A scratch and splatter affair

I was barely five when I went to kindergarten – and a proud new graduate of  Sunnyside Nursery school. My nursery school memories are fragmentary… but vivid enough. My favourite crayon colour was brown. It was usually the least-used colour in the box, fresh and new and not “naked” – meaning it still had its paper wrapper clean-and-sweet attached. Maybe that’s why I liked it.  I covered whole sheets of paper in brown lines and swirls and shapes and I loved the effects of… brown. Judging by everyone else’s reaction to my artistic revelations…in brown…maybe this was the first indication, at least as I perceived it,  that I wasn’t exactly going to “fit in”.

And I was scared of the story book in which some great large man with a really gross enormous belly gobbled up a lot of people and their sailing ships (for some reason or other that I can’t remember) and then barfed them all out again. To this day there is a picture in my mind, a weird facsimilie image, of a great blue sea swirling with the voluminous aftermath. Terrifying. I haven’t much liked the colour blue since then either.

So, my first week in kindergarten, I only had a couple of days to watch the other kids mess around in the sandbox, and secretively check out the condition of the brown crayons in the art-ing supplies. This new experience was tense enough, but the anxiety level went way up when I confronted my next challenge –  being sat down at a kid-sized desk to do a paper and pencil test that involved reproducing a diamond shape in the neat and enclosed square beside the perfectly proportioned neatly printed example in the left hand box.

At five years old, getting anything to fit into The Box was difficult, but making four straight lines drawn at separate angles to meet up the corners wasn’t going to happen. As I tell the story, I failed that question, and have, to this day, concluded that I am a spatial moron. Ask me to assemble anything in two dimensions and it’s a totally dicey call if I’m going to make it. Three dimensions are a total fail! Honestly. This is not an exaggeration.

And usually I manage to get by because (thank gawd) somewhere else in my brain, my neural networks are wired for language, if not for space. So generally, I can fake it if I can get to read the manual.

Apparently I passed The Test (probably in the word skill section) and I was immediately promoted from kindergarten to grade one.

In Sydenham school, the grade one classroom was up a flight of old creaky wooden stairs, which led down a hallway with an old creaky wooden plank floor, to a large high-ceilinged classroom. There is not a lot I can remember about the classroom itself, except that the windows were very high, with many panes of glass through which you could see all the passing moods of the sky and the clouds in their sail-pasts … hour by hour.

Which was a good thing, because I had a frustrating time learning to write – not with reading, but with the problem of actually making the words appear on paper as they were supposed to. Most of my primary school experience with this activity was both upside down and backwards.

Which might explain a lot, actually as I sit here remembering the feeling of b‘s and d‘s and p‘s getting drawn out all wrong. And numbers were even more agonizing … as I got hold of that big thick kid pencil with the big thick black lead and drew as carefully and thoughtfully as I could on the dotted line… upside down and backwards. And I wanted so badly to get them right, to have them turn out on the page the way they were supposed to. No go, folks.

Fortunately, I had an unusual teacher during those first three primary years in school. Her name was Miss Hubbs and she was what I think of as a vocational teacher, dedicated in her work with us kids, and attentive to how we were learning. I made it through and by grade 4 I could mostly make the letters and the numbers the way they were supposed to be made – the way all the other kids could make them.

Except … in those days… after you finally learned to draw letters and numbers neatly in pencil, pen and ink were introduced. This is so long ago, it was just before the arrival of ball point pens and the thinking then was that you should learn to write with “traditional” writing implements – a nib pen and an ink jar. Which was of course another disaster in the making.

Those inch-log nibs that you dipped in and out of the ink wells sunk into the corner of the desk were an absolute nightmare. I’m left handed. Left-handed and nib-pens do not fit together. Mind you, this was the time when schools were still forcing left-handers to write right-handed. And that didn’t go well either.

My writing style, which had just emerged from upside down and backwards was now  scratch and splatter. It was awful!
The rest of my schooling might well be called a scratch and splatter affair altogether. There were good days and there were bad days. There were teachers who were mean and smacked me in the head when I got caught day dreaming, or mocked my errors, or were tone-deaf to my best efforts.

But there were (and are) also teachers who managed to draw me back into the learning together with my dreaming, who engaged with my curiousities on-topic and off-topic, and who met my best efforts with both challenge and encouragement.  Those are the teachers who inspire my life!

A long time standing - built in 1837 Sydenham School Kingston Ontario 2011

A long time standing – built in 1853  Sydenham School Kingston Ontario, still an elementary school in 2011

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By Cynthia Jones Davies, writer researcher who lives on Haida Gwaii.
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One Response to A scratch and splatter affair

  1. Cindy Boyko says:

    What a sweet story! I love your writing Cindy! It brought me back to my days and how good I felt when I got them write. How amazing that star sticker on the paper could make a kid feel. Thank you for sharing.

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