Saturday, March 26, 2011

Grammar School

Behold, Grand Avenue School, Thiensville, Wisconsin, my home away from home as an itty bitty Yankee girl. My family moved to suburban Milwaukee from the outskirts of Chicago when I was six years old. This is where I began the second grade under the tutelage of Bonita Winters. She scared me half to death. No, make that nigh unto death. As we queued up the first day of school all spit-shined in our new dresses and shoes I soon felt that awful sensation known as panic as Mrs. Winters interrogated each little pupil one by one. "Who was your teacher last year?" she'd bark at each new short contestant. Sure enough, just as the beginning of school rolled around like clock work each year, my opportunity to be the object of interrogation arrived. "Who was your teacher last year!!!" I stood there frozen like the hardest ice in the coldest Wisconsin winter protected only by the long narrow table between us. "I said, who was your teacher last year!!!" she repeated even louder just in case I'd not heard or couldn't speak. Oh, I could hear her all right. I'm sure everyone from Grand Avenue School to those interred at Valhalla Cemetery could hear her.

"I didn't go to school here last year," I finally croaked out. "Stand over there," she ordered with her pointed long finger and arm which disappeared into the sleeve of the matronly black dress. Oh man. This was getting to be even worse than the time in kindergarten when my teacher gave me a peanut butter sandwich with grape jelly on it. My mother made peanut butter sandwiches with mayonnaise. No wonder I don't like mayonnaise.

Just as a little lagniappe I thought I'd include a photo of the kind of sturdy sensible shoes Mrs. Winters wore. Let's just say they added to her aura of authority. But then my great grandmother Edith Cole and my great-great grandmother Mary Marquette each wore those shoes and they didn't scare the skin off me.

I had just about gotten used to the idea of walking the one mile to school with my sister, Mary. This is where we grew up. Right. I'm not seven in this photo, but 57. Standing on the front porch of my childhood home. 413 Park Crest Drive, Thiensville WI 53092 (414) 242-3684. Sigh. It's remarkable that I can remember all of those numbers 50 years later. You see, Mrs. Winters made us memorize math facts at the Grand Avenue School. I had never learned a thing about math facts. My address was the closest thing I knew about math facts. All I did in first grade was read and try to hide from Chucky Whistler. No math. Mrs. Winters whipped out those addition and subtraction cards and one by one like little contestants on the game show "Press Your Luck," we were all pressed into time tests. Mrs. Winters could slam those flash cards down, well, like a flash. That must be why they're called flash cards. Except when little, scrawny, short, timid Shirley Spehr stepped forward to press her luck. Those cards moved as slowly as I do now as a southern girl. Then, just like now, I didn't do numbers.

This brings me to the title of the post. Grammar School. You've most likely discovered one of the many, many additional things I don't do well. Commas. I have, a terrible, time figuring out, where to place commas in a sentence, I should have paid more attention in grammar school and in punctuation school. So isn't it fun that I have the daughter known as "Math Girl" who can do anything and everything with numbers, the daughter who teaches English and loves grammar and punctuation as much as I love chocolate, and the daughter who is the academic advisor for accounting students at Ole Miss. Doesn't God have a delightful sense of humor? English girl told me last night that in ten short minutes she can transform my comma confusion into a no red marks masterpiece. I just hope the comma rules aren't on flash cards. I'll give you a progress report.

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