Jun 21, 2006

School memories

A comment to a friend in e-mail made me think back to school. I have not attended any one school for more than two years, due to moving or aging. And what do I remember from school (besides algebra)? The totally unimportant stuff. Of course.

School life started out with kindergarten in a parochial school. I have no clue what school this was. I remember it as a series of creamy yellow buildings. I remember a Native American schoolmate named Naomi (my grandma's middle name, so it stuck); and speaking of sticking, the kid who left a popsicle too long on his tongue and had to have help from the school nurse. Some kid threw up in class and the teacher dumped a bucket of sawdust to cover and absorb the mess (do they still do that? and why do little kids puke so much?). And the neat blonde-curls-in-pink-ribbons girls who chided me for coloring outside the lines in my coloring book. At age 5 or 6, I already had a pretty good sense of self-preservation (aka "fuck you") because I remember cheering myself up with the thought that their coloring books had colored lines, whereas mine had black so I could pick my own colors. Ha! Also associated with this school is a vivid dream of getting a box of Crayola crayons - the big box of 64 - at school and I woke up from that dream with my hand firmly gripping air. Boy, was I disappointed.

I had barely started second grade at the above-mentioned school when my family went kaphlooey and I went to live with my maternal grandparents in the town of Twentynine Palms in the high desert. There I started in a new school and I remember my teacher's was Mrs. Cole, one of the few things I remember because I associated it with coleslaw. She was a nice woman, and she too got after me for the way I colored. She told me the sky would look prettier if I colored it with the strokes all in one direction. I saw how a classmate did his (I had a crush on him and he had one brown and one green eye), with all the strokes in one direction, and saw the sense of that. Other Morongo School District memories: Taking a detour on the school bus to avoid the high school students demonstrating for the girls' right to wear slacks to school, and being told I'd get in trouble for wearing bloomers under my dress. I tell ya, the fashions of the late 60's... I liked this school, even if I wasn't a happy kid. I felt I fit in a bit better than in the first place.

I left third grade and the desert in April of 1969, and ended up in Europe. During the summer, I stayed with a nephew of my grandpa's directly south of Bergen (Nesttun) and in August, my second cousin started school. I remember following my second cousin to school one day. We did not enrol me, because we assumed I'd be going back to school in September in the US. But when we heard nothing from my mother, I was enrolled in grade school in Norway. Relatives helped us rent a house in the town of Salhus, about 20 km north of Bergen.

North end of Salhus where I first experienced skis on my feet. Salhus town center and wharf down on the right. Grade schools over to the right, off picture.

In order to learn Norwegian, I was enrolled in what was second grade (at the time, Norwegians started first grade the year they turned 7; now it's like in the US - the year the child turns 6). I remember the principal showing me a first-grade reader and explaining that "vase" in Norwegian is pronounced "vah-seh". I caught on quick and I remember feeling impatient. Just gimme the damned book. I can read it already! My second grade teacher, Mrs. Tennfjord, knew only a little English and so was often frustrated when having to explain things to me. I knew one whole phrase in Norwegian at that point: "Jeg kan snakke litegrann norsk." ("I can speak a little Norwegian.") Proudly, I said that in class and she blurted out, "Then why don't you do that???" I then had to explain that was all I knew. But by Christmas, I felt I knew enough to move up a grade and be with the kids my age. After all, in all other subjects than Norwegian, I was on a third grade level. Norwegian handwriting at the time had a way of writing t that I had never seen before. I knew there were three additional vowels in the Norwegian alphabet - æ, ø, and å - but this letter wasn't one of those. I copied what my third grade teacher wrote on the chalkboard exactly, not understanding what I was reading. I kept trying to ask what the letter was and annoyed her. At the end of the class, I finally got to explain that I didn't know what that letter was. It hadn't occurred to either of us that there would be some letters that were written differently. American handwriting is very distinctive and non-European. And yes, I cross my 7's.

Fourth grade meant moving from the little, old (original) schoolhouse to the larger, more modern four-story building down the road. There, our principal taught some classes, and once, totally engrossed in what I was doing, I automatically started a question with, "Grandpa?". That got some laughs. Fortunately, kids do that a lot so I didn't feel too weird. This was also the first meeting with the school dentist. (Dental care is free to kids under the age of 16 in Norway. Orthodontics are subsidized (though not enough) and in sixth grade this same school dentist told my grandpa that he found no cavities (I cried from relief and joy) but did think I needed my bite adjusted. Quite correctly so. I had quite the overbite.)

Hordvik as seen from the north-east, with it's main employer, the Rolls-Royce factory, by the water. I got my first driving lesson in their parking lot; I was 13 and Grandpa sure was brave. :-)

By fifth grade, we had moved from Salhus to Hordvik, 3 km away. There, a small, two-story, wooden schoolhouse (also a creamy yellow color) was the main school for our community of 300. My class boasted twelve kids: Seven boys and five girls, with me being the first new girl ever in that class; in first grade, they started out four boys and four girls. In fifth grade, we had to share a classroom with the fourth-graders. It was really a big deal to be in sixth grade, because then we got a classroom and teacher All To Ourselves. Wow. The principal there was from the same area as my grandpa and same age. He was also carefully avoided by the girls. I discovered why the day he offered to steady me as I climbed a ladder to pick some apples for him. He steadied me by putting his hands over my pubescent breasts. Both he and his wife read out loud to us. It was lovely to be read to, and to be introduced to books I might otherwise discover. For the last 10 minutes of math class, Mr. Midtgard would read and stop to explain stuff we may not understand, sometimes explaining gory things to us too happily. Mrs. Midtgard, who taught home economics to a girls-only class, would read Nancy Drew mysteries (tripping over the pronounciation of some names and corrected by me). Which reminds me of my very first day in that school: In the rear of the homeroom, were shelves labelled with each student's name, for storing pencil boxes (made out of wood) and such. The label on mine read "Ceera". I said that my name is spelled with a K. The answer: But all words that start with a K-sound in English are spelled with a C!

It's safe to say I both got and gave an education. :-)

Two years in the little schoolhouse in Hordvik, then came junior (middle) high school, and being bussed a half hour to a brand-new school. Our class expanded from 12 to twice that, and from 5 rooms to 15 plus gymnasium and library. This new school, Haukedalen, was where I was introduced to jazz ballet and found the only form of physical exercise I actually enjoyed. We were there for two years, then what would be the entire ninth grade student body was moved to another, older junior high a mile or so away, so we did ninth grade at Åstveit ungdomsskole. That final year was the year I was no longer bullied, and the year I got three huge cavities. Åstveit was right next to a gas station and we had plenty of time some days to buy candy before the bus came.

When I moved back to California, I had only two years of high school left and then I attended a junior college, also just two years.


tony said...

Wow cool writing
can i come back for more :)

Keera said...

Thanks! Come back any time!

alice said...

I don't know if they still do that sawdust stuff now, but I do remember it from when I was in school (but of course, that was about the same time as you).

That was a very enjoyable narrative!

Keera said...

Thanks! There are some other episodes and some after-school stuff, but I'll save those for another (yes, another) rainy day. (It was like being in a carwash here yesterday.)

max said...

Your school experiences are like mine, except I managed 3 years twice.

Some kid threw up in class and the teacher dumped a bucket of sawdust to cover and absorb the mess (do they still do that? and why do little kids puke so much?).

Because they have weak digestive system, not terribly wonderful muscular control, and they tend to eat anything and everything.

['Nice post.']

Keera said...

You had the same school experience? Did you like jazz ballet, too? ;-)

Re upchuck: I kinda figured it had something to do with simply being a kid. Me, when I was little, I hated throwing up. I was well into adulthood before that stopped being a phobia.

max said...

Not the jazz ballet, now. Dork.

I didn't like throwing up either. I still remember I upchucked an entire can of corn niblits (ok, it seemed like an entire can) all of the floor of a head shop my step-father was shopping at.

['It's ok, man, we got a mop.']

Keera said...

My worst throwing-up experience wasn't in school, but in the back of our car, all over a brand-new coloring book I was really happy to get. Switchback road. Put my parents off vacationing with the kids in the mountains, I tell ya. :-)