For several days now, a bunch of seemingly unrelated thoughts have been tumbling through my mind. They are of the past and the present, occurring here and there, happening to me and to others. Let me explain…
All week long, a former student/now friend has been chaperoning and photographically chronicling the trip of Graham’s eighth-graders to Washington, D.C. and points beyond. To see the kids visiting our nation’s capital, seat of political power and life-sized history museum, encourages and inspires me. The last year before high school is an appropriate time for young people to experience in a real way what they have learned about history and government before they move on to more detailed instruction in those areas.
Photos of their visits to statues and monuments commemorating leaders and events of our history became intertwined with memories of my first D.C. trip in 1966, right after high school graduation. Having won my trip through 4-H, I stayed at the National 4-H Center with hundreds of other members from all across the country.
Back then, I was particularly taken by the memorials to Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson, stately and beautiful and eloquently inscribed. And I cannot remember taking even one breath during our bus tour of Washington by night.
Moved by the photos of this year’s eighth-graders placing a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, I also felt a renewed sense of sadness at visits we now have in common to memorials for the Kennedy brothers and for veterans of the Vietnam War.
Hopefully each stop, each tour, each quiet moment provided for the students a mini-culmination of their lessons in history as well as the beginning of an understanding about what it all means to us as Americans.
As the eighth-graders traveled back to Ohio, some Graham second-graders were having a real-life experience of their own, led by their resident grandmother/reading volunteer. Grandma J and the second-graders baked cakes!
Working with half the class at a time, Grandma J had the kiddies dump a cake mix into a bowl. Working collectively, they measured in appropriate amounts of water and oil, before moving on to breaking an egg into a small bowl – for safety’s sake – and adding it to their mixture.
Then each child in turn stirred the ingredients exactly six times, subsequently receiving a portion of the resulting batter in a small container. Finally, the children added food coloring of their choice to their part of the batter, which they transferred to the group baking pan. Then it was off to the school kitchen for Grandma J and her merry band of bakers. The next day they served their multi-colored confection to guests invited by means of special invitations they had made themselves.
As I heard a description of this culinary adventure from Grandma J herself, my mind drifted back to early spring of my sixth-grade year at Concord School. Our teacher, Bessie Reeves, placed a cardboard box in the back of our classroom for the purpose of collecting eggshells. She gave no reason that I can remember for this assignment, but over several weeks we filled the carton with brown shells and white shells from just plain eggs: any organic eggs involved came from the free-range chickens pacing the areas around coops on our various farms.
And then in mid-May it was time to attend to our collection of shells: under Mrs. Reeves’ direction, we crushed and crunched them into tiny shards and added – wonder of wonders – a couple of containers of glitter. I must explain and/or remind readers that glitter for glitter’s sake was a relativity rare commodity in 1960 – well before today’s glitter pens, glitter glue, and glitter face makeup.
We then “painted” with glue small glass jars and bottles we had brought from home before rolling them in our glittery eggshell mixture. The last step was to place on a shelf for drying what now we realized were vases to present to our moms on Mother’s Day.
My bottle-turned-vase, with its very narrow neck, had room for perhaps one pansy or a couple of violets plucked from our yard. Still, my mother loved my creation; and I was quite proud of my handiwork.
After all these years, however, the lasting memory of that art project – back in the days when classroom teachers served as their own art instructors – was the sense of cooperation and camaraderie I felt as we classmates worked together for a common purpose, a feeling I remember to this day.
Good teachers have the unique ability to seamlessly knit together curriculum requirements in ways that make classroom and out-of-classroom assignments special, sometimes magical, often memorable. Such lessons are an important aspect of every young person’s education.
It is my hope that 60 some years from now, at least a few of Grandma J’s fledgling bakers will recall their six stirs in the preparation of their cake of many colors with the same sweet nostalgia I hold for my eggshell vase. I also hope that later in this century, along about 2075 or so, many of those teenaged travelers will remember the week they saw the monument depicting Marines raising the American flag at Iwo Jima or the names of fellow citizens they traced on the Vietnam Wall, military folks who sacrificed their lives for their country in a faraway place. Very special lessons, indeed…
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.