Wednesday, February 09, 2005

What is hip? (part 2)


1969-70 sure seems like it was "a long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away." It would also prove to be my most adventurous year to date. My father had his first sabbatical as Biochemistry professor at FSU and would work with an eventual Nobellist in Sweden, Bengt Samuelsson. We joined an FSU group on Alitalia out of JFK, my first trip to the Big Apple, and a thrill to be in that famous TWA terminal 7,


and flew into Pisa. FSU had a study abroad program in Florence. We slowly made our way north across Europe, stopping in Wolfsburg to pick up a 1970 baby blue VW squareback. Finally we arrived in Stockholm, Sweden and the Wenner-Gren Center, a mini scientific United Nations, where we had a three room apartment; here I am on the back patio modelling some German lederhosen. Meanwhile back in Tallahassee, FL school busing started and my neighborhood (white and full of liberal professors was paired with an all black school that was far closer to another white neighborhood, but one full of conservative, working class types (hmm . . . ). Furthermore, they also built a new "white school" Astoria Park, which opened in 1969, across Tharpe Street from San Luis Ridge. I attended first grade at the Stockholm International School, then known as the Anglo-American school after its primary clientele, at Johannesgatan 18, which had been a school since the late 19th century. Over the side entrance was a stone inscription, "Brummerska Skolan grundad 1882." I really enjoyed reading and writing in my diary there. The only bad day was when our teacher, Miss Spillett from Dover, taught the class to sing "Georgy Porgy," really not what a five year old needs to hear from his classmates! The British are a bit different. We had a fantastic, formal sit-down lunch every day. Annually on December 13th, the school had a special Lucia celebration; it was a highlight of my four months there.

I also loved tramping around the cobblestone streets of Gamla Stan, seeing Joan Baez sing "Blowing in the Wind" at Tivoli, visiting Skansen, and viewing the recently salvaged Vasa at the original temporary Vasavarvet.

When I returned home to the States, I got ready for my first day of US 1st grade at John G. Riley Elementary. I walked from 1301 Parga Street down the hill to the intersection with San Pedro Ave, where I caught the bus. I spent my first day in first grade quite miserable. No other student in the class could read (not a requirement of the FL DoE then) and I got yelled at because I colored a tree outside the lines of my giraffe picture and colored the giraffe purple with blue spots. It had to be "yellow and brown" to be correct. Jesus H. Christ lady kill an imagination before it's even begun. Anyway I said the right things to my Mom because magically the next day after some time at the Principal's office I was now a second grader assigned to MS. Dena West's class. That was o.k. skipping a grade so young, if mainly because all the kids I had grown up around were 3-6 months older than I and in second grade anyway.

Dena West (then) was a groovy chick as the picture above attests. A native Tampan; she had recently graduated from USF in Tampa. She taught for 1 1/2 years there before moving to Tallahassee. Anyway Dena was in her first year of what would be a short lived teaching career, but a spectacular one whatever its length. I loved her as much as I loved Miss Spillett back at the Anglo-American School in Stockholm, but Dena had the kind of deft touch that would never do anything in a classroom which might even accidentally backfire on a child. Well except for those old floor heaters (basically pipes full of hot water running under the floor--real bright idea in an elementary school, no?). They always turned on on the hottest days and many a Krayola was offered up to their wrath until it looked like we had a rainbow coalition wax floor covering.

Dena sure knew how to make a new student fell right at home. She took me to the front of class and told students that I had just returned from living in Sweden and then showed them where that was on an overhead flat world map. Then she announced "His name is George Evans but we will call him G. E.," and thus the "legend" was born. Ironically no one else had ever noticed this simple fact about my given name. That half year went by in a rush, but I remember it as being endlessly educational and fun beyond all resonable expectation and involving lots of A+++++s and multliple gold stars (but note everyone in the class got their week to shine and receive special commendations). When you're six, it should be about encouragement not competition. I also know that special introduction earned me the undying "love" of every little girl in the class. For the next two and a half years I had the only female posse I've ever pulled. I'm not sure why it collapsed in fifth grade. But hey ancient history, ne-c'est pas?

I had forgotten but Dena reminded me that she made the unusual shift of moving up with our class from second to third grade. So she taught me for 1 and 1/2 years and then moved on to other ventures. But really, her leaving education wasn't MY fault!

It takes a special kind of teacher to hold onto an old photo and badly drawn birthday card and then send them on as a return birthday gift 30+ years later. I only hope I treat my special former students with the same thoughtfulness, love, and respect in the future. Thanks Ms. West!

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