Thursday, August 26, 2010

Geometry was a bad idea!

I have burned up brain cells remembering my sophomore year in high school! I looked through my yearbook to find that I was in the band, FHA, FTA and pep club. Rather bland and boring. I remember that I joined FTA because one day a year, FTA members got to go spend the entire day in an elementary school, helping out a teacher. I have never wanted to be a teacher. But I did want to miss a day of school. So I paid my dues, went to meetings and got to spend a day in a second grade classroom. That experience made me even more certain that I was not called to be an elementary school teacher.

I did a very silly thing as a sophomore and I suffered for it all year long. I signed up for geometry. Geometry was not required to graduate. Math is not something in which I have ever done particularly well. To be quite frank, I stink at math. I don’t like it, either. Why I signed up for it, I will never know. I only know that I suffered. All. Year. Long.

Mrs. Charlene Mitchell was the geometry teacher in our school. She seemed ancient when I had geometry in 1972-73. She had already gained almost mythical status in the lore of Kennett High School. I wish I could say that she taught me geometry, but she did not. She told me to listen to my book, it would talk to me. Mine was mute. I never heard it say a word. And if it could have talked, it would have said, “Run away! Run away!”

To make it worse, I had first period geometry. Oh, how I wanted to be sick every morning! I was lost from the moment I walked in the door, and lost when I walked out of it for the last time.

Mrs. Mitchell sat at her desk with her eyes closed. I’m not kidding. It’s a fact. When I had the misfortune to be called to the board to work a problem and she had to come do it for me, because I never once got it right, she would stand beside me and work the entire thing WITH HER EYES CLOSED. Really! You can ask anyone who ever had her.

We had homework every night. I copied the problems every night. I wrote things down…doesn’t geometry have theorems or something? I remember I had one of those metal thingies that has a sharp point and you can draw a circle. Aren’t angles involved in geometry? I was a terrible geometry student.

Which led me to doing something terribly wrong. And I got away with it. It involved my grade, report cards and playing the system. I managed to get a C the first 9 weeks. I imagine I got it because I copied the homework problems and scribbled something on the page every night and turned it in. I took the report card home and my mother signed it. I wasn’t scolded or anything, because nobody expected me to be a scholar, and especially not in geometry.

I should explain how our report cards worked at that time. You had a different card for each class. Your parents were to sign each one and the card was returned to the teacher who gave it to you. After Mother signed the first one, I turned it in. I was following the rules.

The second 9 weeks, I had been given a D. I’m sure I was probably failing, but I kept turning in homework papers with the problems copied from the book and some sort of nonsense scribbled beside each problem, as if I were trying to work the problem. And maybe I was. I had no clue as to what I was doing, but I turned in pages every day. I'm sure that the D was a gift and I deserved and had earned an F. I was just grateful for the D.

I did not give that report card to my Mother. While a C was tolerated, a D would not have been. I didn't try to forge her signature on the report card. In my mind that would have been really stupid and I would have been in BIG, BIG trouble if I’d done that.

When the report cards were to be turned in, I simply didn’t turn mine in. Mrs. Mitchell never seemed to notice that she hadn’t gotten one back, nor did she notice that she never again gave me a report card. My mother never noticed that there was a missing card in the stack and never inquired.

Today, I am confessing my sin and I imagine that when she reads this, Mother will find out that I actually got D’s in geometry. I know that I had D’s the rest of the year because I have a copy of my high school transcript.

To my knowledge, that is the worst thing I did as a teenager, and I never got caught. I know I never got caught, because Id still be grounded if I my deception had been noticed. I think I must have figured that was my only pass, and I’d be VERY stupid to do anything else I wasn’t supposed to do…because it would for sure catch up with me.

Dear Mother and Daddy,

I guess you know, if you didn’t already, that I didn’t do a bang-up job in geometry. I guess you also know that I wasn’t honest about it. I hadn’t thought about it for years, until I was in the high school buildings this summer. I hope that you can forgive me for that after all these years. It was wrong and I knew it then. I imagine that I lived in a personal hell the entire year for fear of being caught. If I was deliberately deceitful at any other time, I can’t recall it now. You certainly taught me to be better than that, and I certainly failed.

Thank you for all the life lessons you taught me. I hope that the ‘love you no matter what’ extends to confessions made 37 years later.



Golly…that was harder than I thought!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

My Own Room and a Little Secret

I have to be honest. This has been the hardest post for me to write. My memory of what happened last week is occasionally foggy. What happened 39 years ago has vaporized into a mist of sorts. My freshman year is lost in that mist, somewhere.

One thing I do remember because to me it was such a happy occasion is that for the first time in over 7 years, I had my own room again. What a happy day that was for me. I think that was the year I realized that I was okay with spending large segments of time alone. I didn't realize it at the time, but I now understand that I began then to feed and nurture my introverted self. I loved to go in my room and shut the door and lay on the bed and daydream or read. I had chosen the color scheme for the room and it was green and lavender. I even made some pillows in home economics and put them on my bed. I re-arranged the furniture regularly.

I had my favorite books on the shelf and my very own posters on the walls and doors. I would cut out letters and put sayings on the closet door. I had a desk with my very own drawers to put my treasures in.

My room was mine, all mine, unless we had out of town guests. And those guests were usually my grandparents and I always loved their visits so much that I didn't mind sleeping on the couch. In theory, my little sister wouldn't be getting into my things anymore (but we all know how that sort of things works out, don't we?).

It was a haven to me that was so sweet. The house was older, built probably in the 30s or 40s. There were large windows that let the sunshine in, but sturdy drapery to keep it out if I wanted. The sunshine would flood my room and it was so cheery. I just loved being in there.

I could listen to my radio, often quietly late at night..much later than I was supposed to. I'll even tell you a secret about me and that radio. I listened to boxing on Friday and Saturday nights. Loved it. I loved hearing the announcer and imagining the fight in my mind. I loved the sounds of it all, knowing it was happening far away and I could lay in my bed at 105 North Vandeventer Street in Kennett, Missouri and listen to it as it happened. Years later, I saw my first live boxing match, when my fiance participated in intramural boxing at the Air Force Academy. I walked in the gym just as he stepped in the ring. I nearly fainted when he got hit and his nose started bleeding. I was not amused when he ran over to me, face bloodied up after the match and tried to hug me in victory because he won. I watched him box and referee boxing until he graduated and didn't watch boxing again for a long, long time. I like it a lot better on television and I really like it when Roy Jones, Jr. is boxing and wins...but that is a story for another time.

I could read past my bedtime and occasionally get away with it with nobody to rat me out. I could priss in front of my mirror and try on clothes to my heart's content. My room was just like I liked it, it was mine and it is where my adolescent dreams were formed and played out in my mind.

So, 9th grade stands out in my mind as the year I discovered that I like my own company and having my own space is a very good thing for me.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Rolling in Cash!

My eighth grade year was a year of huge ups and tremendous downs. Not unlike many, I suspect, I was emotional, hormonal, full of self-doubt and insecure. My family experienced great upheaval and we carried many burdens. All too many of them were highly public.

In considering what I’d like my Grandchildren to know about me in the eighth grade, I pondered it all. Good and bad. Lovely and ugly. A story... long forgotten... came to mind and reminded me of many good and kind things and people of my youth. THAT is the story I would like to share.

I began to babysit in the 8th grade. I’m talking serious babysitting. As many as 4 to 5 nights a week, I might be taking care of any number of children. Sometimes, families would combine their children and I would care for them. I had a major business going on. I had a regular Tuesday night gig with 2 little girls whose Daddy was in Viet Nam and their mother played bridge on Tuesday nights. If you wanted me on Saturday night, you better call early in the week, because I usually was booked by Wednesday night. People would call and ask me if I could refer someone to them if I were unable to babysit myself, so I had a free referral service going, too.

I earned about 50 cents an hour. For your 50 cents, I would fix dinner, clean up the kitchen, entertain and bathe your children, put them to bed and generally straighten up the living room before you came home. For a limited few, I even helped with the laundry. I might do all of that and come home with $2.50. My families LOVED me!

I was hauling in the dough, I tell ya! Far more than I could possibly spend. At least, far more than I could have spent when I was 13. My spending skills have improved since then.

Early in the fall, when I had accumulated $20, I decided that I needed to put my money in the bank. Without consulting anyone, I got on my bicycle one afternoon after school and rode down to the bank where a member of my Daddy’s church was a senior officer. I parked that old blue bicycle outside, dusted off my skirt and marched in, $20 in hand.

When asked if I could be helped, I announced that I was there to see Mr. Gene McKinney. The nice receptionist asked if she could tell him who was calling and I said, “Miss Mollianne Buster.” I was acting in what I supposed was a correct, business-like manner. After all, I was about to do business with the bank.

Mr. McKinney was as kind a man as I ever knew. He was grinning ear to ear when he came out of his office and ushered me in. He asked me what he could do for me, and I pulled out my $20…in dollars and quarters…dumped it on his desk and told him I would like to put my money in the bank, and I’d like him to take care of it for me.

As if I had a whole crop of cotton money to invest, he carefully explained that what I needed was a passbook savings account. He left me sitting at his desk and went out and got the paperwork. He helped me fill it all out and made the deposit slip for me. He promised me solemnly that he would take good care of my money and he instructed me in the deposit and withdrawal procedures. He told me it was much better to make deposits than withdrawals and explained that my money would earn interest. He asked me if I was tithing to the Curch based on my earnings and exclaimed, “Good Girl!” when I told him of course I was.

As I left, he took me around and introduced me to the tellers and told them that I was the newest bank customer and that they were to take care of me and my money when I came in.

Very satisfied that I had done a wise thing, I put my blue passbook into the basket of my bicycle and pedaled home.

My mother met me with a smile. Mr. McKinney had wasted no time in calling her and telling her that I had just made his day.

For the next 5 years, until we moved away from that wonderful small town, I would find Mr. McKinney on Sundays and shake his hand. “Are you taking good care of my money, Mr. McKinney?” I would ask. Again, as if my little account (which, by the way grew to the princely sum of about $400 before we moved) was the most important account he had, he would answer, “Why, yes, Mollianne! I am personally watching over your money and it is safe and sound.” He would give me the biggest smile and his eyes would twinkle.

My formative years are full of people like Mr. Gene McKinney, all of whom could be characters on the Andy Griffith show. I am so thankful that I grew up in a small town and knew such people. These adults who treated me with dignity, even when I barged into their place of business without an appointment, were a wonderful example of how people ought to act.

Looking back now, I’m sure I was a funny child and probably a source of amusement for many in that little town. But I am oh! so! grateful for the opportunity of growing up in small town America with those men and women of such character. They set a high standard for me in how to conduct myself in my business and with my fellow man.

And, to be honest, I couldn’t wait to get out of that hick town when I was a teenager. I was sure that things were happening everywhere else in the world. I suppose that time is a great teacher and now I appreciate that time and place and am very proud to say that I’m from Kennett, Missouri.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

I said, "Leave me ALONE"

I was a 'new kid' in 7th grade. We were new to town, and it was a small town. Smack-dab in the Bootheel of Missouri. A wonderful small town that I still consider home. It is a place unlike any other I've ever been.

I had to make adjustments. I was not famous here for being "Molli Mouse". There were lots of people who felt the need to explain to me that I was really short, like I wasn't aware that they were all taller than me. I was a preacher's kid and for the first time, I took some teasing about that. I didn't really understand that, either. I was a pretty good kid, but people seemed to think that I was going to be up to no good, just beacuse my Daddy was a preacher. I got to take French and I was able to join the Band and learn to play the French Horn. We had art class, too. Junior High was really very nifty.

Kennett Junior High School was quite a change from Alma Schrader Elementary School. For one thing, it was an old facility. Alma Schrader was about to celebrate its 10th anniversary. Kennett Junior High school was older than my grandparents.

I had a locker and we had upstairs and downstairs classes. Going up the stairs became an ordeal for me. See, there was a boy...(isn't that the way it always starts) who was probably a pretty typical specimen. Goofy, geeky and fairy disgusting if I recall. At least I thought he was.

He would manage almost daily to get behind me as we trudged up those stairs between classes. It was always a crush of pre-adolescent humanity. It was loud and crowded, since it was back when you could talk in the halls. Anyway, lets call him...Jim Bob (not his real name, although I don't know why I feel the need to protect him). His whole reason for living seemed to be to creep up behind me on the stairs and pop my bra strap and say, "Bust ya, Buster!"

I tried ignoring him. I asked him to quit. I insisted that he leave me alone. I yelled at him to quit. All to no avail. After weeks and weeks of this, I finally told my Mother. I wasn't used to always getting a lot of smpathy from her where my brothers were concerned. They teased me a lot, but when I whined about that (and I'm thinking I whined A! LOT!) she would say with a sigh (because I'm sure she was tired of hearing it), "Oh, Mollianne. They wouldn't tease you if they didn't love you." Yeah, right, Mom! My Mother, the only child, had NO idea what it was like to have 2 big brothers.

Much to my surprise, she looked me square in the eyes and said, "Mollianne. Don't let Jim Bob do that to you." I explained that I'd asked and begged and told him to stop and he continued doing it and I purely hated it. Once again, she told me to stop him. I was perplexed. How in the world did she think I could make him stop?
She whispered soemthing in my ear, and I began to think I might be able to make him stop. I devised a plan and executed it with precision.

The next day, I dawdled a bit and was one of the last ones going up the stairs. In fact, I was almost tardy. As I neared the landing, I felt that hand on my back and the pop of my bra. I turned around, narrowed my eyes and peered directly into his (I was one stop above him, so I could see him eye to eye...remember I'm short) and said calmly, quietly and very deliberately, "I have asked you to stop and I meant it!" He laughed, right to the point when I kneed him in his...well, lets just say I racked him. With all the might I had and for all of my sisters who had endured the humiliation of bra popping, I planted my knee in his crotch and I watched him drop his books and double over.

There! I thought! As my Grandma Buster used to say, "That'll learn ya, durn ya!"

Then, to my horror,I looked over his head to see a male teacher standing right behind him.

I thought I was busted for sure. On many levels. But that dear man simply told me I'd better get on to class and he took Jim Bob by the neck and told him he'd gotten just what he deserved.

Being as it was a small town and all, and that my Daddy was the pastor of First Baptist Church, Mother knew before I got up the stairs and to class what I'd done.

She met me at the door with a smile and asked if I'd taken care of my little problem. Yes m'am I had. She told me that she'd had an intersting call from the school and that I was not going to be in trouble there. Then she told me I needed to stand up for myself and not let boys touch me or do things to me that they ought not do.

My dear Mother and I formed a friendship of sorts that day. I realized that she was on my side, even when I didn't think so. I learned that she expected me to use my noggin and have some gumption and not let people push me around. Believe you me, she wanted me to know that I come from a long line of very strong women and that wasn't going to end with her. Not on her watch.

I never told anyone else about the indicent until years later. Mother and I have laughed about it over the years. It is legendary in my mind.

The day I kicked Jim Bob in the nuts so he'd leave me alone.

And, you know what?
He never bothered me again.

Seventh grade rocked!