Mom’s alumni banquet

Last evening I spent a few hours with my mom at her high school alumni banquet.

She graduated from a little country school which was, in it’s day, quite a facility. It combined the student bodies of half-a-dozen little one-room schools and kids were bussed in from outlying areas.

The first graduating class, 1938, was represented by a fellow who had also worked at the school for many years after graduation. He got an opportunity to speak to the assembled crowd of 150 people.

Each graduating class was called out, the attendees rose and introduced themselves, and received applause. From 1938 to 1960 when the school closed and the students were bussed even further from their homes to an even more consolidated school, people stood and were recognized.

On a series of tables nearby were framed pictures of all the graduating classes. The early years had separate pictures of each student with their name hand-printed, matted to showcase each student.

In 1944 and 1945 (the year my mother graduated), the pictures were a rather simple cut-and-paste affair, and there were fewer students. “The war was going on and a lot of kids dropped out of school to join the service,” mom told me.

Classes which started freshman year with 100 students would have 6 or 7 graduate.

The whole event was both intensely moving and mind-numbing (they finished the night with a business meeting to establish next year’s event), and I see why my mother likes to go every year.

During the business meeting they called out the names of graduates for whom they have no current address. My aunt, Betty Fall, was one of those. She and her husband have recently moved to a condo near DC and her mail had been bouncing back to them.

On the drive home we discussed Mom’s family. It’s always interesting to hear about my maternal grandmother, Belva Woodburn, who spent a great deal of time raising me while my mother was preoccupied with my younger brother.

Grandma Woodburn lived with us after becoming ill with leukemia. My mother, a registered nurse, cared for her in our home and got her to Marietta Memorial Hospital when necessary.

My earliest memories are of grandma and I walking to church and going to the doctor’s office for my booster shots prior to starting grade school.

Grandma Woodburn taught me how to do dishes and, unlike my harried mother, had time to watch me play in the soapy water, sloshing it back and forth from glass to glass.

When grandma got sicker she took her meals in bed in our family room. Her bed propped up at one end so she could sit up a little. Mom would ask me, “do you want to eat with grandma?” and I’d answer “yes!”

I’d set my plate on the bed next to grandma’s legs and it was like a picnic. I was too young to know anything of grandma’s illness, I just knew it was special to eat in there with her.

Grandma died just before my 5th Christmas. There were presents for her under the Christmas tree. At her funeral I wasn’t sure what was happening, why everyone was crying, even my Dad.

I remember vaguely someone explaining that grandma was dead and wouldn’t be back. I’m sure I missed all her special attention and, as the fourth of five children, would have taken a back seat to the more demanding siblings.

I was in first grade, with a teacher who focused a lot of time and effort on punitive measures such as getting paddled, standing in the corner, writing something 100 times, and staying after school.

I don’t remember getting punished much by my mother during that phase. Perhaps she realized I was missing grandma’s attention (now they call it acting out) and cut me some slack.

I remember one occasion where my teacher kept me after school to write some 4-word sentence over and over again. Mom showed up asking where I was and took me home.

I don’t really remember having to stay after school after that. Amazing how school rules have changed. That old hag (Mrs. Hicks — she was the worst and most dreaded of the 1st grade teacher) could do just about anything she wanted in her classroom.

When I remember that first year of school it doesn’t really surprise me that education, schooling, learning were not anticipated or enjoyable for me. I dreaded school. I delighted in every graduation. I’ve returned to my high school once. I’ve never returned to my college.

As with any butterfly effect I have to wonder how different my life would have been if my grandma had lived longer, if my first teacher had been a nurturer, if I’d been the fourth of four (instead of five) children — the baby — instead of my younger brother getting that distinction.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: