And climb the stairs to the beach...

Monday, August 01, 2011

August 1, 2011 Rabbits Run in the Family

Rabbit Rabbit Rabbit to you all! Today is the first of the month which, as many of you already know, means that if the first thing you say that day is Rabbit Rabbit (or as some say 3 Rabbits, or as the British say, White Rabbit), well then you shall have good luck all month.

You could say rabbits run in the family because I've been trying to remember to do this on the first of every month since my eldest son Doug was in the fourth grade and his teacher, Mr. Myers, told him about the practice. Although I had Mr Myers as a fourth grader myself, he never told ME about rabbits and I feel as though I may have missed out on many an opportunity for good fortune throughout those years. However, having Mr. Myers as a teacher was an experience, one deserving of a blog all his own.

Bob Myers was a legend even before I had him as a teacher. My friend Betsy had two older brothers, who were good friends of my next door neighbor Brian and the Copp boys down the street. All of them had Mr. Myers in 4th grade and the tales they told Betsy were legendary. Not only was he famous for being a teacher, but he would go trick or treating as a grown up in their neighborhood, which is where he lived as a boarder in Mrs. Copp's rooming house for as many years as I could remember. Mrs. Copp was the choir director at our church so I always thought I had a certain connection with Mr. Myers that some may not have had. A brush with fame, as it were. The tales we heard from Betsy's brothers and Brian and the Copp boys in whose home he lived, put us third graders both in a state of fear and at the same time hopefulness with the possibility of ending up in his class in 4th grade. Of course that did happen to me and of all the teachers I had, he was probably the most memorable for his unique methods of teaching.

In the late 50s and early 60s, my hometown of Sudbury was experiencing a population explosion that well outpaced the construction of new schools. They were forced to hold double sessions in some schools and even rented space for others. In 3rd and 4th grade, I attended school in what we called The Edison Building. This was a flat, one story tar paper roofed building, located close to the road on busy Route 20 near the outskirts of town. It contained 3 classrooms and a girls' bathroom and a boys' bathroom. The playground was a gravel parking lot behind the building that abutted a swamp. The only "equipment" in the playground was a very long, telephone pole that lay on it's side, partially embedded in the gravel, dividing the lot in two and providing a berm for cars to nose up against when parking. The building's original purpose had been temporary office space for The Boston Edison Company. Having been designated as our playground, cars no longer parked in the lot and  the three teachers would park in the semi-circular gravel drive in front of the building instead.

The very long pole was the only thing in the "playground" and served as any number of things. It was where we all dashed as soon as we were free from the class room, jockeying for the best position, as if there was one, in a never ending game of "king of the pole" that spontaneously occurred whenever two or more people were standing on it, which was pretty much the entire recess period. As we'd balance our feet on the black wooden pole, the sweet, familiar smell of creosote would greet our noses as the sun warmed it, making it sticky in some places which we would avoid. The pole was long enough to accommodate every child in the Edison Building all at once with room to spare, yet we had our spots picked out and it was a competition to get to them before someone else did. Beginning our recess adventures from atop this rounded balance beam it would soon become first base for kick ball, a ballet platform, goals for tag and the spot where "Mother" would stand in a game of "Mother May I" which may have to be explained to some of my younger readers. Games of Red Rover and Duck Duck Goose would sometimes be arranged during gym class, which was the only time that we weren't anchored to activities around this pole; that is except for one day in the fall of 1960.

That one day, Patty Ide and I thought it would be fun to peak around the front of the building where Mr. Myers headed each recess. And so, we innocently did so, discovering Mr. Myers pacing back and forth on the semicircular front driveway, smoking a cigarette. I thought nothing of that activity. In the 60s, most adults were smokers, at least the ones I knew. He was probably trying to catch a break from the 9 year olds driving him crazy. Of course he saw us and we were immediately called on it. "Miss Hall, Miss Ide, stay right where you are!" We were in big trouble, we could tell from his tone. "Follow me, please." and so we did, right into the classroom, passing the rest of the kids standing on the pole. He told us to take our seats and handed us each two sheets of lined paper. He turned his back to us and wrote on the chalkboard "I should not spy on people because-". He told us to write as many reasons as we could as to why we shouldn't spy on people and not to stop until the paper was filled. Then left us alone in the classroom.

Patty and I looked at each other, wide eyed with disbelief that this was the only punishment we were getting and went to work on what seemed to be an easy task. It wasn't long before the class came back in after recess was over. Mr. Myers called us up to his desk. Patty handed him her paper, but I held onto mine. I had only written the same thing on every line: "We should not spy on people because-" "Miss Hall?" he inquired. I said "I am really sorry but I couldn't think of any reasons at all! I don't know why I shouldn't spy on people." I went on to say that it was a good way to find things out and I didn't know what the problem was. I don't remember him saying anything, and he didn't punish me any further. He just told us to go back to our seats and that was that. Do you think he might have agreed with me? Perhaps he was going to write it down in his little book of stupid things his students said. All I know is that I was amazed that he didn't give me any other punishment and always have wondered why. I also wondered how Patty Ide could have thought of so many reasons it wasn't a good thing to do.

I reminded him about this incident years later at a back to school night for Doug's class. He had no recollection of it but found it to be an amusing little anecdote. So much for pivotal moments in our lives.

Mr. Myers had particularly interesting methods for keeping his classroom in order. He was my first male teacher and so he had a certain air about him just from wearing a tie in the classroom that demanded respect. Balding but dark haired, his voice was loud and he spoke distinctly, calling us by the title of Miss or Mr., never using our first names, ever. His lessons were taught in ways we'd never forget, and I don't mean lessons in arithmetic or spelling or social studies. If someone dropped a piece of paper on the floor and failed to pick it up, he'd stop everything right there and then on the spot, announce we were going to play 'Hansel and Gretal' and "request" that the child who dropped the paper retrieve it and bring it to him. We all knew what was coming next. Mr. Myers would take the page and tear it up into many tiny pieces. He'd then proceed to drop them along a path, all around the classroom, around desks, behind easels, out toward the door and back in the room again, finally ending up at the brown metal waste basket beside his desk. The game was that the pitiful Gretal or Hansel, depending on who had perpetrated the crime, was to pick up each tiny piece of paper following the trail along the path he had laid out and depositing the lot in the waste basket at the end of the trail. He would then resume the lesson he had been teaching without any further reference to the game.

Then there were desk inspections. Although it was usually done on Fridays, there were times when if a messy desk was noticed on other days of the week, exceptions would be made. But I remember the one day it was my desk that gained Mr. Myers' attention. I remember it as if it was yesterday. He wore rubber soled shoes, so he was quiet when moving among the rows. Our desks were antiques even then. They had a place to lay a pencil, carved into the wood on the desktop, and to the right of that was a hole with a metal structure in it, sort of like a cup holder, but instead of holding a cup, it was to hold a bottle of ink in days long gone, by the time we got the desks. Old crude drawings and people's names from earlier days, indelibly recording the kids that sat there before made each desk unique. Some of the names were familiar as older siblings to my friends or kids I knew from church. The desk itself had a metal base which attached to the bottom of the wooden swivel seat and connected that to the base of the desk, making a sort of sled-shaped object. The desktop was hinged so that it flipped open, like a laptop computer. The whole thing was very heavy and I wouldn't be able to lift it myself.  

But Mr. Myers could easily lift these desks. He passed through the rows of desks, silently and he would randomly flip open this one or that. I had been lucky over the past few weeks and had been effective at being invisible as he passed by me, until this one ill-fated day. He quietly, came up beside my desk. "Miss Hall?" he said. "Would you kindly open your desk for me?" I had no choice. With that horrible feeling in the pit of my stomach, I slowly lifted the desk top revealing the secret it held. It was a mess. Papers stuffed in there, a few books, pencils, erasers, wax paper from lunches, filled so full it almost prevented me from closing it at all. He stared at the contents of my desk. "Miss Hall, kindly step away from your desk." Gulp. I stood up and stepped away as he tipped the heavy thing on it's side, its contents spilled out onto the floor: papers, rulers, pencils and one lone apple, stashed in there God only knew when, came bouncing out, rolling under the feet of Larry Horton, the love of my 4th grade life.

That was just the start of it, for after the dumping came the singing. The whole class joined in with Mr. Myers and his booming basso profundo in a round of S-L-O-B. It was a song with a catchy little tune, taught to us the first week of school and it was the only time I ever remember Mr. Myers using my first name. The song went:

S- L- O- B,
S- L- O- B,
Suzanne is
an S- L- O- B.

Humiliating, yes. But, it also gave me a little celebrity for the day, as most of the members of this chorus had been in the same spot as I was at some time or other in Mr. Myer's classroom and they were more sympathetic than anything else.

He was a unique fellow, to be sure. He would tear the "fruit loops" off of the new oxford shirts we'd wear which were in fashion that year. You know, those useless loops of fabric at the top of the pleat on the back of the shirt? For some reason, he like pulling them off and usually they'd come off clean without damaging the rest of the shirt, so it wasn't as bad as it might seem to those who'd never witnessed it. He had a whole collection of these in light blue, pink, white and a few other pastels.

When our new school was built and ready for us, just after Christmas break, we moved there and when spring came, we found ourselves in a proper playground with swings and see saws and even grass and a paved area for kickball. Mr. Myers liked to play marbles, though and had his own can of them in his desk. He'd come out to the playground and invite us to shoot marbles with him, giving us a few if we didn't have any of our own. Soon everyone was bringing marbles in to school. But, Mr. Myers didn't coddle us and if he won them, he'd keep them. We thought it was outrageous that he played for "keeps" with children and learned never to use our prized marbles in a game with him. But, at the same time we were very flattered when he played with us at all. Collecting and playing marbles became all the rage, a game that really belonged to a generation before ours.

Mr. Myers was in love with Jane Morgan, a singer none of us knew, whose theme song was Love Makes the World Go Round. He'd sing that all the time, so enamored by her was he. He'd walk around the classroom and sing it when he handed out papers or when he was collecting them. He'd sing it when we were trying to do a paper, or even a test. I think it was designed to help us learn to concentrate.

He segued from talking about Jane Morgan and how he was her number one fan into finding out what celebrities we liked. He got addresses of many of them from fan magazines and we all wrote to our particular celebrities, telling about ourselves and asking for autographed pictures. When people began to receive pictures and responses in the mail it was so exciting! We would check every day for mail and some of us asked Mr. Myers for more addresses and we wrote more letters on our own, even after the assignment was completed. Whenever someone received a reply and a picture, they presented it to the class and then proudly pinned it up on the bulletin board set aside for this project. I received my first signed photo from Jay North who played Dennis the Menace. Then, I got one from the cast of Lassie from the Timmy days, and the cast of Fury, including a separate one from Roger Mobley who played Pee Wee.

Timmy and Lassie

William Fawcett, Peter Graves and Bobby Diamond
The Cast of Fury

Roger Mobley played Pee Wee on Fury and went on
To play Gallagher in the Disney movies of that name.
I thought Ed looked like him when they were both teenagers.

Jay North, aka Dennis the Menace
The first photo I received from my letters.

Mr. Myers' autographed photo of Jane Morgan was in the middle of the whole display.

Moving to our new school afforded us lots of great things, like new desks and that sort of thing. But, it also made for great Friday afternoons. Whenever there was time, Mr. Myers would wheel the brand new spinnett that came with the new school into the room and he'd sit down on the bench and begin to play as we moved our chairs to encircle him. (Our chairs were wonderfully free to be moved and no longer attached to our desks.) He'd play and we'd sing songs he'd taught us like Little Tommy Tinker, There's a Hole in the Bucket Dear Liza or There's a Hole in the Bottom of the Sea, or I know an Old Woman Who Swallowed a Fly and all sorts of Christmas carols, too. Years later, I taught our granddaughters some of these songs and amazingly I remember those lyrics still. Not to mention the S-l-o-b song. But he was never more fun, smiling and animated than when he was playing piano for us on Friday afternoons. It was a great way to end our week.

Another thing I will always remember about Mr. Myers, something I had heard from Betsy's brothers that turned out to be absolutely true: Mr. Myers sent graduation cards with a personal note included to every one of his 4th graders when they graduated from high school. It was something I looked forward to for all of those 8 years, and sure enough, like the rest of my classmates, I did receive such a card.

Mr. Myers died in 1992 at the age of 64. He retired after 37 years of teaching. We thought he was quite old when I had him as a teacher in 1960 and that he'd been teaching forever. But, according to the article I found online, he would  have been in his 30s, just 8 years of teaching experience behind him. Funny how one's perspective changes. I wish I had a photo of him. If any of my readers do, please send it along so I can add it to this post.

So, not only do I remember my rabbits every first day of the month, but I also remember Mr. Myers who taught me all kinds of things, and through my son, he taught me about the rabbits on the first of the month, just a fun little something my son handed up to me.

And by the way, by the time my son had him in 4th grade, 25 years after me, Mr. Myers was no longer singing Jane Morgan's "Love Makes the World Go Round".

He was singing Tina Turner's "What's Love Got To Do With It?"

Have a great day everyone!

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