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?