Sunday, January 13, 2013

my morning as homework

This morning I spent about 45 minutes engaged in a video call (on Skype) with our seven-year-old granddaughter. We were both dressed in jammies, and she had a school assignment to interview someone for a family history project. Following in italics are the questions developed by her teacher, using 'they' (alas!) as the universal unisex uniperson pronoun.

When were they born? Please include the month, day, and year. May 7, 1941

Where were they born? Please include the city, state, country and continent. Newark, Ohio, U.S.A., North America

How did they dress? Here I started to have some fun with the answers! My granddaughters' generation wears leggings most of the time. I told her we didn't have leggings because we didn't have any synthetic fabrics besides rayon (a new word she needed to have spelled). She asked, "Didn't you have elastic?" I said, "Yes, we had elastic, but no spandex or nylon, which is what most of your leggings are made of. All our clothing was cotton or wool." 

How did they get to school? I told her I walked to school until junior high, and was ready to start talking about the school bus. She curtly reminded me that we were talking about elementary school. Ah, yes! The girl knows how to focus.

How was their classroom [different from classrooms of today]? My talk of dip pens, ink wells, and the wind-up Victrola was accepted as the ancient history it is. I didn't mention how we all snickered at the rear view of our teacher winding the Victrola, but she was astounded when I told her that the teachers wore dresses all the time.

What did they do during recess time? I told her we had swings and monkey bars (which I loved), and played kick ball, dodge ball, and tether ball. Later I remembered jumping rope (she had received a jump rope for Christmas). Anyway, she said she hadn't had swings except in kindergarten, but otherwise concluded that "recess was pretty much the same."

What do they remember most about their experience in 2nd grade or elementary school? This was a hard one, because I had missed kindergarten (due to a parental oversight) and skipped essentially every other semester until I ended up in fifth grade on my eighth birthday, with no particular memory of any grade between first and fourth. Still tightly focused, however, she didn't accept my account of walking home with my friend Carolyn, who had ducks and a grapefruit tree in her back yard ("This is supposed to be about what happened in school," she reminded me), so I told about pretending to know how to read (a simple matter of memorizing the Dick & Jane story the others in the group were reading, and rattling off my lines with no hesitation).

What did they do when they were not in school? Here I was able to work in Carolyn's ducks, as well as roller-skating on the sidewalk, playing 'cops and robbers' in the alley, and avoiding the alleged witch who lived in a little house at the far end of our block.

Did they have a hobby?  My talk of knitting and playing the flute (both of which I started at age 7), must have suggested I hadn't changed a bit, but drawing and painting were definitely things from my past.

What activities did they do? I'm not sure how activities differ from hobbies and 'what they do', but I came up with accounts of fishing at the beach and visiting the Redondo Beach pier to buy lobsters that we'd bring home to barbecue in the back yard.

Did they watch television or some movies? What kind of movies? Television didn't come along for me until 1952, but I talked for so long about Disney movies (Dumbo, Sleeping Beauty, Bambi) that there wasn't room on the page to include my favorite radio shows. I was summarily interrupted when I started to spell 'Uncle Whoa-Bill.'

Did they have chores? Setting the table and feeding the cat paled in comparison with my account of watching our family's trash burn in the backyard incinerator. You see, someone had to stomp out flying embers to keep the fire from spreading. This was history for sure!

Ask them to tell you a story or special memory that they experienced when they were your age. (For example, a trip, a historic event, war, immigration, a special memory with their family or friends, etc.)

My story was of a road trip from L.A. to central Ohio, where we visited my paternal grandparents' farm and I helped my grandmother gather eggs. Knowing how she loves the four chickens and one rooster who live on the farm where her father lives in Idaho, I confided that I didn't like the chickens. She wasn't so shocked, because I'd told her this before. What grandmother hasn't told a story (or any part of it) more than once? It's a prerogative. 

What better way could there have been to spend a Sunday morning in January, while memories of recent holiday visits still danced in our heads? But oh, to be a fly on the classroom wall when this assignment is turned in or reported to the class! 
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POSToccupations by Frances Talbott-White is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License