My mom recently located a clipping from the Quay County Sun, a Thanksgiving article about what Logan grade school children were thankful for in 1968. I started to print the very timely contents of the article (maybe later), but the photo immediately took me back to how it felt to be in the third grade with Mrs. Lorena Smith as my teacher. So. . .here’s what you get instead.
Third grade is almost as bad as second. I’m surprised. Second grade scared me to death – Mrs. Pittman made my days long and tearful. I was never able to get it right in second grade.
But Mrs. Smith. How could third grade be as unpleasant as second when Mrs. Smith is teaching it? I have known her all my life, from the First Baptist Church, from her sitting in the fifth row, down on the left side of the pews. She taught my preschool Bible School class, the one where I met Glenda Horne, my best friend in the entire universe. How can Mrs. Smith, who believes in God just like me, who sings those hymns and smiles graciously when the preacher asks her to be head of the kitchen committee for another year, how can she be so dadgum mean to all of us in the classroom?
My mother knows everything, much more than me. When I wanted to invite Mrs. Pittman and her husband to the revival meeting, Mom talked me out of it. “Some people, especially Henry and Delores, might take that wrong. Let someone else do it, not you.” And sure enough, the preacher called them instead, at Mom’s urging, and of course they didn’t come, and the brutality of my second grade life continued.
My mother gave me new advice for the third grade. “Don’t cry this year,” she tells me, “Carry songs in your head and your heart.” Her suggestion is that when I’m feeling particularly low, I’m to let myself hear I am Thine O’ Lord, I have heard thy voice, and it told thy love to me. Or better yet, mom’s personal favorite, Will there be any stars, any stars in my crown, when at evening the sun goeth down. . .will I wake with the blest in the mansions of rest? Will there be any stars in my crown?
So I’ve tried what mom tells me. Mrs. Smith asks a question about Coronado’s journey into New Mexico, and I am excited. This is the first year we have had history, really called it history, and mimicking my daddy’s love of the subject, I have already read far ahead in our New Mexico History text. Of course I know the answer, and I wave my hand. No one else is even going to attempt this one, but instead of calling on me, she calls on Allen sitting behind me and then helps him to eventually arrive at a correct answer.
I am determined not to be unhappy, determined to hide my disappointment. But instead of Will there be any stars, I let me head fill with Went to Kansas City on a Friday, by Saturday I learned a thing or two, looked as if I didn’t have an idee’ what the modern world was coming to.I am smiling. I am not disappointed. I am sitting at my desk and my heart is full of the first non-church music I remember ever hearing, the soundtrack to the musical “Oklahoma,” and when I hear those tunes in my head, I hear my mother humming them at the sewing machine while she sews up a set of yellow curtains to hang above the kitchen sink.
It is 1968. We have all kinds of music in our house now. Belinda has her own record player in our bedroom and we put the plastic adapter in the 45’s and listen to Herman’s Hermits and Don’t Sleep in the Subway Dummy, don’t stand in the pouring rain and So happy together. . . .I can’t see me loving nobody but you, for all my life and Red Rubber Ball. I might just love Paul Revere and the Raiders more than I love the Oklahoma soundtrack.
Just this past Saturday night we were at my Uncle Herman and Aunt Jackie’s, and one of my cousins pulled out a new Beach Boys album and played At the Drive-In. Even though I’m only in the third grade, I got to dance with my handsome cousin Mark, and then someone started the record over and Susie and I tried to jitterbug to the Beach Boys. I think I might be in love with the Beach Boys. Not any one in particular, just all of them on that album cover with that blond hair, holding their surfboards. No one in New Mexico looks like the Beach Boys, unless you count Russell Feerer in the fourth grade with that white blonde hair, but he’s got a crush on Debbie Boatman, everybody knows it, and its not like he’d actually own a surfboard anyway.
So third grade is torture. There is long division, which I’m sure will always be my least favorite math exercise. Who really cares how many time 3,463 will go into 11,677? Who will ever really have numbers like that in their life? Maybe the Beach Boys, who might sell that many records or have that many fans in a day, but otherwise, what does itdf mean out here in Quay County? But I doggedly work at my long division every night, wishing I hadn’t been so frightened by Mrs. Pittman in second grade. Maybe I would have learned my times tables better.