Head’s Start had yet to be founded. Kindergartens were not universal. Moms most commonly stayed at home when I was born. I thought myself fortunate and blessed to spend my days before grammar school-age at the hem of Gram’s cotton shift or slung across P.A.’s broad shoulders. Their early lessons, down to Grams’ daily schedule, are what I cribbed from when parenthood called on me decades later.
Every man’s memory is his private literature. ~Aldous Huxley
Both the farm and the household had survived the Depression, but they had not forgotten it. Nothing was wasted; nothing taken for granted. Home-made was standard and store-bought was special. Rather than peel a banana as a snack, I reached in Grams’ pantry for a fingerling sweet potato, pre-baked and cooled, with a jacket my stubby fingers could slough off with ease. As the Internet meme, says “Organic, what your grandparents called food.”
3 Rs: Reading, ‘Riting, & ‘Rithmetic
P.A. taught me the ‘rithmatic of the standard three R’s. As he explained to anyone who would raise an eyebrow to the sight of my 2-year old hands struggling with a deck of playing cards, “If she’s gonna be around, she might as well be useful.” A couple of his fingers and most of a thumb were lost years before in the jaws of a corn picker, so I did the shuffling, dealing, and tallying. Fun and games. Learning didn’t have to be a chore. The biggest pay off was when I did something to make P.A. grin and bust with pride, which was all the time.
Every afternoon before the cousins got out of school, Grams would take up her tatting and the latest issue of Reader’s Digest. Donning her spectacles, she would read aloud the Word Power quiz, before handing the treasured magazine to me. As she took up her tatting, making endless doilies of pineapple lace, I would “read” an article to her by pointing my pudgy index finger along the line of text from left to right, making up a story as I went until one day I actually could read the words.
Suffrage was a keen issue for Grams. “Lara, when I was born, women could not vote. If anyone ever gives you a chance to tell ‘em what you think, don’t take it for granted.” So I learned my ABCs by writing letters to JFK, LBJ and Shirley Temple Black. One of my most treasured keepsakes was the stack of return mail I got from everyone I wrote. Those letters were lost in a flood, and it was only years later that I suspected that the signatures had been hand-stamped by a secretary. Getting personal mail was such a treat. It made me feel connected with a larger world. It still does.
Art for Art’s Sake.
The favored R was art. My grandparents had a Wabi-sabi* aesthetic to their decor. Weathered utilitarian objects, found forest keepsakes, porcelain treasures, quilted calico, butterflies under glass, Indian arrowheads, hunks of fluorspar, geodes, ancient fern imprints, trilobites swimming in stone, baskets of barite roses––all of these were placed throughout the rooms of the plain wooden farmhouse. The rooms were lit by single bald bulbs dangling precariously from single wires. On the wall was a print of an oil painting of a Mediterranean seaside village, an invitation to another world. After supper, P.A. would light a pipe and hum out a tune in his deep baritone voice while Grams picked up her tatting. “Lara,” he called to me, “what happened today in the village?” “Well,” I began, “it’s Monday so the town was filled with the billowing sails of fresh-washed sheets. The summer sun dried up the dampness and filled the air with the smell of sweat and bleach…” Maybe not my exact words, but the images are as fresh as the smell of the lilacs off the porch.
“What matters in life is not what happens to you but what you remember and how you remember it.” ~Gabriel Garcia Marquez
The gist of this resonates throughout my memories of my earliest childhood life. Have you brought forward distant memories and re-purposed them? If you have a blog post about early childhood memories or education that fits the theme, share the link in the comments.
*Wabi-sabi: (7 Zen Principles of Aesthetics) Fukinsei: asymmetry, irregularity; Kanso: simplicity; Koko: basic, weathered; Shizen: without pretense, natural; Yugen: subtly profound grace, not obvious; Datsuzoku: unbounded by convention, free; Seijaku: tranquility.