santa cruz wharf

01 September 2007

Black Hawk Don

Reading comments on Bond’s Big Leather Couch brought back memories of when I was school. Coincidently the upcoming theme for Head’s or Tales is “School” Maybe you would like to flip the coin with Barb?

I had wonderful elementary teachers.
Mrs. P – kindergarten
Mrs. R – first grade
Mrs. G – second grade
Mrs. G2 – third grade
Miss L – fourth grade
Mrs. W– sixth grade

I have very fond memories of these women, who helped teach, nurture, mold, even discipline me with their intellect, warmth, insight and desire to be teachers of children. You'll notice there is one missing. Fifth grade. Of all my elementary teachers she may have been the one I learned from the most.

My fifth grade teacher was a middle aged, unsmiling, short stout plug of a woman named Mrs. K, with a solid helmet of unnaturally red hair and black rimmed glasses, who would strut down the hall like the battle axe of a prison warden she really wanted to be.

I was the kid who got all “E’s” for excellent in the academics and all “U’s” for unsatisfactory in citizenship. I liked to have fun. I liked all my friends to have fun with me. Most of my teachers appreciated my quirky, non-linear personality. Not so much Mrs. K. Mrs. K did not like me to begin with. Later…she would hate my guts. I learned no matter what, not everyone is gonna like you.

It started early in the year when I taught my buddies to make little origami containers to fill with ladybugs at lunchtime. (my parents made sure we were exposed to both the arts and the sciences, these days the universities all have a name for it….”Inter-Disciplinary Education”) I insisted everyone included little blades of grass and made sure each had a hole for air. We were humane and well behaved. After lunch recess we gently stored away the creased paper globes in our desks…and went up front to sit on the carpet…at the teacher’s feet…for some sort of instruction.

WHO KNEW that in the heat of the afternoon they would want to fulfill their Mother Goose destiny? “Ladybug Ladybug Fly Away Home” The air hole became an escape hatch. As nature intended…from a dozen or more desks emerged several hundred ladybugs… flying… crawling… flying… landing…flying…trying to escape the classroom….to the absolute delight of the entire fifth grade.

Everyone was up laughing and chasing the magical insects. Despite all her efforts, Mrs. K could not get control of her class. Loud, jumping, ladybug-loving frivolity was the law of the land. As my luck continued, the Principal walked by and saw the chaos. In he came with his booming voice asking what was going on. I’d been sent to his office upon occasion in the past few years…we had an understanding… I was not concerned.

Five seconds of stunned silence was followed by twenty-some ten-year-olds all talking at once, with the escalating speed and excitement of trying to tell the story FIRST. My name was mentioned by several. Not in a bad way. They had no idea they were ratting me out…they were trying to give me CREDIT. That’s what friends are for. As the din grew louder and louder, the teacher next door came in to see what the ruckus was. I glanced at Mrs. K…her face was redder than her hair and if memory serves, the smoke came from her ears. She was trying to sputter some explanation. Every kid in that class knew she had been caught by her boss not performing her duties. Oh man this was great! I learned not to take glee in another’s misfortune.

I had a big ole smart-alecky smile. I should have learned to perfect the poker face. My glee in her misfortune was short lived. I remember her eyes locking onto mine and that feeling of being frozen to the floor. With dread I anticipated her wrath. Already I knew full well the repercussions of being a Ring Leader when all does not go according to plan.

Not long after, I'd learn to become an Instigator. To this day, I embrace the role of Instigator. As Instigator you can fly below the radar…make wonderful things happen…sit back and watch your creation unfold. (I learned I must only use this power for good) Instigator is far less dangerous than Ring Leader. Ring Leader is easily spotted by the authorities. An Expert Instigator can (if she so chooses) designate a Pretend Leader. If the proverbial fertilizer hits the ventilating device, this Poser will not be in any real danger…for he will be recognized as the Dupe that he is and discounted. He will be far too proud (even in defeat) to admit he was not the Ring Leader. Believe me…you can find plenty of people out there who like to take a good idea, and run with it, as if it were their own. The key is to have a contingency plan, an escape route and an ironclad NDA. The downside is…at times you have to be able to relinquish control. I am still trying to learn to relinquish control.

The Principal took charge, called the Custodian, and sent our class to the room next door. It was the Autumn of 1969….I’m pretty certain they used carcinogenic pesticides to solve the problem. (I’m also fairly certain they didn’t clean the residue from the desks, carpet, or other classroom surfaces.) I was devastated. Not because I was in trouble. (and I was in really BIG trouble.) I was devastated because all of those incredible ladybugs had been killed and it was all my fault. I learned sometimes you cause irreparable damage without meaning to. I have never caught a ladybug since.

It was the year I learned to play Tether Ball. It was my first (and maybe only) non-team sport. I loved it so much, I got one of my very own for Christmas which my Dad and I installed in our backyard. My little brother got a BB gun….go figure. I learned how to make cement. It was the year I realized running helps me solve problems (actual physical running…as opposed to running away…which I would try later in life). I fell in the gravel and tore my knee to pieces. I learned some scars last forever. I learned when you are not careful you can fall. In the subsequent 37 years I have fallen many times. I’ve learned how to get up. I have not learned how to be careful.

About midyear, I got caught lying in class. We were learning about heritage. Two of the branches of my Mama’s side of the family tree are Cherokee…one of which is full blood. I was very proud. I had pictures of great grandparents who look Indian. Everything in my report was factual. However I snuck into my Mama’s jewelry box and helped myself to a piece of her turquoise and silver jewelry. After giving my speech I pulled out the necklace and claimed it was made by one of my relatives. That didn’t fly. My Dad had bought it for her when we were on vacation at the Grand Canyon. Mrs. K called my parents. That was not fun. I learned authorities share information. Then she reported back to class that I had lied. That was even less fun. I learned the hard way that public humiliation for dishonesty is a tough lesson.

On a side note I did NOT learn to stay out of my Mama’s things. I had just grown to the point that we wore the same shoe size. I loved her shoes. Then blouses, and dresses, and ultimately most of her wardrobe. It wasn’t until the mid 1990’s that I would learn payback is a bitch. Two of them in fact. My girls not only frequent my closet, jewelry box, kitchen, and DVD collection….they feel no qualms about taking what they find away with them to their own homes.

Living an hour south of the action in Haight Ashbury, and watching students fight the National Guard, I learned in no uncertain terms, my Dad would come to whatever college I attended and haul my butt home if he ever saw me on television. Some nine years later at UCLA, I ran under falling pieces of burning flags trying to avoid the bank of network television cameras filming a demonstration when the Shah fell. My family wore army surplus jackets and parkas when camping. I learned not to wear mine in public.

I learned that boys and girls are treated differently. There was a proposal to allow girls to wear pants to school. Here it was 1970 in what would become Silicon Valley, and girls were forced to wear dresses in school. I remember Mrs. K being incredulous over the audacity of even contemplating girls wearing pants to school. I learned how adults (not MY parents) who I loved and respected would become uncontrollably angry and refuse to speak to one another. It wasn’t until the next year in sixth grade that I could wear pants to school…and then only “pant suits” …the type which would make Hillary proud.

In the Spring of fifth grade we learned fractions. I loved Math. I was good in Math and I knew it. I came by Math honestly…my Dad was in research development with IBM. I learned how to use a Slide Rule. (If you are reading this and are too eph-n young to know what a Slide Rule is, check out the HP Museum of Calculators here. I’m not joking…they got instructions and pictures and everything.) One night my Dad saw my homework and he taught me how to cancel fractions. It was like learning a secret code and a short cut rolled into one. What could be better?

So the next Math test came along…and I used my new found skills. Mrs. K. gave me a Zero. The answers were right. I even proved it to her by doing the problems the long way. Still a Zero… and with far too much smugness. This I didn’t understand. I learned not everyone is fair minded. This made me cry. In class. A first. I went home brokenhearted. I always had gotten great marks in Math. I had never ever gotten a Zero before…not in ANY subject.

If my Dad had been one of today’s Helicopter Parents….he would have been a Black Hawk. Not one to hover at anytime in his life, he swept in fast, stealth, and fully armed. HE TOOK OFF FROM WORK. He had a bit of a temper to say the least. I will never forget him walking into my classroom that afternoon. He was not happy. Mrs. K didn’t care. I was still flunked. My Dad was angry. Angry enough to go to the Principal. The Principal sorta shrugged. His job was administration, what could he do? My Dad was outraged. He went to the School Board. Ultimately they ruled that if a student can complete a problem the short way… accurately without cheating… they have to be given credit for getting it right. I learned to appeal to a higher authority.

After that Mrs. K truly hated my guts. I learned mean people suck. But that was okay…we had won. My parents were in the wings if I needed them. I had learned that years before. They warned me to stay as far away from trouble as possible. I must have…cause the rest of the year was rather uneventful.

I learned a great deal that year.

(the photos are of me on Easter of 1970 with my very first camera, my Dad, Don about that same time, and him again in 1959, just a few months after I was born.)


Skittles said...

What a wonderful post! I loved every word. I was a bit of an instigator myself. Never on TV or anything, though.

Are you glad now that your dad did those things?

red tin heart said...

I really like your site. I enjoy the way you write. And thank you for your kind words of encouragement. love nita

Empress Bee (of the High Sea) said...

i think you were smart beyond your years honey and i had a sixth grade teacher that was similar to your teacher. they should have gone into bread making instead...

smiles, bee

Desert Songbird said...

Fabulous, fabulous post, Katherine. I LOVED it. You learned so much, and you can trace that knowledge back to the source. How incredible is THAT?

Desert Songbird said...

Oh, and BTW, I do remember slide rules. Ick!

Mel said...

What a great post.
Go figure an instigator and an outta the box do-er.

My dad marched in to school over a red penciled mark on my spelling test.

Colour vs color.

He fought well, too. ;-)

Hammer said...

Great story. I hat teachers like that but no one to stand up for me.

I'm glad your dad went to the school board.

Bond said...

Wow, you mean not everything was mean you actually were allowed to run around? You mean your brother had a red ryder b.b. gun and didn't poke his (or your) eyes out?

How is this possible? How can this be? It must all be fiction....This is just too outrageous to be true...

OH, nevermind...this is in the old days where children actually got to be children...I remember... I was there!


OK, I was never an instigator, actually i was an outcast, until my later years when i used my powers for evil sometimes.

6th Grade English... Sister Elizabeth... hated me! hated my friend. All year i was Arthur, he was Vincent... sheesh....what a crappy old lady...

I now do what your dad did. recently I had a supervisor in customer service at one of my creditors not act nicely...would not discuss options I presented, kept calling me VINCENT, when I asked to be referred to as Mr. Marini (just to tick him off - plus only mom calls me Vincent when she is upset)...

Got off the phone, wrote an email to the President/CEO and the head of Customer Service. I received a call from the President/CEO's office within two hours, apologizing...accepting my proposal and promising that the person who abused me would be dealt with!

Mr. Fabulous said...

It must be nice to be able to remember who your elementary school teachers are!

JAM said...

Another amazing post. Lots of good meat to chew on here.

Your Dad sounds like my kind of guy.

I think you're right, we learn lots from abrasive people like Mrs. K. Lord, the sixties was probably really hard on her. I bet she thought the whole world had gone crazy.