  Mrs. Carter whacked his bottom with a ruler.  (Trust me, the kid deserved it!)  Then, he stuck his behind out further and said, "It didn't hurt."  Well, let's just say, I'm pretty sure it hurt when she got done with him.  :-)

There was one time that we were making this project where you stepped in a bucket of paint then walked along butcher board paper.  I remember his boy...who was standing in the paint said, "I have to pee."  And then he the paint.

Why do we remember some of the things we do, I'll never know.

To Mrs. Carter, thank you again!  I called you today because I wanted you to know that you made a difference.  I may be just one of thousands of young people that you've taught over the years, but you were important to me!  When I went to first grade in Illinois, I was much more advanced than the other members of the class.  My reading skills were far superior to the other first graders, so my teacher would have me read out loud to the class.  I did very well in school...elementary, through middle school and through high school.  I received several academic scholarships and was able to attend Bradley University, a private school in Peoria, Illinois.  I have had a very rewarding career working for a technology company, and my career has afforded me the opportunity to travel the world!  I'm a step mom to four great kids, and I have an amazingly smart granddaughter.  I went on to receive my masters in political science from Virginia Tech, and three years ago at the age of 39, I decided to take on the PhD.  I plan to graduate from the University of Utah when I'm 45.  I love to learn, and I plan to do so for the rest of my life!

Teachers don't always get to see the fruits of their labors.  I just wanted you to know that I am happy, and I've had a very good life.

Thank you for being my Kindergarten teacher!


Wendy Danley Davis