I read the notice that an old friend died.
And recalled precious moments,
Of a high school romance, so long ago.
Remembering shoulders touching
And a smile shared between friends.
We sang along to the Carpenters.
And taught each other about love.
Sweet first ever kisses, holding hands,
And longing to be close to her.
Frozen sweetheart moments,
Lost for decades, still alive in me.
This is a picture of the Bingham, North Dakota school. My family lived in the basement of this school during the winters of 1952 and 1953 while mom taught. During the summer we lived on our farm. In the falls we would go with mom to her teaching jobs. My father would follow as soon as harvest was done.
I was born during my mother’s Christmas vacation in 1952 and my little brother was born during her 1953 Christmas vacation. Mom had successfully hidden her pregnancies from the school board when she was teaching.
Eugene’s birth (the sixth and last in our family) was too much for this small North Dakota School Board to handle, so her teaching contract was terminated for “Morals”. Our family of eight returned to farm to wait for spring planting.
Mom went on to other teaching jobs and we would continue to spend summers on the farm and winters under the schools she taught in.
I believe everyone has a moment in their life when everything changes. It is the point that separates life into before and after.
For me it was the second year of fourth grade!
I had already graduated from 4th grade when the school I was attending, located in the state college, closed. It was a teacher’s training system and the entire program (1st through 12th grade) was ended. It was decided that all college student’s practice teaching could be done in the state’s regular school system.
All 250 students that attended that school were officially reassigned to their regular school district. Most were absorbed by the Valley City School Systems. Unfortunately, we lived in a border location which meant we would have to attend a one room school near our farm. (For those of you that grew up watching Little House on the Prairie, you may think this would be an ideal result. But the reality was one teacher, teaching 8 grades to 35 students of various abilities and desires. And because I had attended four years of school in the “real school” I was far ahead of my peers. Meaning I was sent out to play a lot.)
The only alternative to this was attending the private Catholic school in Valley City. Our entire family had attended it once before, but had to leave because of finances. But given the choice of scraping together the money or watching me spend the year in the sandbox, we reapplied to St. Kates.
After pledging to pay the tuition, we were allowed to attend the school, unfortunately there was a problem. The 5th grade class I was to join was overcrowded, so I was temporarily placed back with my younger brother in 4th grade. I was to be moved upstairs when room was available.
I still knew all my old classmates, so it seemed strange to watch them go to the new room without me.
I was introduced to my new fourth grade classmates and because I was older and bigger than most, some taunting began. Every group had a social order and I fought my way in, through fist fights, name calling and shunning. And, because the curriculum was a repeat of what I had already learned I tuned out.
Every recess I would go to my fifth grade friends and play with them. Every lunch time I would grab my tray and slide in with them. It only made sense, because I would soon be one of them again.
After a few weeks’ time, the situation hadn’t changed. I was still stuck in my brother’s class and I was becoming a problem. I began acting out and was subjected to discipline i.e. scolding’s, raps on the head, rulers strikes on knuckles, sitting in the corner and my personal favorite “kneeling in prayer”.
After nearly a month, I heard one of the fifth graders was transferring out to the public schools while at lunchtime.
I was overjoyed! I was so excited that I ran up to Sister Monica (the Fifth Grade Nun) and said I was so happy I would finally get to rejoin my friends. I was literally jumping up and down in front of her.
Without hesitation she slapped me across the face and announced to the room that I would never be part of the class again. She walked away leaving me sobbing on the floor. Thank heaven for the lunch room ladies who picked me up and sat me in the corner.
I learned hate that day and it consumed me. My grades fell along with my self-confidence.
My parents never understood what happened to me. They only knew that the nuns had tried their best to get me into their school and it didn’t quite work out. Small sacrifices had to be made.
Over 50 years later, I still feel that nun’s slap in my face.
I watched my youngest daughter pack up for her senior year of college last week. She had just gotten back from a summer abroad, doing things that I have only imagined. If all goes well she will graduate this year with a degree in religion, with minors in math and computers. It is a liberal arts dream education.
During her education process she’s had the chance to meet with people from around the world. She has traveled to China and Europe and has wetted her appetite for more. She has been exposed to many of the world’s great religions and the cultures they represent. She is on track to learn tolerance with a path based on knowledge and dreams.
Like her three sisters, she has set her own course with an internal bearing only she could acknowledge. Each of my daughters chose her own type of school: The eldest graduated from a Jesuit College. The second got her degree from a small state teachers college. My third daughter graduated from a private music school specializing in client management. My youngest is completing her degree at a private Lutheran college in the Midwest.
I am not a financially wealthy man, but I am rich in dreams. I dreamed I would have a family that would make a difference. That each of my children would be able to find a mission to undertake and appreciate the joys and sorrows that come with that choice. I hope that when they accept their mission they are mindful that others have their own passions too, and not obstruct others in their journey.
Last week when my daughter left for school, I realized that she was short of cash. Instead of writing her a check, I went into my bedroom and came out with my change jar that I’d been adding too for a number of years. I gave it to my daughter and told her to take it to the bank and use it for school. She didn’t want to accept it. She said to me, “Dad, I know that is your dream jar, and I know that you’ve been saving up for something special.” I just told her to “take it and use it for school”.
As she drove off to her final year of college, I realized that my dreams were already coming true.