My mother was a child of the early 1900s and once in a while she would tell me tales of her youth. They say truth can be stranger than fiction:
She was raised, among other places, on the banks of the Keystone River in Oklahoma in a tent. Being the oldest child of an alcoholic artist father and midget mother, she inherited much of the household work, including raising her three siblings. Being that poor, she somehow learned to forage for food by picking poke salad, knowing to only use it when young as it turns more toxic as the plants get older.
Once they were robbed of their meager wherewithall when the intruder found parents gone and placed a handkerchief soaked in chloroform over her face. (When my mother related this event, she seemed to go back into the horror of that moment, grasping her face and having some trouble breathing for a bit.)
She did have some good tales about reading books from the library when they were near towns where she could go there and find some measure of peace.
She also learned to skate one year when someone gave her a pair. Although they gave her the greatest joy of childhood, it ended badly when she skated full force into a light pole, sustaining a head injury which would haunt her throughout her lifetime. Of course, folks who lived in tents didn’t use doctors back then.
Her childhood was riddled with constant readjustments to survive. Once when she was in the second grade she went to a new school. Having no earthly idea what to do with glue, she did the best she could to fake it. However, when the teacher got to her, the paste was all over her face and hands and the desk.
Already scared, next she found herself being scandalized with shame and derision! The teacher put her in the corner, without any cleaning up, and crowned her with a Dunce Cap. During all this time, she was being shamed loudly where all the other students could hear and laugh at her.
When school was over for the day, she had to find her way out with hair, arms and clothes now stuck with dried paste, making her both physically miserable and even more emotionally traumatized. The river came in handy that day as she struggled to get cleaned up.
What amazed me is that she was unfailingly grateful for being able to attend school when possible, even with moving often and hardly ever being able to bond with classmates. She cherished the opportunity to learn, feeling lucky to be able to eventually get to high school. She always stressed the value of an education with me and my brother and sister as something no one could ever take away from you. However, she always wished she could have finished school, so as a senior citizen she even went to night school to finish her GED!
This story had a profound effect on my future in becoming a teacher with special efforts over my professional life toward helping under-served and misunderstood students.
Although I do believe in honesty with children, I have always tried to show genuine respect for each soul I’ve touched. When a behavior or skill needed correction, I endeavored to present it as information to avoid any child ever having to go through the type of pain my mother went through as a sometime student.
The Dunce Cap my mother wore taught me more about teaching than years of professional courses. In the spirit of turning lemons into lemonade, I helped children enjoy reading with the idea of Reading Hats which many of my students relished over the years.
Copyright by Hildra Tague. Obtain permission from author for use online or in print.