aqua fortis

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The Way-Back Machine, Part II

There's nothing like feedback to inspire a writer to new least, that's what you hope. Generally, I find new lows, but in this case--after hearing back from a former schoolmate in response to my post about Groter School--I'm motivated to write about Groter: Year Two. I'm sorry to say that I don't remember the classmate who contacted me, but I was only 6 or 7 years old at the time. Plus, judging from the angry, jagged crayon strokes of my coloring, I wasn't very happy and probably wanted to block it out. Anyway, without further ado, some memories from Groter: Year Two.

  • I was six when I moved to the older kids' classroom at Groter School. We were taught by Mrs. Groter the Younger, of the short, iron-gray hair and nasally voice, and occasionally by Mrs. Groter the Elder, who I understood to be her mother (though I could be wrong). The Elder was much nicer, as I recall. The Younger was the one who would announce over the intercom every time someone's parent arrived to pick them up, "Sarah to go home....Michelle to go home..." Parents would pull up in the circular driveway in front of the school and wait for their kids to come out. On one memorable occasion I was sent home early because I had measle-like red spots all over my face, though I didn't feel sick. In retrospect, I assume I was having a reaction to a vaccination.
  • As Anonymous noted below, there were some interesting characters in the class. I remember a brother and sister, Miriam and Simeon. I remember an older kid, maybe 12 or possibly 13, who wore Pink Floyd t-shirts. At that age, I had only the vaguest idea of who or what Pink Floyd was, and so when I saw this guy wear a t-shirt that read "Pink Floyd...The Wall," I assumed that "to Pink Floyd" was some kind of verb, and this dude was advocating that one should literally Pink Floyd the wall. I also had a friend named Michelle, who was perhaps the only person from that school whom I ever saw outside of class.
  • There were also some kids who misbehaved. At Groter School, evidently it was still okay to use outdated methods of punishment that would no doubt be construed as abuse these days, unless perhaps you are a vengeful nun. For instance, there was Shayna, a girl in my class who talked a lot. One day, for talking too much during class, the teacher washed her mouth out with soap in front of everyone. Even worse was a kid named Travis. I don't remember exactly what he did that was so bad, but I do remember that he had his bare bottom spanked with a ruler in front of the entire class. I also remember that I closed my eyes when it happened. I sure didn't want to watch him get his bare butt spanked.
  • Disciplinary methods were not the only antiquated part of the Groter classroom. There were also some rather unique choices made in terms of curriculum. For instance, I recall the main form of reading instruction was via the McGuffey Readers. As someone who learned to read when I was two, needless to say, this bored the shit out of me. I remember getting to do some independent reading in a library-like room off the main classroom--i.e., reading ahead to the later McGuffeys. Ironically, while the reading instruction was too easy for me, the math instruction turned out to be the opposite. I recall being forced to do long division, which was completely ridiculous at six years old. For me, anyway. One thing I did like were the weekly (?) German lessons, taught by a nice lady who would come in and teach us easy stuff like please and thank-you and numbers and songs. I remember one song to this day: "Ich bin ein musikante/und komme aus Schwabenland! (Wir sind die musikante und kommen aus Schwabenland!) Ich kann spielen (wir konnen spielen) aus ein trompete (aus ein trompete! Da-da-da-da da-da-da-da da-da-da-da-da-da."
  • Another song taught to us, this one by Mrs. Groter: "We are marching to Pretoria, Pretoria, Pretoria....We are marching to Pretoria...Pretoria, hurrah!" Why? You might well ask.
  • Random memories: there was a purple-inked ditto machine in an office behind the classroom. I remember getting to use it (supervised, of course) on one memorable occasion. Oh, those purple-inked ditto pages, and that characteristic smell. Another random memory: kids who were extra good, or had accomplished something (I can't quite remember what) were invited to a "luncheon" in the library room situated at one side of the classroom. I don't recall if these were weekly or monthly, but I do remember some kind of taco salad.
  • I remember learning about pneumatic tubes at Groter. I THINK--though it's possible this was a dream--that one day we set up little office "cubicles" under our desks and used cardboard tubes as pneumatic tubes to send notes back and forth. It seems weird and implausible, but no more so than any of the other stuff I remember.
  • I remember one morning we were practicing writing letters, and I wrote a letter of apology to my mom. Earlier that morning I had decided I was going to run away from home, and I'd dutifully packed a bag with some toys and some leftover breakfast in a baggie. I went to my mom and said, "I'm running away." I think my mom said, "Okay, well, why don't we go to school first, and then when you get back you can think about running away." I argued briefly and then she explained something about truant officers roaming the neighborhood looking for delinquent children, and I was scared straight. Later, in class, I wrote a letter beginning, "Dear Mom, I'm sorry I denyed [sic] you this morning."

I think that about exhausts my memories of that bizarre time at Groter. I'm just blown away that somebody else out there remembers it, too. It seems too strange to be true sometimes.


TadMack said...

Oh, man. I didn't go to Groter, but I remember mouths being washed out and tape over mouths for talkers. What is it with so-called "progressive" schools that they had such antiquated and weird disciplinary tactics?

And McGuffey Readers!? Seriously? I thought that since we actually read about Dick and Jane that WE were old-school.

I do remember ditto machines with great fondness; we got to play with a reeeeealllllly old carbon copier that had some kind of gel in a pan that was blue, and you put sheets of paper on top of it and pressed down. (Although, if it was blue gel, it wasn't carbon... those were black. Huh. What the hell was that, then?)

I'm going to go snicker about Pretoria and you 'denying' your Mom.

Mary Witzl said...

We marched (chorally) to Pretoria, too! I loved that song -- particularly that spirited chorus. None of us knew why we were doing it any more than we knew why we were pledging allegiance to the flag.

I remember my cousins' mouths being washed out with soap. I was envious: I liked the smell of soap. So I went and helped myself to a bar of Dove one day, and then I wasn't envious anymore.

My husband told his mother he was running away from home once, when he was seven. She offered to drive him to the police station right away and he changed his mind.

a. fortis said...

I love these stories about small kids not really knowing what it means to run away from home. I remember it seemed to make so much sense at the time: I just pack a bag, right? And take off? I think I might have even taken a little walk down the block. To this day I can't stop laughing about the fact that I put my leftover breakfast into a baggie.

DaviMack said...

Me, I'd just read My Side of the Mountain, so I took ... wait for it ... SALT! Yeah, exactly.

Jacob Vanus said...

Interestingly enough, this is now the top hit for "groter school" in google.

I also attended, and about the same time you did I think (started around '85). I remember enjoying the projects to build paper airplanes and sturdy egg-containers to be thrown from the roof.

My last memories of the school were less happy. The main building had a back door (sliding glass I think) with a ramp down the right to the court yard. I managed to walk out the door backwards, tripped over the low wall and landed on my head in the court yard. When I woke up a few hours later my parents decided I would be safer at another school.

a. fortis said...

Hi Jacob. That's interesting--I imagine there are quite a few people out there who went to Groter School but I suppose it's been mostly lost to posterity.

Your story brought back a memory of getting a tooth knocked out while playing soccer in a courtyard way too small for the purpose. Fortunately it was an already-loose baby tooth, but it put me off soccer for years!