What Do You Remember From When You Were Eight?

It’s strange, the things I remember from childhood. My son’s eight years old, and although I don’t remember much from when I was that age, the things I recall are as clear as if they happened yesterday.

I know I was in Mrs. Elslander’s 3rd grade class, but I don’t remember much about her or what we learned. She was probably about 60 or 65 and had salt-and-pepper hair done up in a bouffant.

This is when a middle school or high school kid stopped by our recess one day and taught us a dirty rhyme about King Kong playing ping-pong, and when an unkempt kid our age told us a dirty joke about little Johnny Harder. I still remember that joke, but I won’t be repeating it here.

We also had music class, where we played games like guessing TV show theme songs our teacher had recorded by setting her cassette recorder next to the television. When not doing that, we played games directed by the song “What Are You Wearing? (Today, today)” If you’re wearing shoes, stand up, the man sang, and all of us dutifully stood until he sang a line like, If you’re wearing a belt, sit down. With a substitute teacher we learned diction using the classic, “What do you think, of Bobby Link, who went for a swim, with nothing to drink, but iced tea, hot tea, milk in a jug in a kitchen sink?”

Then there are the lyrics to this classic. “Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree-e, merry merry king of the bush is he-e, laugh, kookaburra laugh, kookaburra, gay your life must be.” A teacher now wouldn’t dare try to teach that song to the children. (The rock band Men at Work got sued many years later, by the way, for allegedly copying that song’s tune for the catchy flute part in their hit “Down Under.”)

I remember playing with a parachute in gym class. Each of us would grab the edge of the parachute and spread out, then lift it while stepping under it. We would drop to a sitting position and let it float down over us.

A harpsichordist came to the gym and played for us. The sound mesmerized me. From that moment forward I stop and listen to hapsichord whenever I have a chance, completely rapt.

My only time to get beat up (so far) happened at about that age, too. I made fun of a new kid named Patrick (last name withheld) for his precious Minnesota Vikings’ many near misses, and he summarily pinned me and practiced bouncing his fists off my face. I wasn’t normally a bully — the kid just snapped, and in that way he resembled Ralphie wailing on Scott Farkus in “A Christmas Story.” He sat over me flailing blindly, his bleary eyes behind thick glasses. I don’t remember who saved me, but no doubt it was a teacher.

I remember the old car tires, brightly painted and lined up, half sunk into concrete to form a tunnel; the big, stainless steel slide high enough to actually build up speed by the time we reached the bottom; the heavy kid who loved to strand you on the see-saw so that you plummeted and landed with a resonant whump on the wood shavings.

In there somewhere was lots of math, spelling, and language arts. I’m sure some science and history, too, but again, my recollection of the academic side of grammar school is sketchy.

Every time I sipped from the drinking fountain, I laughed when the water pressure went down with the toilet flush from the nearby restrooms. “Yucky, we’re drinking toilet water!” I said, but I don’t recall anyone laughing.

Looking back, I wonder what things my son will remember when he’s 40 years old. If I’m still around, I’ll ask him. Meanwhile, what do you recall?


Death is at every turn lately. It has affected three folks who have commented here at least once — one of whom is a dear friend.

Within the past two weeks:

All of this has put me in mind of the losses and near losses I have experienced. I am fortunate to have made it this far without directly experiencing anything that jolting.

Several years ago we received a wake-up call informing us that one of Shannon’s best friends, with whom she recently had reunited, had been killed in an accident. That was hard enough without the four-month wait to see how her widower — also a close friend — came out of it. He missed her funeral while he lay unconscious in a hospital bed.

My maternal grandfather died in his sleep in the very early hours of New Year’s Day, 2008. Despite the distance between us all my life, I always was close to him through letters, audio tapes sent back and forth, and faxes. Something broke in him as he watched his dear wife fade from existence before her death, but he rebounded and lived to welcome more great-grandchildren into the world.

A few years before that, we found out on Thanksgiving Day that my paternal grandmother would not be joining us because she had passed away in her sleep. I grew up seeing her a lot, and regret not spending more time keeping in touch with her as an adult. She also soldiered on after losing her one true love, who died when I was only 12 but not before they celebrated 50 years of marriage.

Shannon’s beloved aunt, like a second mother to her since she was a baby, struggled and lost against cancer back in the mid-’90’s. She was the youngest and the first of five siblings to pass on. Her loss rippled through the family and the local educational community, in which she had played a major role. Little Rock School District named a building after her.

Nearly 10 years ago my father had a heart attack. We all were fortunate that the worst casualty from that was my mother’s plan for his surprise 60th birthday party. In fact, the ensuing procedure improved his health and probably prolonged his life.

More recently my mother-in-law’s stress test revealed she needed surgical help immediately, and she, too, was given an extension.

On top of all this, death makes me think of things I will not express publicly. It’s too final for me to think about for very long.

Gary In Deanna

The title for this one popped into my head and I found it funny. A Google search of that phrase, in quotes, came up with one result.

I do that occasionally when I wonder whether a thought was original. I say as long as you didn’t know it existed before, it’s your own. The Internet makes it easy to find out whether it’s already been made public before you go claiming you are a great inventor or a coiner of clever witticisms. God forbid you should find out that a pun you came up with in the shower or suppressed in a meeting wasn’t truly original.

Moral to the story? Don’t Google it. If you like it, just feel good and go on about your daily life.

Big Change Coming

(Note: those reading “The Keys Are In It” may proceed to Part Fourteen, where we see a meeting of the minds.)

I already had written this post before finding this (update: this has been altered):


It featured a picture of our son, that my wife took, used without permission. They linked back here in a bit of text separate from the rest of the post, which was how I knew it existed, but that’s not enough.

And I’m pretty sure I’ve had enough. *(see update at bottom of post)

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