Friday, September 16, 2011

Daydreaming, playing hooky in grade school

The Roosevelt Grade School graduation memory book just arrived by email from classmate Mike Cole and it brought back lots of bittersweet memories of 1945-54 in conservative Spokane. I made some good choices in grade school -- day dreaming and leaving the building.
Trying to dodge the school yard bullies was part of the experience as well as class activities like the discussion of Easter Resurrection or choir singing Christmas carols and “Onward Christian Soldiers”. I was conflicted because of parental pressure not to sing Christian songs so I would mouth the words and the sour puss who was the music teacher would reprimand me. I couldn’t win for losing.
No, I wasn’t a student at a Catholic parochial school but enrolled almost full-time at a public school. One of the enterprising teachers passed out free New Testament bibles during recess and of course I was eager for anything free. When Dad caught sight of the bible he was not amused and it went back the next day.
The reason I say almost full-time was because, according to the memory book, “David couldn’t seem to tell time this year (1947) and used to wander home at recess time.” When you factor in the so-called “free time” and the Christian instruction, that didn’t leave much time for any meaningful education. Oh yes, Mr. Kale warned us about the radio program that satirized the Army-McCarthy hearings as being subversive. We also listened to Gen. MacArthur’s "old soldiers never die” speech on the radio and watched a lot of incredible boring Encyclopedia Brittanica instructional films. We read the Weekly Reader and if anyone has one of those I would love to see it.
I was one of a handful of Jewish or atheist students at Roosevelt and the Christian students had “free time” away at a nearby church for bible study. I was left in an almost empty class room to continue my day dreaming.
Picture 1930s actress Edna Mae Oliver and you have Miss Piendl, my first grade teacher who caught me day dreaming (once again) at the blackboard and gave me a vigorous shake. I think I cried. Miss Piendl wanted to flunk me but then I would have missed Mrs. Moran’s Easter lecture and a chance to make replicas of the Christmas manger scene the following year.
I had friends in grade school despite the anarchy including Jack Malone, a boy named Randy who I had to beat up on the play field because he wouldn’t leave me alone and George Nichols who lived up the street. One of the boys I knew in grade school, Nevin, was also a friend in high school.
My fondest grade school memory was third grade when we were rewarded for collecting newspapers with a showing of the movie “March of the Wooden Soldiers” with Laurel and Hardy. I own the movie and watch it every December.
I also remember a few birthday parties, a graduation party at Rick Judy’s home on Twin Lake and the graduation program when we played “Heart of My Heart” on comb and tissue paper. Miss Lou Eckhart, the third grade teacher, was a favorite and she married an aged wealthy former governor named Martin. I was lousy at math and luckily calculators came along in adulthood.
What doesn’t kill you will make you stronger is the applicable phrase for grade school.
In “class personality” summary for the memory book my nickname was “Dizzie”, ambition bank president, weakness day dreaming, famous for walk, pet saying “by george”, favorite food spaghetti and hobby collecting post cards. I was a crossing guard in addition to my Glee-like vocal efforts. Put your head down on the desk and tape a nap was a familiar refrain. Also, get under the desk for the "communists are coming" drill. I don't know what good the desk would have done. Try not spilling the ink in the ink well.
I was never good at conforming to behavior codes, then and now. It has served me well.


Gene Johnson said...

Michele Bachmann would consider your school an excleent model for education in the 21st century.

Your reference to Edna Mae Oliver meant that I had to a Google her in order to fully appreciate Miss Piendl. Here is a link to a memorial including a picture of her in David Copperfield:

Dave Zarkin said...

Edna Mae Oliver was in a series of detective movies with James Gleason where she was a school teacher detective. (From RKO in the 40s).

Mike Barer said...

I went to Jewish camp in Junior high and that was my earliest exposure to other Jewish children. I found myself an outsider,since I was from a small town. So I was an outsider for being Jewish in a small town, and an outsider in the Jewish community for being from a small town. In spite of that, I speak fondly of both, because afterall, I had I been totally comfortable in Walla Walla, I may have stayed there.
I credit the strong value system instilled by my parents and grandparents for my refusal to assimilate both spiritually and politically
In short, there were no real negative experiences for me because both situations fostered growth and learning.