Nothing helped: the pink calamine lotion, the warm baths, the big bed in her parents’ room. For days, Lizzie had been itching and scratching the spots covering her whole body. Her sisters also had chickenpox, but Lizzie was suffering the most.
In a few weeks, school would be out for the summer. Lizzie was almost finished with the third grade and already looked forward to being a fourth-grader come September.
Although her third-grade year had increased her love of all things school, Lizzie had to admit that the time in Mrs. Rushaw’s class had been full of surprises. As Lizzie laid her speckled body back against her mother’s pillow to recall so many unexpected moments, her itching seemed less itchy…
Eight-year-old Lizzie felt very grown up as she entered the third-grade classroom. Her cigar box held sharp-pointed scissors for the first time and eight more crayons than last year – sixteen beautiful colors in all. And this year, she and her classmates would be expected to regularly use the cursive writing they had learned the year before.
It was no surprise to have the usual spelling workbook, with spaces for the Trial Test on Wednesday and the Final Test on Friday. The third-graders also again had Think-and-Do workbooks with pages of questions about Dick, Jane, and Sally.
Although the children could choose to read books from the shelf in the corner or from the display of Reading Circle books, Lizzie most enjoyed the ones Mrs. Rushaw read right after noon recess. Surprisingly, however, rather than single stories, her teacher read a chapter each day from longer, more interesting books. Lizzie had read Heidi two more times after Mrs. Rushaw finished it and absolutely fell in love with Bert and Nan and Freddie and Flossie as soon as she heard The Bobbsey Twins at the Seashore.
There were changes in arithmetic for the third-graders. Instead of workbooks, they copied multiplication problems from textbooks onto their own tablet paper to solve. Occasionally Lizzie and her classmates took their arithmetic books home to do homework – just like the big kids upstairs. That put Lizzie over the moon with excitement!
In the cafeteria, the third-graders now pushed trays along the lunch line where Mrs. Tischer and Mrs. Erwin filled their plates. The first- and second-graders still had their lunches set out, but on the days Lizzie paid a quarter for a school lunch, she nervously but proudly carried her dark brown tray to the third-grade table.
One day in lunch line, the cooks asked the children about the presidential election. Although Lizzie had read about President Eisenhower and Adlai Stevenson in The Weekly Reader, she did not know much about either man. Although the cooks chuckled at her opinion, Lizzie was firm: everyone should take turns – and now it was Mr. Stevenson’s turn.
It was not only at school, however, that Lizzie experienced the unexpected. The saddest surprise of her third-grade year happened when Grandpa Maurice died. She was not entirely sure what that meant, but her mother’s eyes were often red that fall. Lizzie missed Grandpa at the rabbit pens where he held the bunnies for her to pet; on the porch where he packed eggs to sell in Rosewood; in the living room where he sat in his rocking chair.
On the happy side, Grandma came to stay with Lizzie’s family for a while. She ate wheat germ for her arthritis, wore an apron all day, and crocheted doilies without even looking at a pattern.
Lizzie’s mother also crocheted; but she sewed more often, making dresses for her girls – and a green top for herself. As much as Lizzie wanted to sew, the furthest she ever got with her mother was sewing cards. Lizzie was thrilled, then, when Grandma helped her cut from flannel a nightgown for her doll. Grandma taught Lizzie to make small hand stitches along the side seams. Lizzie felt proud every time she got her doll ready for bed.
Sometime before Christmas, her mother began wearing her new green top more and more often. And Lizzie noticed that her mother’s stomach seemed to be growing larger. Mother mentioned something about a baby, but Lizzie did not always understand the answers to the questions she asked.
Then in late spring, Lizzie’s parents brought home a baby girl with dark hair – and a loud cry. Besides the surprise of having another sister, Lizzie realized her mother expected her to help. She learned to pin diapers to the clothesline and fold them when they were dry. She also sat on the kitchen stool next to the stove, timing how long the bottles stayed in hot water and how long the milk heated.
What a year of surprises it had been for Lizzie in the third grade. Grandma moved on to Aunt Alice’s house, so there was no more sewing. Lizzie missed the visits to Grandpa’s house back the long lane. She knew she would miss going to school every day but looked forward to the county fair and the summer reading program at the library.
Slowly Lizzie realized that she did not seem to be scratching quite as much. Although she was not as fortunate as her sisters, who did not seem to mind the chickenpox, and as the baby, who had just one spot, Lizzie began wondering what changes and surprises the fourth grade would bring.
Shirley Scott, a 1966 graduate of Graham High School, is a native of Champaign County. After receiving degrees in English and German from Otterbein College, she returned to GHS in 1970 where she taught until retiring in 2010. From 1976-2001 she coordinated the German Exchange Program with the Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium in Springe.