BND Magazine

August 17, 2014

What 'gozinta' a good school year?

On one of the first days of first grade, Sister Salvador tested her little school rookies.

She asked who knew their ABCs. I hunkered down because I was a little shaky on the "elemenopee" part in the middle.

The girl in front of me aced it. Sister had everyone clap for her.

She asked if anyone could count to 100. Again, I lay low because, in those days, "thirtysomething" was unacceptable.

But when Sister asked for someone to recite the days of the week, my hand shot up like a rocket. I stood -- standard proceedure when answering a question in class in the '60s -- and confidently rattled them off:

"Monday, Tuesday, Wensday (hey, it was first grade), Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Soup Day."

All the other kids laughed. Not Sister.

"Patrick," the teacher said, with a compassionate over-the-glasses look. "That was very good, but I think that last day has a different name.

Not at our house, Sister.

At the Kuhl house, every Sunday was Soup Day. After church, Mom would get out the big pot and fill it to the brim with Mom's Homemade Soup. It had tomato juice, noodles, onion, litte chunks of soup meat and rice in it. Once in a while, Mom would try to slip in something extra, like green beans. They were easy to spot and pick out, though.

When the soup was ready, Mom would holler out the back door, "Soup's on!" And she'd call upstair, "Soup's on!" And she'd call down the basement, "Soup's on!"

All of us kids and an occasional neighborhood kid or two would come a'running and take our appointed places on the long benches on either side of the table.

I explained that to Sister after school.

"Should I have said 'Church Day?'"

I wonder what the first days of school are like today.

It seems like kids today are born knowing their ABCs. And they've added a few letters like :). And who needs to count anymore? There's an app for that.

Blackboards have faded to black in schools. Chalk one up for progress. Now there are smartboards. And homework assignments are posted online for all the world -- even Mom and Dad -- to see.

I guess that means "my dog ate it" and "no, Mom, teacher gave us a break tonight" have gone out the window, too.

And, if you get caught launching a spitwad in class, your teacher can email your parents before you even get to the principal's office. No video games for you tonight, mister.

My greatest fear at back-to-school time as I progressed through grade school was how much book smarts I had lost over a long summer of playing ball, fishing in the creek, riding bikes all over town and dunking and being dunked in the pool.

When you're 10, long division is the first thing to go. Would I be able to keep my gozintas straight? Seventy-three gozinta 50,742 how many times?

Borrowing and carrying over numbers seemed an easy concept when I was on a roll at the end of second grade. But who could remember that stuff when the Cardinals were in a pennant race?

But wait! Hadn't I been using long division all along to figure out Kenny Boyer and Julian Javier's batting averages after the game each night and before they came out in the next day's paper? And how else would I have figured out how much height and velocity I needed to give a water balloon to get it all the way over the alley and into the neighboring kids' yard?

I was OK with math. But what about those sentences ending in prepositions that I was afraid of? And how did they expect me to remember how to diagram a predicate adjective when there were frogs to be caught down by the Penn Central railroad tracks?

I was afraid I'd have to start all over while Mary Ellen would be ready to go right from third grade to college because she had read 37 books during the summer. And not one of them was called "Southpaw Flyhawk" or "The Kid Who Batted A Thousand" or "Long Ball to Left Field." Classics.

On the other hand, it would be great to see all my old friends again. What a shock to find out that Mike had moved away. And Jim had to stay in second grade another year.

Then there were the new kids. Their faces were question marks? Could Paul hit as well as Mike did? Would I want to choose him for my recess team? Was the new girl stuck up or just quiet?

Mom said I might actually have to go out on a limb and talk to them -- and, get this, be nice to them -- to find out.

I don't know how I ever stood all that pressure I felt up to here with. (Darn!)

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