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Saturday, April 2, 2011

No. 19 "Bittersweet Memories of Grade School on the Island"

From "Livin' & Learnin', the 25th Anniversary of Harkers Island Elementary School," remarks given by me in 1982

... there were some bittersweet memories. My most painful recollections are of those days we were obliged to line up for the seemingly endless array of inoculations that the State inflicted on all public school students. Standing in line and watching your compatriots suffer was almost as bad as the needle itself; but not quite! Invariably, one of the nurses or parents who were helping to administer this "mass torture" would try to calm our fears by saying, "It feels just like a mosquito bite." But who would stand in line for a mosquito bite? And besides, the sensation was much closer to that of a yellow jacket sting to me. And if that wasn't punishment enough, the shots would stiffen your arm so much that you couldn't throw a baseball for a week.

Also, It should be pointed out that a paddle was as much a part of education as was a pencil. Especially for us boys, a "paddling" now and then might be dreaded, but it positively could not be avoided. By the seventh grade it was almost an everyday occurrence. "Come to the front and bend across my desk!" was repeated at least as often as "get out your English Books." After a while a few of us developed calluses over the afflicted area that served to lessen, but not completely eliminate, the sting. The near demise of "paddling" as a form of punishment is one development that part of me wholeheartedly applauds.

Another bittersweet memory of those years is of the many operettas and plays that each class had to stage every year. Practicing and learning the lines was ok. But it was never easy to stand in front of a packed auditorium and recite those lines. And it was even worse when you had to sing them. Because I had been cast as a dwarf named "Squeaky" in a second grade production of "Snow White," some of my friends, or rather enemies as I then supposed, continued to call me by that name for years.

But mostly it was fun. We were living and learning in a school that sat by the banks of a tranquil sea. We were being taught by teachers who were genuinely concerned for us and for our futures. Each one of my teachers left an indelible imprint on the young boy they tried to help build into a young man. I can still hear Ms. Gaskill telling me that only I myself ever could stand in the way of my becoming all I wanted to be...

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