One of my favorite prompting sites, dverse poets, put Brian Miller in charge (look out! Backs to the wall… wink). He asked us to write a history poem, and it reminded me of that question we always ask one another: “Where were you when…?” Excellent prompt, and I’m looking forward to reading everyone else’s work at dverse. This is also posted at my favorite time machine, Poets United. Peace, Amy
ELEMENTARY SCHOOL LESSON
I knew a lot by the second grade
The alphabet, counting to one hundred and beyond
How to write my name in cursive, and quite perfectly
What not to flush down the toilet
(all my broccoli smuggled in via dinner napkin)
How kittens are born, because I watched
Even how to make a dry martini
(kids learn a lot from alcoholic parents)
How to spit water between my front teeth and
how to get real distance spitting watermelon seeds
One thing I didn’t know
and never expected to
was something the whole class
learned at the same time
The grownups were outside our classroom
mumbling something about
A grownup was sobbing in the hall
and Mrs. Darrow almost fainted
Until second grade
I didn’t know teachers were allowed to cry
© 2012 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil
Image courtesy of http://www.scootutopia.com
August 4, 2012 at 11:27 pm
Beautiful writing, Amy! Must have been written on Dec 22, 1963 or thereabouts. I was back in school too then. It was a terrible shock. We were in a residential school. It was very early in the morning in our part of the world. Someone broke the news having heard it on the transistor radio. All were now sitting on their beds, feeling groggy, wondering what would happen next. News spread fast.We were still talking while having our baths, at breakfast and when walking to our classes. I can recall it very clearly after all these years. Thanks for sharing,Ma’am!
Sharp Little Pencil
August 6, 2012 at 11:54 pm
Yes, it was hard to be in school and learn about it secondhand, and not from our parents. Riley had the same experience with 9/11; she was in school and they kept them all day. Hard to think how these moments shape the rest of our lives…. Amy
August 4, 2012 at 11:36 pm
The first teacher I ever saw nearly cry was not until the eighth grade. He was so excited to be first year teaching and the class chewed him up and swallowed his dreams.
August 6, 2012 at 2:17 am
We did that to a beginner Latin teacher, and I still cringe in shame when I remember our cruelty.
Sharp Little Pencil
August 6, 2012 at 11:55 pm
Oh, crying for all the worst reasons, overwhelmed and probably humiliated at letting his emotions show… I’m coming to visit your blog now. Thx for sharing your story! Amy
August 4, 2012 at 11:40 pm
This is wonderful.I loved the part about smuggling food in the dinner napkin and especially at being shocked that teachers were allowed to cry.
Sharp Little Pencil
August 6, 2012 at 11:57 pm
All true. By the time Mom got to the laundry, the broccoli had adhered to the napkin with mold. Man, did I get it, it was her favorite damask linen!
Those moments in time shaped us all. The new generation is 9/11, where were you… I hate those moments, and yet they united us in a way, even in grief. Thanks, Amy
August 5, 2012 at 12:18 am
I AM SITTING HERE JUMPING UP AND DOWN AND YELLING YES YES YES! “One thing I didn’t know. . . . ” How beautifully paced and spaced and detailed as if still in 2nd grade–in that grade, I didn’t even think teachers used the bathroom,never mind cry. Like angels, they smiled on everyone and only grumped when we did not “duck and cover” fast or completely enough. For Kennedy’s death, I was in junior high school. We were sent home early where we sat in front of The TV.
August 5, 2012 at 2:24 am
i never saw a teacher cry.. must’ve been quite the shock and then you know immediately that a real tragedy must have happened… great write amy.. love all the touches…the spitting of watermelon seeds, the broccoli, collected in the napkin..ha…there were things i collected in napkins as well during dinner…smiles..
August 5, 2012 at 2:51 am
I remember this so well, Amy. We had a disaster at Aberfan in Wales and the same thing happened …
August 5, 2012 at 3:25 am
Touching account of the first stages of growing up.
Realizing our elders are vulnerable is indeed the most important lesson.
Thank you for making contact. Very timely somehow.
August 5, 2012 at 3:48 am
I was in 8th grade. Teachers crying, students crying, and then a few of us who were dumb-struck and rigid — couldn’t cry, couldn’t speak, couldn’t move. I remember it clearly. Great poem, Amy, as usual – as always.
August 5, 2012 at 4:55 am
Very tender, I also smiled at the hiding broccoli in your napkin and was saddened by the learning how to make a martini. I was in our living room when it came on the news about JFK. We did used to think our teachers back then were somehow, not capable of emotions, didn’t we?
Lovely write Amy.
August 5, 2012 at 5:57 am
oh this is gorgeous and felt…it takes me to the challenger explosion…we were watching it live in science class and i had never seen anything like it or though…but it is etched in my memory…the pain of that moment ont he faces of people and in my own heart….this really is a wonderful piece…perfect ma’am…
August 5, 2012 at 6:12 am
there are a few pivotal moments like this
the contrast in perspectives from watermelon seeds to assassination
August 5, 2012 at 7:03 am
I still lived in the UK then and my wife and I had gone to her parents for a meal. Afterwards as we watched TV, the program was interrupted an announcement made and for the next ten minutes the station couldn’t make up it’s mind what to do. It restarted the program, then blanked the screen, did that again then hastily found some sombre music to play with voice announcements every few minutes. This really was an impact on the whole world.
August 5, 2012 at 7:27 am
Nice details like writing long hand and spitting watermelon seeds ~ I remember seeing a teacher cry in high school because she had to leave our school and we loved her dearly ~
August 5, 2012 at 8:08 am
Amy, this is one of my favorites of your poems, I think. I loved all of the things you had learned as a child and then the learning that teachers would cry. Like Brian, I was sitting with a classroom full of children (4th grade) at the time the Challenger exploded. We all cried together…..and it was okay.
August 5, 2012 at 8:39 am
I remember it well. MY fifth grade teacher didn’t cry. She told us. She left. we were talking to ourselves about the significance. She came back and SCREAMED at us because we weren’t being quiet and respectful. Why did she leave us, then? Hmm, maybe she WAS crying…
August 5, 2012 at 2:51 pm
I was only two at the time and so had to be told my where-were-you memory, but since I’ve already written about that, for this history prompt I instead wrote A Plot Both Great and Grand.
August 5, 2012 at 3:21 pm
that last line was sooo powerful. but i remember how everyone cried. that’s what i remember most about kennedy’s death -> EVERYONE cried!!
August 5, 2012 at 11:01 pm
Beautifully wrought. Humor (broccoli), sadness (no child should know how to make the “perfect martini”) and then the uppercut. I don’t remember JFK’s death (though I claim to recall the funeral), but you did take me back to 9/11 and having to explain to my daughter that teachers are allowed to have emotions…
Great stuff, thank you.
Victoria C. Slotto
August 5, 2012 at 11:19 pm
Another one of those moments we all remember where we were and what we were doing (I was a nursing student working night shift and was asleep when I heard wailling from the student nurses’ lounge.) I like how you wove this into your 2nd grade memories.
August 6, 2012 at 1:02 am
Nice weave of the layers we learn at that age with a subtle build up to the punch line. Funny I don’t remember this (I was 9) but I have vivid memories of the Cuban missile crisis as I was in a remote cottage deep in the forest. We had no electricity and relied on a battery radio. It went dead and with no car and the nearest neighbour several miles away we had to wait for the market bus the next day to find out if war had broken out.
August 6, 2012 at 2:19 am
I sometimes feel that that moment was the start of the decline and fall of humanity.
You have captured well the mindset of a child.
August 6, 2012 at 7:48 am
… and that’s just how a young child would think, unknowing of the depth and implications of such tragedy. Great capture, Amy!
August 6, 2012 at 8:15 am
Great piece- I skewed time the day JFK died…
my memory of that afternoon was I fell off a Shetland pony
when someone yelled out that the president was dead- Yet that time frame was wrong -he was shot when I was still in school like you said! Thanks.
August 6, 2012 at 3:08 pm
That’s for sure–didn’t know that my parents cried until that day either–wow. Made quite the impression on me too–well done.
August 8, 2012 at 6:12 pm
I was in the lunch room when the announcement came and found it odd that my mom was crying about someone she didn’t know. The man certainly made an impact on so many people. Well done!
August 8, 2012 at 10:30 pm
Oh, what a beautiful poem. I have a similar memory.