... or, how I got here from there
Looking way back, I recall my formative school days as being vaguely uncomfortable and largely unsuccessful. I started out with "Dick and Jane" and found them to be pale and uninspiring. Reading got a second chance with me when I discovered one of Sholom Aleichem's Yiddish children's books at the Marblehead Library in the early 40's. He let me in on the human joke that is us, as William Shakespeare did again, later on.
Math was, for me, untrustworthy. 2+2 might equal 4 on Monday but I was never sure by Wednesday or Friday. Math seemed subject to change without warning .. like the rest of life. When I reached the sixth grade, I was sent to parochial school by public transportation, to the next town. There I was confounded by square root and Sister Helen who assured me that I would NEVER get out of the sixth grade. NEVER!
On the bus I felt technically unsupervised although everyone else was an adult. I always sat at the very back, allowing for the long walk down the narrow aisle carrying my school project: usually snakes, frogs, or white rats in glass terrariums or in cages. Science did not really call to me, but causing a stir did. Not only did I rouse the early bus patrons, but I stimulated the class to screams. (Especially the girls.) I garnered EXTRA CREDIT while the entire class "stayed after." Life had it's perks.
There was no study of myth, of course (until Joseph Campbell's PBS programs in the 70's). I feel History was limited and untruthful. (Read Howard Zinn's "The People's History of the United States"). Music was somehow like Math: a mystery to me. All subjects were coated in Catholicism. Evolution? Galileo who? What Inquisition?
My mother was horrified at the bloody tales I took home about the martyred saints. We were immersed in a fear of Russians who never came, never came. "Duck and cover" was our training for bomb survival for when the Communists came to ask whether we were Catholic. Of course, we must admit we were, under pain of death or torture. Because of this particularly nefarious information, I learned to doubt propaganda and the "us versus them" theory, which lead to finding "I and Thou" by Martin Buber in my 30's and a belief that we are all one people divided by religion and government.
I took sewing and cooking in the eighth grade with Sr. Catherine who taught us to "clean as you go". Perhaps this made me neat or was it Papa's zero tolerance for clutter which he threw out the back door? I was never abused by nuns, nor was anyone else I knew during my seven years of Catholic education, though the Sisters of Charity and the Sisters of Notre Dame did seem to prefer nice girls to nasty boys.
I studied Latin and French but not much. Discovering that words had roots and meanings tied to the past and other lands (some of which I actually visited in the 1990's) delighted me. I took typing and shorthand and was superlative at neither. My penmanship (cursive Palmer Method with inkwell, pen and nib) was uniform, like the clothes we all wore every school day.
Swimming in the ocean and riding horseback gave me confidence.
Longfellow and Tennyson were Nature in rhyme but later e.e.cummings, T.S.Eliot and Dylan Thomas became my favorites.
I have to say TV influenced all of us. How could it not? Sid Caesar, Imogene Coka, Milton Berle, Jack Benny, George and Gracie taught me to laugh out loud! I learned what war looked like when we got our first color television set. Vietnam was so green and the blood so red on the screen right there in our living room. I learned about deceit and the corruption of words from Richard Milhouse Nixon.
I learned patience by being pregnant for 45 months (almost 4 years in a row) and 2 years of breast feeding. I did the math and retired from Catholicism and all organized faiths.
The movie that showed me what discrimination is: "The Boy With Green Hair". "Bambi" taught me compassion for animals; "Snow White" a kind of work ethic and "The Wizard of Oz" distrust of authority. "Hair", the play, liberated me. Bob Dylan was my prophet and wordsmith. Ghandi and Martin Luther King became my heroes. The ideas I get from books are endless gifts. Losing everything taught me I could survive losing everything. Six children taught me unconditional love and one man taught me the Blues.
April 7, 2006