Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Yearning to Teach

My mother taught elementary school for six years from the fall of 1943 to the summer of 1949, when she married. Immediately after their June marriage my parents moved to Florida, which did not recognize Virginia's teaching certificate. It would have required additional years of college to become licensed in Florida - at that time Virginia only required two years of college in a teachers program to become licensed. So instead my mother became a full-time homemaker, and after less than a year of trying found herself pregnant (with me).

It was quite clear to me, even as a young child, that my mother did not like being a "homemaker." She truly hated housework, and did as little of it as she possibly could. She did like cooking, especially baking, and she loved gardening. When my parents bought their first home in 1955, my father constructed a raised bed that covered more than half of our huge backyard and had a couple of tons of top soil trucked in to fill it. Mama had grown up on farms among farming uncles and older brothers.  She raised tomatoes, beans, carrots, spinach (yuck!), corn, artichokes, rhubarb, and many other things in our garden.

But Mama missed teaching, and she took it upon herself to instruct not only my brothers and myself, but all the nearby neighbor children in the games and activities she'd learned in the teacher program at Martha Washington College. The other children's mothers were more conventional 1950's housewives, who spent their days cleaning and watching soap operas, and did not want noisy, dirty children tromping in and out of their houses disturbing them. So our house and our yard was the place to play because my mother welcomed the children - most of the kids found that it was a small price to pay to have my mother instruct them in how to play various traditional games ("Red light, Green light," "Duck, duck, goose," etc.) and supervise the play.
My mother may have looked down at women who watched soap operas, but she would save up her ironing to do weekdays at 1:30 PM when the "Dialing for Dollars Movie" was on (no, Janice did not make that up, it really existed in the S. F. Bay Area).  She would watch the black and white re-runs of movies from the 1930's and 1940's that she had originally seen in the movie theatre as a teenager and young working woman. During the summers I would watch these movies with her, and longed to be as elegant as Carole Lombard, or as feisty as Barbara Stanwyck.
Mama also threw herself into being Brownie leader, Cub Scout Den Mother, and Sunday School teacher. Positions in which she could put to use all her training in arts and crafts, music, and be teacher for a time each week. She spent much more time planning activities for her brownies, Cub Scouts, and Sunday School classes than she did dusting, vacuuming, or scrubbing.

In 1961, the year my youngest brother Frank entered school, Mama decided to try substitute teaching. She loved it.  She was well liked as a substitute, so much so that she was given a long term substitute job - a couple of months long - for a teacher who'd gotten ill or pregnant.  But she didn't return to substituting the next year. For one thing, she felt very guilty about not being home when Frank came home from school. She felt she was harming him. The other reason, I think, was that because the money she earned was entirely discretionary and went to pay for luxuries and extras that we children really appreciated, my father was angry and jealous. We children did not properly appreciate his roll in paying the mortgage, the car, the food, etc. Instead we were effusively enthusiastic about the store bought (rather than rummage sale) clothing and toys we got because of Mama's income.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

things my mother told me

There were no Christmas trees in her home when she was a little girl, because of her mother's extreme allergies and asthma...her mother died when she was eight years old [actually 5 days before my mother's nine birthday]...her father sent her to live with her Aunt Sue and cousins Mary Edna, Florence, and Herb Glenn who lived less than a half mile away...there were Christmas trees at Aunt Sue's...and fireworks at Christmas.

My mother felt unattractive, awkward, and an outsider in school...she tried to make friends with Negro children in the community and was taunted by white children with the classic "n...r lover"....she refused to say "colored" like most of the white people she knew growing up and she certainly wasn't going to say the "n word".

In the teacher program at Martha Washington College my mother was taught to play the piano, simple music to accompany children's singing...she learned a wide range of basic arts and crafts, none of which she was particular good at, so that she could help children develop their artistic talents...she learned lots of children's games like "Simon Says," "Red light, Green light," "Duck, Duck Goose," "Poor Pussy," and many others in college, none of which she had played herself as a child growing up until her mother died in a house full of brothers.

Virginia schools only paid teachers 9 months of the year. The other three months teachers had to fend for that she wouldn't have to go back home she worked as a nurses aid in the state mental hospital...she lived in boarding houses with other unmarried working women...the last boarding house she lived at in Sandston, Virginia was next door to a boarding house for men...the owners of the two houses decided to introduce the women and the men and planned a Valentine's Day party...that's how she met my father.

Monday, April 2, 2012

April is National Poetry Month

Learned this morning from a friend on Facebook that this month, April, is National Poetry Month.  You can learn more about the official celebrations here: National Poetry Month- - Poetry, Poems, Bios & More

Poetry has been very central in my life since my 12th birthday in 1963. My father gave me a 300 page book, The Golden
Treasury of Poetry
, selected and with a commentary by Louis Untermeyer, and illustrated by Joan Walsh Anglund.

A few years ago, I retrieved the book from my parents and brought it back home to Kentucky with me.  I've been enjoying discovering both remembered and unremembered poems.  My adult tastes in poetry are rather different  from the mostly rhyming poetry of this book. Once I discovered e e cummings and Carl Sandburg in high school, my poetic preferences underwent a tectonic shift, but I have enjoyed reading the poems in this Treasury especially out loud (to the amusement of my cats, and the occasional irritation of my husband). From the story poems of the Pied Piper of Hamelin to the limericks of Lear and everything in between, I enjoy the melodic lilt of the words.