The ritual known as "the first day of kindergarten" took place this morning at Steamboat Springs schools, as it does every year with equal doses of laughter and tears.
Those poor little 5-year-olds, they cannot know how their lives have changed forever.
Do you recall your kindergarten teacher by name?
I know I'll never forget Mrs. King. How many kindergarten teachers today would bring a full-sized adult Tom turkey into their room and keep it in a pen for a full month before Thanksgiving?
A typical November morning in Mrs. King's class at Charles R. Van Hise Elementary School sounded like this: "Children, get your mats out of your cubbies. It's nap time. Gobble, gobble, gobble."
Mrs. King helped us make some kickin' pilgrim outfits out of construction paper. It was a good year.
The next year, Miss Ziegler helped me learn to read "Dick and Jane" books: "See Spot run. Run Spot, run!" I was a little slow to catch on. Miss Ziegler reminded me of Miss Frances from Ding Dong School on television.
It was in second grade that we learned about community helpers, like nurses and firemen. I struggled in penmanship. We had these crazy pens that used ink cartridges. I guess they hadn't invented the ball-point pen yet. Anyway, the ink was still wet when it came out of the cartridges, and it was difficult for lefties like myself to avoid dragging their wrists through the still wet ascenders on their b's and d's. My writing samples were always a mess.
We always got a half-pint of milk at mid-morning along with a tiny, chocolate-flavored iodine pill about the size of a pencil eraser. I always thought it was the smallest piece of candy I had ever seen. Whoever Charles R. Van Hise was, he had to be a cheapskate (actually, he was a renowned professor of mathematics who could not be held responsible for my mid-morning snack).
There was a kid in my class in second grade, Charlie Somebody, who could drink milk and blow milk bubbles out his nose. To this day, I still haven't learned to do that. I wonder what Charlie Somebody is doing today. With his natural ability, he's probably the CEO of a multi-national petroleum company.
We learned what to do in case of atom bomb attack in third grade. I know that many of you were trained to crawl under your school desks to ward off nuclear holocaust. We had a different drill in Miss Ollie Parkins' class.
This was during an era in the early 1960s when people in our subdivision actually were building bomb shelters in their back yards. Why the commies would ever drop a bomb on Madison. Wis., is a mystery to me. But that was the fear.
So, in third grade, we regularly filed out of the classroom with a strident buzzer going off and sat against a brick wall. Miss Parkins handed out copies of "Look" and "Life" magazines, which we opened up and held over our heads like small tents. This technique was proven to protect against nuclear warheads of one megaton or less. I'd like to tell you we all prayed we wouldn't get the copy of Life with the photograph of Nikita Kruschev on the cover, but I would be making that up.
We were all innocents.
Mrs. Weinshank pounded the multiplication tables into us in fourth grade. She was a pretty stern taskmaster, but she had a way of letting us know she cared about us, and I liked her a lot. She also taught us poetry. I stood up and recited a poem I'd written about Davey Crockett and the Alamo in which the last word of every line was contrived to rhyme with San Antonio. Davey Crockett had a rifle-onio, etc., etc. It was ghastly and I was really proud of it. Mrs. Weinshank was nice enough to pretend she liked it.
We got down to some serious scientific research in Mrs. Gould's fifth-grade class. She taught us to build our own electro-magnets, and we always were engaged in hands-on learning.
There wasn't a computer in our entire school. None of us owned a calculator.
From our perspective, the best teachers were the ones who could write on the chalkboard without making the chalk squeak. The status of little boys was determined on the baseball diamond, and books could transform us into wizards, mountain men and Civil War heroes.
Some things have changed and some things will never change. Another school year has begun. Here's to childhood innocence.