Gold Stars and Wooly Bears


I see there’s a moth clinging to the screen, on this, the first day of winter.  And it’s a gloomy day; a rainy day.  Squints and I set out to run our errands.

A man jogs.  In his left hand, he holds a newspaper folded back, which he reads as he runs down the sidewalk, right hand pumping furiously.  Another man walks, face tilted towards the sky, his blue and white golf umbrella serving as a walking stick. 

The clouds press in dark and thick and at the corner the crossing guard waits.  She wears a bright yellow vest with an orange belt and her stop sign lies upside down against a gnarled tree.  She picks it up suddenly, steps into the street and holds it aloft while the high school students roll their eyes and meander across the street in great bunches, enjoying the first day of their holiday break. 


Our errands complete, we return home.  Darkness settles and we decide to take a walk.  “Look, Mom!”  Squints stops beneath a street light and points to a stone wall.  “It’s a wooly bear.”  A thin wooly bear, to be sure, and my neighbor would say that is indicative of a gentle winter.  Squints picks it up, puts a protective glove on top.  He carries it home gingerly and tucks it beneath the straw in the backyard raised bed.  “I did my good deed today, Mom.”  He grins at me.

And this naturally reminds me of my grandmother who—whenever someone did something good—would say, “you got your gold star.” 

Thoughts of this gold star take me back to elementary school.  My school—Village School—was on Main Street.  Carved into the stone just above the door was one word: opportunity.  I remember the janitor, an older man with a stomach that overlapped his jeans.  He would push the broom down the hallway at regular intervals, pausing at the end of the hall to dig a red handkerchief from his back pocket and mop his face.  He was a kind man; a gentle man, and the younger kids adored him.  But the older students, having learned cruelty, rolled their eyes and mocked him for his size and the redness of his face.

From my seat in the first grade classroom, I could watch the janitor from behind my desk as he made his way down the hallway, gathering up dirt and broken pencils and bits of paper with the broom.  My teacher, Mrs. G, would lasso in my attention again.  By the time I had her—she’d already had my sisters—Mrs. G must have been in her seventies.  She wore black cat glasses and practical dresses and sensible shoes, which would peek out from the bottom of her solid wooden desk.

That desk had heavy drawers.

Magical drawers. 

Drawers that held containers of lick-on stars, red and green and blue and—best of all—gold, which Mrs. G would affix to our spelling and math tests.  There was a bag of peppermints in that drawer, too, and a silver fork, likely borrowed from the cafeteria.  One tine of this fork was bent forwards, and with that tine, Mrs. G, with her arthritic, gnarled hands, her tongue nestled in the corner of her mouth, would coax the stubborn knots from our shoelaces. 

When we tired of penmanship, when winter snow beckoned through the windows, Mrs. G would line us up to “wet our whistles.”  We would take long slurpy drinks from the fountain before returning to the classroom and our thick pencils and our gold stars, of course.

Today my elementary school is a medical facility.  And the janitor and Mrs. G are long dead.  But they both earned their gold stars within those walls of opportunity; The janitor cleaning up after thoughtless students who scattered things in the hallway; Mrs. G, inspiring her charges and working knots from grimy shoelaces.



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Writing in the Margins, Bursting at the Seams: Gold Stars and Wooly Bears

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Gold Stars and Wooly Bears


I see there’s a moth clinging to the screen, on this, the first day of winter.  And it’s a gloomy day; a rainy day.  Squints and I set out to run our errands.

A man jogs.  In his left hand, he holds a newspaper folded back, which he reads as he runs down the sidewalk, right hand pumping furiously.  Another man walks, face tilted towards the sky, his blue and white golf umbrella serving as a walking stick. 

The clouds press in dark and thick and at the corner the crossing guard waits.  She wears a bright yellow vest with an orange belt and her stop sign lies upside down against a gnarled tree.  She picks it up suddenly, steps into the street and holds it aloft while the high school students roll their eyes and meander across the street in great bunches, enjoying the first day of their holiday break. 


Our errands complete, we return home.  Darkness settles and we decide to take a walk.  “Look, Mom!”  Squints stops beneath a street light and points to a stone wall.  “It’s a wooly bear.”  A thin wooly bear, to be sure, and my neighbor would say that is indicative of a gentle winter.  Squints picks it up, puts a protective glove on top.  He carries it home gingerly and tucks it beneath the straw in the backyard raised bed.  “I did my good deed today, Mom.”  He grins at me.

And this naturally reminds me of my grandmother who—whenever someone did something good—would say, “you got your gold star.” 

Thoughts of this gold star take me back to elementary school.  My school—Village School—was on Main Street.  Carved into the stone just above the door was one word: opportunity.  I remember the janitor, an older man with a stomach that overlapped his jeans.  He would push the broom down the hallway at regular intervals, pausing at the end of the hall to dig a red handkerchief from his back pocket and mop his face.  He was a kind man; a gentle man, and the younger kids adored him.  But the older students, having learned cruelty, rolled their eyes and mocked him for his size and the redness of his face.

From my seat in the first grade classroom, I could watch the janitor from behind my desk as he made his way down the hallway, gathering up dirt and broken pencils and bits of paper with the broom.  My teacher, Mrs. G, would lasso in my attention again.  By the time I had her—she’d already had my sisters—Mrs. G must have been in her seventies.  She wore black cat glasses and practical dresses and sensible shoes, which would peek out from the bottom of her solid wooden desk.

That desk had heavy drawers.

Magical drawers. 

Drawers that held containers of lick-on stars, red and green and blue and—best of all—gold, which Mrs. G would affix to our spelling and math tests.  There was a bag of peppermints in that drawer, too, and a silver fork, likely borrowed from the cafeteria.  One tine of this fork was bent forwards, and with that tine, Mrs. G, with her arthritic, gnarled hands, her tongue nestled in the corner of her mouth, would coax the stubborn knots from our shoelaces. 

When we tired of penmanship, when winter snow beckoned through the windows, Mrs. G would line us up to “wet our whistles.”  We would take long slurpy drinks from the fountain before returning to the classroom and our thick pencils and our gold stars, of course.

Today my elementary school is a medical facility.  And the janitor and Mrs. G are long dead.  But they both earned their gold stars within those walls of opportunity; The janitor cleaning up after thoughtless students who scattered things in the hallway; Mrs. G, inspiring her charges and working knots from grimy shoelaces.



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4 Comments:

At December 22, 2011 at 8:44 AM , Anonymous Bella said...

Kelly, every one of your posts has the effect of transporting me to the time, place, and season where it took place. I could literally see the janitor sweeping the pencils and Mrs. G, taking knots out with the silver fork. I think your power of observation is your super power. It allows you to remember the details that make your posts simply magical!

 
At December 22, 2011 at 10:24 AM , Anonymous kgwaite said...

Thanks, Bella! I always appreciate your reading.

 
At December 22, 2011 at 6:17 PM , Anonymous Elizabeth Young said...

There'll always be something special about our first school won't there? My first school was where my father and Grandfather also attended. The stone steps leading upstairs where permanently sloping down in the middle due to generations of children travelling them so often. And the cloakrooms! The cloakrooms had thick, thick stones and gigantic windows (or none at all) and old wooden floors that were polished like brass in September. Oh if those cloakrooms could have told stories and I were there to listen! The building is flats now, and I'd love to own one, but that is out of the question. Merry Christmas and thanks for reminding me of the memories!

 
At December 22, 2011 at 6:30 PM , Anonymous kgwaite said...

I remember a cloakroom, too. Green walls and hooks and cubbies for bookbags--because who'd ever heard of backpacks then?
Thanks for reading, Elizabeth.

 

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