In August Mother Nature sends signals of the summer’s end. Sumac leaves begin to turn scarlet, a random leaf falls to the earth succumbing to the relentless pull of gravity. Along rural roadsides Chicory weeds show their sparse blue blooms. The streams like Big Sugar Creek (see photo) in McDonald County, Missouri, slow and shine a bottle green color, but remain cool and soothing for an afternoon dip in a favorite swimming hole. All are accompanied by the buzzing, humming song of cicada’s warning of darkness coming soon and an impending change in the weather.
Photo by Linda Johnson
These signs continue to tell us that September will bring a change in our lives. Importantly, they remind us it will soon be time to go to school. Even in my eighth decade, I feel a surge of optimism and long to return to a learning environment. When I was young, going back to school meant preparation – a brand new Big Chief Tablet and two Number 2 lead pencils, new saddle shoes and a dress – usually the dress was a plaid gingham with a sash tied in a neat bow by my proud mother who had ironed it “slick as fly legs” to be sure I would start the day off looking tidy. I would usually return with it wilted and dusty from rowdy games of “Red Rover” at recess where we blew off excess energy in order to focus on our studies later.
I attended 12 years of classes at the Pineville, Missouri school. Most of my classmates attended the same length of time, our teachers lived in town and knew every child and his/her parents and siblings, if any. School was a safe place with no fear of potential harm from a pervert, a crazed gunman or a raging epidemic. There were dreaded illnesses and we were in the last generation to expect to have measles, German measles, whooping cough, chickenpox, and polio. I had all of them at one time or another with no serious harm except a slight limp from polio.
We focused on learning basic skills: reading, writing (the Palmer Method had exacting strokes that I wrote jerkily and abandoned as soon as possible to my present hen scratch mode), basic math (I recall my awe in learning about negative numbers) in fourth grade, but I remember playing “Jacks” on rainy days more vividly. A few years ago, a “No Child Left Behind” test was published in the local paper. One question required a complex analysis of statistics to answer. My husband was a statistician and he could not solve it. I wonder how important statistics are to the average fourth grader of today.
I got my only spanking at school from Miss Etta for wading in the little stream that ran through the playground at morning recess. I was indignant because I wore rubber boots and didn’t get my shoes wet like the other wayward kids. When I went home that afternoon, I was further disillusioned by getting a spanking from my dad for disobeying the rules at school. I learned that no one really understood me and my interpretation of events.
Today we are in the midst of the second pandemic in 100 years. There is much consternation about whether or not to open schools. In 1918, my Mother got so ill from the Spanish Flu that she was kept at home for an extra year to recover. She survived the loss of a year of “socialization with her peers” and quickly caught up on her studies.
Perhaps we should spend less time dithering and concentrate on working together to restore a safe and sensible way of life and enjoy learning at all ages. Take some time to notice the changes going on about us – a red leaf fluttering to earth, a late-blooming rose, and the reverberating twilight psalm of cicadas.
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