Remember Pencils, Books and Teacher’s Looks

By Marcus Newton

Originally published Aug. 1998, Weld County Past Times, Greeley Tribune

The dog days of summer. The dew of the morning lies heavy on the grass. Lucy the beagle sleeps away the afternoon. Locusts drone in the trees. Crops are a’ripening.

In the waning days of summer in Mead, Weld County, Colorado, in 1950, canning was in full swing. The kitchen burned with heat from a coal stove as hundreds of quarts of corn and carrots, tomatoes, beans, peaches and pears, cherries and apples were put away.

Canning marked the time for school to start for another year.

To prepare me to enter the first grade at Mead School, one of my brothers printed out my name on a scrap of paper so I could memorize it. I carried that paper around for a month, taking it out for study every once and awhile. I knew who I was, but I couldn’t get the spelling down.

I’d been to Longmont for school supplies: new shoes, a new pair of Foremost jeans, a new T-shirt, a Big Chief tablet and three pencils. I was ready.

I walked the six blocks to school on that September day in 1950, just about got run over by a bus, and inched into Mrs. Goodwin’s first-grade room in the building that used to be the old Pearl Howlett School.

I looked around, saw Mrs. Goodwin and some of the other kids, but decided I didn’t like the looks of the place.

So I left. I had known I wouldn’t like it. I didn’t want to do it and was certain that Mom wouldn’t make me. I had no doubts about this … until I neared home. So, I stopped off on the steps of the United Brethren Church and began playing with those lucky little kids who didn’t have to go to school.

I played around the church most of the morning. And then some Mead busybody must have called my mother, who suddenly appeared and took a firm grip on my left arm. I don’t remember what words passed as she led me home, fed me some lunch, and told me I was going to school.

This time, I was escorted by my brother, Ron. I was taken, bellering, on his bicycle, back to school and led to Mrs. Goodwin. She wondered where I was, she said.

That’s all I remember. I must have adjusted. I learned to read that year, in a circle of little red chairs, from books that starred Dick and Jane and Spot and Puff.

When summer’s dog days led to the second grade, the wonderful Mrs. Baker made me a reader. She observed that I read quickly, took me aside, and, in her quiet voice, said, “Whenever you finish your work, you may read. If you run out of things to read, I have a bookcase full of books by my desk. You may read any of them.”

Through she had a cache of books – most of them children’s biographies of people like Franklin, Washington, Lincoln, Boone, Stowe and others – she was hunting up more books for me before Christmas.

And, the following summer, Mrs. Baker worked it out with the people of the Weld County Bookmobile, which visited Mead once each week, so I could check out as many books as I wanted – no limits. So, I took our wagon and filled it. My mother was always hunting me up, my nose in a book, to do my work.

My third-grade teacher, Mrs. Johns, was from Louisiana, rather stout, with red lips and large, brown-sad eyes, her dark hair in a bun. During singing time, she usually had us belting out “Dixie” at the tops of our voices.

My fourth-grade teacher, Mrs. Jones, was one of the kindest people I’ve ever known. She taught us decimals; I struggled until I realized it was the same as fractions. Simple, perhaps, but a revelation to me. And she read to us, a chapter a day, every day, after lunch. One of the books was “Prairie School.”

Mr. Clark, a disciplinarian and my first male teacher, taught fifth grade. He taught us geography and to draw maps of most of the countries of the world. And he played football with us.

Mr. Clark’s mother, Mrs. Clark, taught sixth grade. From her, we learned how Mr. Clark had learned discipline. Elderly and with thick glasses, she ran a tight ship. But, in the fall of 1955, when the Dodgers were playing the Yankees in the seventh game of the World Series, she brought a radio and listened with us.

So, in August, when frost awaits the pumpkins, when birds gather before the long haul south, when it’s canning time, when the breeze begins to rattle the leaves, remember the teachers of your youth.

Remember the tall, laughing Mrs. Goodwin, who taught a poor child to read. Think fondly of Mrs. Baker, a widow, who fed a child’s love of books.

Remember Mrs. Johns, a Dixie woman pining for home. Be thankful for Mrs. Jones, who was gentle and kind and read you stories.

Remember Mr. Clark as your picture, in your mind, South America and Africa and New Zealand. And be thankful for Mrs. Clark, the disciplinarian who kept you in check before the vagaries of junior high.

Marcus Newton is the Neighbors/Religion editor at the Greeley Tribune. His classic columns will be published here every month.