Dow: Life in the fishbowl
I am writing this in the aftermath of the Robb Elementary School mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas. My first thought, after recovering from the shock and horror, was, “Where was I at age 8?”
It was third grade at Howard School, and I was a proud and happy underling of Ms. Fish. She had taught my dad, my brother, my sister and me, and it was about the only year of elementary school (barring kindergarten) through seventh grade (first year of junior high) that I actually behaved.
Third grade stands out in my mind. We had to read aloud and it was the only year that I didn’t raise the desk top to silently read ahead when struggling, reluctant, slow readers stumbled over the words.
There were easels in the back of the spacious room which was lined with large windows (great for daydreaming) where we could work on our tempera paintings if we finished our assignments early. We sang wonderful little folk songs, and everyone had a chance to choose.
Bill Wiley always chose “A Frog Went A-Courtin’” (but we sang it as “A frog went courting” because we were taught proper English!), and I recently purchased the soundtrack of that little ditty arranged by William Grant Still. Discipline was kept in check by the principal, Mr. Covert, who probably had an old fraternity paddle that was never used, but placed plainly in sight — the legend was scary enough — plus everyone behaved in Ms. Fish’s class. In third grade, we all liked school and we all loved the teacher. I even had a job.
After school, I was Pop Shively’s helper. He was the janitor who later married my second grade teacher, Ms. Dennison, and they went to our church (as an aside in case you are interested). Our classroom had huge slate chalkboards, shiny hardwood floors and individual desks, seats attached, with flip-top writing tables complete with inkwells.
My job after school was to move the desks, one row at a time toward the next row, permitting Pop to sweep the floor with his big broom. My second duty was to clean the erasers while Pop cleaned the chalkboards. Now the room was sparkling and ready for the next day. My pay was a candy bar once a month when I was called from the playground to Pop’s boiler room at recess. I always chose Hershey’s chocolate and probably ate it in front of my covetous classmates.
We walked to school and went home for lunch. There were a few students whose mothers worked, and we felt sorry for them because they had to eat sack lunches in the basement of the school. It smelled of bananas, and I still can’t stand the whiff of a banana peel in an enclosed wastebasket — reminds me of that lunchroom and how lucky I felt to go home for a hot lunch.
One boy, Richard Hatch, lived farther from the school, and he was almost always late. My mother remembered seeing Richard rushing along, nevertheless stopping momentarily, turning and saluting, saying, “Hello, Mrs. Shade” if she happened to be out on the front porch.
This might have been a pleasant fishbowl during a Pollyanna era, secure and predictable. I can only imagine the Robb Elementary children a few days ago receiving scholastic awards, loving their teachers, and the teachers in turn dedicated to their profession.
I wonder why, in a few moments of time, this scene was abruptly cut short, lives cut short, carnage replacing beauty. Why, we ask? Perhaps the perpetrator of this calamity noticed with envy that these children had what he did not.
Marie Dow has been sashaying between Little Rock, Arkansas, Avon, and Missouri for many years, mainly chasing music, good snow and fine living. She recently taught at Gulf University for Science and Technology in Kuwait.