Local Life Column: The day I went back to school

Sometimes, a surprise is nice. Other times, a surprise takes you by surprise.

Like the day my wife came in and in her unmatchable off-hand manner told me, "By the way, you're going on a field trip tomorrow with Lianne's class."

"I am? I was going to work on your car tomorrow. And I still have to fix the roof."

"You can do that later. Her mom's busy, and anyway, you know you want to go."

I had learned long ago that any further attempt to weasel out would earn me a quick trip to the doghouse.

Lianne is my 9-year-old granddaughter, and her third-grade class was going to visit the kitchen where the lunches for the elementary schools are prepared.

"Whoopee," I thought. I spend my life in kitchens, and spending my day off visiting another one was not my idea of a good time. Even for my granddaughter, who I love dearly and would do almost anything for.

To say the least, I was not thrilled.

Later that day, I received a call from Mrs. Campbell, Lianne's teacher, the villainous educator who had conceived this nefarious escapade. She wanted to confirm that I had, indeed, volunteered, and then briefed me on the scheduled events of the day, which would include a nature walk and lunch in the park.

My big day

begins

It was with great trepidation that I entered the school. How would the children react to me? Would they laugh and make fun? Would I be able to talk to them? What was the teacher like? I was more than a little nervous.

Cautiously, I entered the classroom. I stood in the doorway until Mrs. Campbell noticed me.

"You must be Mr. Carr, Lianne's grandfather." I smiled in acknowledgment and was directed to have a seat in the back of the classroom. I took a chair next to the other chaperones. I learned later that I was not the only grandparent; one of the ladies was a grandmother.

After a quick introduction, we were given some small green cards. Mine had my name and the names of the students I was to chaperone printed on them. "These are your name tags," I was told.

It had been a good many years since I had sat in a classroom. This does not include college classes. Somehow, that was different.

I looked around, noting how much things had changed since I was a boy. Everything had changed.

My school way back when

The elementary school I attended was very old. The large classrooms were illuminated by glass-enclosed light bulbs suspended from the high ceilings. Blackboards lined two walls. A third was filled with windows reaching almost to the ceiling, and under them were steam radiators. In the winter, it would be lined with rubber galoshes.

The teacher's desk was in the center at the front of the room. Facing it were long rows of desks, each bolted to a wooden runner. Each desk had a hole in one corner for an ink well, and the space under the desk top held books and supplies.

I chuckled as I recalled those early days of learning to write with an ink pen, and the resultant mess it made.

I also learned to use and appreciate an ink blotter. At that time, some stores gave them away as advertisements. These usually were cards about 4-by-8 inches, absorbent on one side and with the name of the merchant or business printed on the other.

There were many other changes I noticed, too. This room was warm and cheerful, in total contrast to the colorless, forbidding classrooms of my youth.

Teachers are

always the same

One thing that had not changed was the teacher. I had always feared my teachers. I used to wonder if all of them came from the same place. It seemed as though each teacher had one goal - to make my life miserable.

I had a friend who attended a Catholic school. He used to complain about how tough and demanding the nuns were, and then he would tell me how bad he thought he had it.

I suggested he spend a day with Mrs. Buterbau, my fifth-grade teacher. Mrs. Buterbau insisted that I sit up straight in class, pay attention and complete all class assignments. It was the longest year of my life.

Looking back over the years, I believe now that she was perhaps one of the finest teachers I ever had. She was a small lady, not much taller than her students. Her gray hair was pulled back and wrapped in a bun. She always wore long, dark black or gray dresses.

She also carried a small stick, about a foot long and a half-inch in diameter. It had been red once but was badly chipped and dented from many years of classroom use. She would carry that stick and walk slowly up and down the rows of desks.

Occasionally, she would hit a desk to get a student's attention, and she was not shy about hitting one of the boys on the arm or leg with it - not hard, but enough to get your attention.

She would become frustrated over our failure to grasp basic principles. Sometimes, she would pull the back of my hair. I solved that problem by applying an excessive amount of hair cream to my butch-style haircut.

Her teaching methods were legendary in the school. The parents knew, and to my dismay, approved.

She never caused any injury, other than to one's dignity, but she did make you learn. Looking back over my old report cards, my fifth-grade card displayed some of the best marks in my school career.

I also noticed one failure on her part. Although I received good marks in most all other areas, I received unsatisfactory marks in the area of making wise use of time and materials. But I will give her credit for one thing: She tried.

Not all of my teachers were as terrifying as Mrs. Buterbau. There was Mrs. Clark, my fourth-grade teachers. She was wonderful. Every day, she would read aloud to the class.

I would lay my head on my desk, close my eyes, and for a while I would be in another land.

She also had us memorize poetry. I found that I was surprisingly good at that. She was my favorite teacher, so I was surprised to find that when I looked at the report card for her class, my grades were not all that great.

My second-grade teacher, Mrs. Webb, taught me to write. She would write an exercise on the board, and we had to copy it. Her class was divided into both second and third grades.

I was enamored of a girl in the third grade, Dixie Lee. She had long, curly hair. She was also the hopscotch champion of our class.

During lunch breaks, many of the students played Red Rover on the playground. One day while playing this game, I was knocked tail over teacups. I was not injured. Just dirtied and shaken up a bit. My mother was so angry with the school for permitting this game that she pulled me and my sister out of Dee School and moved us to Madison Elementary School.

It was at Madison that I almost bit the end of my tongue off playing "touch" football. I was curious if my mother would pull me out of Madison and put me back in Dee. She didn't.

I was in sixth grade at the time, and I guess she figured there just wasn't any point in moving me. Anyway, I would be starting junior high the next year.

Keeping my

head down

I sat there thinking that Mrs. Campbell as much younger and prettier than any of my teachers, and she seemed really nice.

This thought vanished as she harshly remanded some student and then gleefully inscribed the malefactor's name on the blackboard. That name soon was followed by several others.

I sat there in the back of my granddaughter's classroom. I tried to make myself smaller, hoping to remain inconspicuous for fear that by committing some unknown infraction, my name would be written on the board, along with those other diminutive malefactors that had incurred her displeasure.

I have noted one thing about my early education. In the midst of feeling ill treated and persecuted, I had missed one important point: All of those teachers were dedicated, caring educators. I realize now that they had to sometimes use apparently extreme measures to corral a free-spirited, rebellious boy. I owe them so much.

It was a wonderful feeling to sit in the back of that classroom and see that some things had not changed. There still are dedicated and caring teachers, teaching good manners and citizenship to our children. I hope that someday these children will look back and realize just how lucky they were.

Things were

looking up

Now, after giving the children a few brief instructions, students and chaperones began to file out of the classroom for the bus.

We continued down the hallway with Chantel holding one hand, Sheryl holding the other and Lianne leading the way.

Here I was, going on a field trip with three of the prettiest girls in the school! I began to relax. This might turn out to be a fun day, after all.

The bus ride to Kingman seemed to last forever. Mrs. Jiminez, one of the chaperones, was sitting with several children in the back of the bus. I sat there proudly with Chantel and Sheryl, while Lianne sat on the seat across the aisle. I found myself enjoying just listening to the children talk and play.

We finally arrived at Hualapai Elementary School, where our field trip was to begin. We filed off the bus and lined up at the door and waited while Mrs. Campbell announced our arrival.

We were met by Mrs. Karma, who was in charge of the kitchen. She began leading us through the kitchen, pointing out various pieces of equipment, like the dishwasher and the pot sink. Then we met Denise, the head baker. She was putting finishing touches on several large pans of brownies. They smelled as good as they looked, and our mouths watered hungrily as we gazed upon them.

We then were shown several large machines - slicers, mix masters and a buffalo chopper.

"Why do they call it that," I asked. Mrs. Karma was at a loss for an answer. I began to feel slightly embarrassed. I had been working in kitchens and restaurants for many years, and had to fight down the desire to be a show-off.

"I have no idea," Mrs. Karma replied. "I have been working in kitchens for 30 years and have never thought about it."

I then ventured that it was named because of the shape or design of the cutting blades. I shrank to the back of the crowd and vowed to keep my big mouth shut.

We continued our tour. Mrs. Karma told us the kitchen prepares anywhere from 2,000-3,000 meals a day, the number dependent on the menu. Spaghetti was the least popular, while corndogs, hamburgers and nuggets were favorites.

We went past a small room that Mrs. Karma pointed out was the employees' break room. She then led us over to the window where the meals were served. It was just like the kitchen at Black Mountain School.

Taking a break

Having completed the tour, the children were asked if they had any questions. Lianne, bless her heart, was curious about the break room and asked if they could see it. Her wish was granted graciously. The class invaded the small room, and I suspect overpowered one poor soul I had observed sitting in there, drinking a cup of coffee.

After going outside and being shown how the meals were placed in carts and the carts loaded on a truck for delivery to the various schools, we were led back to the bus for the next part of our field trip - a visit to the nature park. It was a short ride from Hualapai Elementary to the Palo Christi Elementary School. This was in the old part of Kingman, at the base of the mountains behind the courthouse.

Here, we received special instructions. They had a "no touch" policy.

"Would we be allowed to hold hands," I wondered. Apparently, we were. Two of my chaperones grabbed my hands and led me through the school and across the playground to their nature park.

Here, several students who were to be our guides through the park met us. We separated into two groups, and each guide began to explain various features of the park. As each guide completed his lecture, we moved on to join another guide, who would then explain about their part of the park. It was a very enjoyable experience. The children got to see the mummified remains of a frog, the skull of a fox that had lived once in the park, some fossil tracks in stone, a beautiful section of petrified wood and various pieces of cacti.

After returning to the bus, we traveled next to a park where we were to eat the lunches we had brought, and the children would be allowed to play. One child had forgotten his lunch, and volunteers were sought to share their lunches. I happily gave him one of my patented bologna-and-cheese sandwiches and a few crackers. He had no sooner taken a bite than his mother arrived, delivering the delinquent lunch. I was glad he had not been forgotten.

As each of the children finished eating, they ran off to play. Nearby was a fenced area containing swings, monkey bars and a merry-go-round. The latter piece of equipment quickly became very popular, but problems soon developed as some of the smaller children got bumped and banged trying to ride it. Mrs. Campbell tried to regulate it, but finally gave up and put it off limits for the day.

I noted with amusement that even with all the fancy equipment at the park, several of the students were playing in a nearby tree. They had climbed up and were hanging and swinging from one of the lower branches. They seemed to be having a ball.

As the children began to tire, Mrs. Campbell gathered them together for some games. Sides were chosen for Red Rover. Then came Red Light - Green Light. This was harder and was soon abandoned.

Finally, it was time to get back on the bus and return to the school. The children seemed very happy. I was strangely reluctant. I had been enjoying myself and was surprised the day had passed by so quickly.

As I said goodbye to Chantel and Sheryl, I could not help thinking how lucky I had been to be able to spend such a wonderful day with them and Lianne.