Friday, July 3, 2009

My Class Act

You probably can't tell from that picture, but those chairs in the Second Grade classroom are very small. Don't know what they measure across in inches or centimeters, but in my world they are each about 1 cheek wide. Given the slightly raised armrest in the middle, I decided to stand during Grandparents Day at Lily's school this morning.

The kids all sat cross-legged on the floor for the full hour. I kept having this image of how funny it would have been by the end if all of us grandparents had sat on the floor. I suspect most of us wouldn't have rolled around the floor that much since our early 20s.

It was a very nice event, but it must have seemed somewhat shocking to the kids. For probably the first time in their lives this was all about their grandparents and barely about them.

Each kid who had a grandparent there took their turn to walk up to him or her and introduce them to the class. Lily had three of us there, which made her the winner of the Kid With the Most Grandparents In Attendance prize. When it was her turn she said, "This is Armagh. This is Bampy. And this is Jean."

I hadn't realized Jean didn't have a grandmother name. Most of the rest of us did. There were a couple of Grumps, a Baba, several Pops, a Nana or two and of course just Grandma and Grandpa. Needless to say there was no other Bampy, Armagh or Jean.

The oldies' job was to tell the kids a story or two about what we remembered when we were their age and how things are different now. Lots of reminiscences about milk and bread being delivered to the door, TV not being around, about what school was like back then and, for one intrepid soul, how everyone, including kids, could have a cigarette at half time during a football game.

Linda recalled seeing double features and having enough of her 25 cent allowance left to buy candy - except when it was a Disney movie because they cost 35 cents. She told them how there were so many kids and so little space in the schools that they held school in morning shifts for some kids and afternoon for others.

And she told them that her mother was a school teacher, but not at the school she went to. Then she told them that Lily met Peg last year and there's a video on YouTube of the two of them - something that no one could have even imagined back then.

I was the next to last one to speak, and just about everything I had thought of saying had been done already - even one grandmother from Czechoslavakia who talked about snow and having school days cancelled when it snowed too much.

I briefly thought of telling the kids that my second grade teacher was a woman who vowed never to get married and lived in a house with other women who vowed never to date men. She only wore one thing - a long black dress and a long black veil that only allowed you to see her face from the forehead to the chin. But I couldn't think how to explain to them that she wasn't a Muslim and, so far as I knew, she wasn't a lesbian.

So instead I told them about something that had actually popped into my head when I was standing there. I got a vivid memory of queuing up to get our polio shots when I was in 2nd or 3rd grade. And I told them that lots of kids got very sick from polio and people were even afraid to swim in public pools, but when Dr Salk discovered the vaccine it eliminated a disease that none of them will ever have to worry about again.

Ever the cheery Bampy. Nothing like telling kids about the plague that threatened all of us when we were their age.

The highlight of the day, though, had happened earlier when one of the grandfathers told about growing up in what would have been called Rhodesia back then. He described a great evening with his father as they watched wildlife from a new viewing platform in Hwange National Park. On the drive home in the dark, though, a large herd of elephants kept threatening their car, bellowing at it and acting as if they might charge at any moment.

All ended well, obviously, but he explained to the spellbound kids that this wouldn't happen now because people don't shoot elephants any more. But back then, the older elephants remembered when people in vehicles would shoot and kill elephants, and so they became very aggressive.

Several young hands shot up, and his tale generated more questions than any other. And it ended with the comments of one young boy who didn't have a question but an observation. "I suspect," he said in a very smug and self-assured tone, "that you wouldn't even have to shoot the elephant to kill it. If it was an older elephant, the sound of the gun going off might make its heart beat too fast and because it is so old, it might die that way."

That managed to bring the room to complete silence. And as Linda said to me on the way out, "Isn't it amazing how with some of these kids you can already tell even at this age what kind of adults they are going to be?"


PS Linda mentioned one other thing to the kids that I wanted to leave for last. Today is Peg's 90th birthday.


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