Monday, October 09, 2023

Just Walking--A Memory from Kindergarten


A file cabinet in the back of my head contains hundreds of drawers packed with thousands of memories.

Just when I assume most contents have long since disappeared, it turns out they’re actually all there, waiting for the right nudge. I can go for forty years without thinking of a specific event and then something yanks open that particular drawer and there it is, intact, the details neatly typed.

So things that happened to me don’t vanish from memory, which is both comforting and disturbing.

I am still in Texas, helping Matt and Phoebe. On Saturday,  the heavy blanket of humidity and heat lifted and a blessed breeze blew. I went on a walk after dark, the road illuminated by streetlights.

We note two things:

1. People in this town don’t walk much.

2. I tend to power walk rather than stroll, swinging my arms like an Onward Christian Soldier. I try to tone this down and walk a little more normally when real people are around.

However.  I was alone and the streets were deserted. I covered a lot of ground, fast.

Until the streets weren’t empty after all.  Just as I passed an apartment building, I heard a man’s voice. I stopped. “Excuse me?”

 A man and woman were getting out of a car, carrying grocery bags—rattly disposable plastic ones, of course, since this is Texas and not Oregon. The man was turned toward me. “Hello,” he said, and then added, with concern,  “Is everything ok?”

“I’m fine!” I said. “Just out walking.” I pumped my arms a little to explain the fast, determined pace.

He looked amused but deliberately polite. “All right. Good night.”

I marched on and BOOM, a little drawer slid open and my brain pulled out a vivid memory from kindergarten.

The first year we lived in southern Ohio, we went to a public school in the little town of Glenford. Kindergarten was a new experience and a wonderful adventure for this 

But she was large in skill and charactelittle Amish girl, full of new things to learn, lots of other children, lying down for naps after lunch, and a Christmas tree in December. Over it all was the benevolent but awe-inspiring presence of Miss Lewis, a woman so tiny she wasn’t much bigger than the tallest kindergarteners.r, and I thought she was amazing—wise, beautiful, in charge. She had short hair like other Englisch ladies, I noted, just as I noticed everything about her, including the fact that she had a sharp bosom that was so different from the rounded chests of my mom and all the other Amish ladies. Knowing nothing of Englisch vs. Amish undergarment styles in 1967, I puzzled over this and even talked about it once to my family at home, demonstrating with my hand the front of Miss Lewis vs. the curve of Mom.

I was known for observing all the details and saying them out loud, especially the things that everyone else somehow knew not to say, regularly embarrassing my family. Often, as in this case, a simple, factual explanation would have solved everything. 

Miss Lewis graded our assignments with stars. One, two, or three, or—the highest height of achievement—three stars with a circle around them. She would look at my paper or listen to me read, whip out her pen, and draw each star in one quick series of motions, without ever lifting her pen. A slanty line up, down, left, right, down—and there was a star! Just that quick! Would there be a second? A third?? A circle around them all???!!! If so, my day was made.

I watched her closely and tried to copy those quick motions, and finally I achieved it. What a great day when I could also draw stars, just like Miss Lewis!

I practiced on paper and then, for reasons I still don’t understand, I drew three stars on the surface of my desk. Maybe I was planning to lick my finger and rub them right off, a universal skill of elementary kids everywhere.

But before that could happen, Miss Lewis saw what I had done. She was Not Pleased. And she said I have to stay in at recess.

People. The horror and humiliation. 

The other kids left. I endured Miss Lewis’s patient lecture with courage, and I don’t think I cried, but I was close. I believe she had me scrub off my artwork with something besides a finger and saliva. Then she said I can go play with the others for the rest of recess.

The classrooms all opened up into the gym, and the playground was on the opposite end from the kindergarten classroom. So I started out across that enormous, cavernous, empty gymnasium, bigger to me than the echoing acres of Paddington Station in London would be, over 50 years later. Step by step, all alone, my tiny little Amish self in my little dress and white organdy covering, trying to be brave.

I believe it was a janitor, or possibly the principal himself, who came walking toward me. “Dorcas!” he said. “What are you doing?”

I’m sure he meant, “Why are you in here when everyone else is outside?” but I was absolutely not about to tell him what I had done, and the consequences. I also wanted to cry but was Not About to do that. Also, I still wasn’t that comfortable speaking English and had to think hard about what words to say.

So I made myself smile, and I said, “Just walking!”

Because, after all, that is exactly what I was doing.

He was amused.

Later I learned that the janitor related this story to others, including various teachers.  Miss Lewis told my parents at the next parent-teacher meeting, and everyone was Highly Amused at Little Dorcas who was Just Walking.

It’s significant to me that no one in this story shamed me. I was made repentant by Miss Lewis’s exhortation and bewildered by everyone else’s reaction, but no one made me feel bad about myself, in that moment, for that answer, or like I was an embarrassment to the family.

When the Texas guy looked amused yesterday and the file drawer suddenly opened, I felt that not much has changed, really. I am still Little Dorcas, marching along, trying to be brave. And when someone asks, I tell them I’m just walking, and they are amused, and I’m not sure why.

 I still observe the details and ask questions and say things out loud. It still gets me in trouble.

I still draw stars with a quick series of motions and I still think it’s a mighty cool skill to have.

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  1. What a sweet memory. Moments with special teachers and the way they impact and set direction in our lives. It reminds me to be ultra aware of any bit of influence I may have with a child.❤️

    1. Yes to being "ultra aware." A small interaction can have a profound impact for good or not so good.

  2. Love this. ❤️

  3. Beautiful. I love how you find the words so that we feel just what you were experiencing.

  4. Oh my gosh, you are adorable!

  5. I love this. How many of us are still that little girl inside?! 😊 And the fact that you went to school in the little town of Glenford. There’s still a school in the little town of Glenford. It’s one of the little towns close to the place that I call home.

    1. For real?? I was wishing I could corroborate some of my memories of Glenford Elementary, then I found Miss Lewis's obituary online. The tributes to her verified what I remembered, such as her small size and the fact that our classroom was also the stage at the end of the gym.

  6. Love your imagery, Dorcas. This story made me smile. You are most definitely A Writer.

  7. Another “Dorcas Delight”. Better than dessert. 😊😊👍❤️

  8. I'm glad I'm not the only one who is surprised (at least occasionally, if not more often) at what kind of memories (good or bad) are brought rushing back by otherwise seemingly-inconsequential words or actions. Other times, memories come back even with no apparent prompting, leaving me to wonder "where did that come from?", LOL
    Good article, thanks for sharing.

  9. This is delightful. I was anxious that some adult WOULD shame Little Dorcas and I'm relieved that they did not! Schools often do shame children who are curious and do things a little twitch differently than "normal."
    I am also a fast walker who loves to feel the stretch in my muscles. One time my South African uncle said he saw me walking through my city (at my usual pace!) as if lions were chasing me! Ha!