Grade 2: 1973, Princess Margaret Elementary School, Winnipeg, MB. Teacher: Mrs. Soderstrom.
I was added to Grade 2 quite shortly after starting Grade 1. Suddenly, I was with kids who were a year older than me and had been a cohort for a few years already. Even though we’d all been at the same school, to them I was a newcomer.
My teacher, Mrs. Soderstrom, was very nice from what I remember – strict, but also with a sense of fun, and an appreciation for the incentive of academic competitiveness. There was a weekly award for the student with the best performance – usually based on aggregate quiz scores, but sometimes more subjectively about overall improvement. The badges made by Mrs. Soderstrom (with more of the de rigueur construction paper of 1970s elementary school) were highly prized; I won 5 overall, which I believe tied me with the class stars, Angela and Ferdinand, pretty good for the new kid. Such individual recognition and score-keeping is likely forbidden in today’s schools, but Mrs. S. made sure that everyone got at least one badge during the year, so it wasn’t just for the geeks.
School pictures – that’s me in the front row, rocking the yellow pantsuit, bowl haircut and gap-toothed grin. My mom took the time to write the names of all the students on the back of the photo frame for the class picture, and although I kept in touch with none of these kids, several of them I remember and am glad to be able to put a name to a face.
Like Kindergarten, Grade 2 included a memorable instance of stubbornness and impatience. For reasons I don’t recall, students sometimes went home for lunch – taken home by school bus but having to walk back to school on our own. One fall morning, the lunch bus was late. Feeling impatient and cocky, I announced that I was going to walk home, and struck out on my own. Of course, 6-year-old me did not appreciate three facts:
- The route from home to school can look quite different and unfamiliar when walked in reverse.
- The walk from school to home took much longer than the bus ride, regardless of the bus being late.
- How my mom would react when I did not arrive home on the bus.
I remember quite enjoying the solitary walk. It was a late autumn day, with a bit of snow around, and not much traffic so fairly quiet. I was coming up to the spot where we crossed the railroad tracks, and I remember being relieved that I wasn’t lost, as I was starting to doubt the wisdom of my plan. Suddenly I saw my mom coming quickly towards me. I was excited and happy, and looking forward to telling her of my brave declaration of independence at the bus stop. That was until I saw her face: that strange amalgam of fear and anger that every parent must experience over and over again when their kid is not where they think they are. I went through my own instant transition, from pride to shame: one minute I was a brave independent woman, the next a bad little girl. My mom took my hand, told me in no uncertain terms how scared she’d been and how I was NEVER to do that again, and then marched me very quickly home, amidst tears from both of us. Years later, she would tell that story, usually to tease or embarrass me, so the trauma to her was not long-lasting, but the retribution to me went on for a lifetime.
My main academic challenge was with handwriting. I recall being at my desk, trying to write out the answer to something by looking for the letter on a handwriting chart that ran across the top of the blackboard, and then doing my best to copy it out. It didn’t work, though, as my handwriting to this day can attest. Also, the letter-by-letter method took a long time, so I frequently did not finish my work in time. I did eventually catch up, as my citizenship evaluation (another 1970s anachronism) indicates.
By comparison, it appears that my mom and my teacher came from the same handwriting era, as their cursives are nearly indistinguishable. When assembling this post, I noticed for the first time that my pop’s signature was also in the same hand – a poor forgery by my mom, but good enough I guess for Princess Margaret Elementary.
Thwarted independence and crooked handwriting aside, I muddled through well enough, and was successfully moved on. We moved over that summer, so another newcomer experience would follow in Grade 3.