Mama was teaching in my school but, thankfully, she was not my teacher!
A similar nightmare comes later. After starting school in Bainbridge, my dad got orders to Norfolk, Virginia. My mother was not happy; she really wanted to go back to Charleston, South Carolina. However, the U. S. Navy had other ideas; my dad was stationed on a destroyer, the H. J. Ellison, berthed at world’s largest naval base – so off to Norfolk we went! We lived in the Ocean Air Apartments … Believe me they were ratty apartments! see PHOTO 1 At least I went to Ocean Air Elementary School, a public school, not a military DOD school. see PHOTO 2 That was when I started getting into trouble. I wasn’t the bad kid, the talker, the class disruptor, but more like the class listener. I made lots of friends, who would come to me with all their little problems. This, however, was not the start of a love affair with education. In fact, it was the start of a very long road of embarrassment and outright torture.
I remember my second-grade teacher, Mrs. Wynn, because she was great. She would come up with all sorts of wonderful activities. Looking back, however, I realize that, because I moved from one school system to another, I missed a few things. Minor things like transitioning from printing to cursive writing and major things like mathematics. I was still printing while everyone else was writing cursive. I had to do a lot of catching up! To this day, I write in what I would call print-cursive-pig-scratch. Also, it took me decades to conquer mathematics. It didn’t help, unbeknownst to anyone, that I lacked sight accommodation and, if educational practice had been advanced, would’ve been classified dyslexic. All this lack of foundation caused me to struggle. Math, spelling, reading, and language arts were my nemesis. I truly was a “C” average, maybe even a “D”, average student.
Chris and Barbara on a Bike (with friend)
Ocean Air Apartments
Ocean Air Elementary School
Just before the third grade, my parents bought a house and we moved from Ocean Air Apartments to a nice, little, ranch ─ style affair in the Larrymore Lawns subdivision, located in Princess Anne County. see PHOTO 3 It was a fabulous place to grow up. We had neighborhood schools, lots of other nice kids to play with, and a neighborhood swimming pool. see PHOTO 4
This was in the late 50s and early 60s. It was a time where, after you changed out of your school clothes and did your homework, you went outside to play. From spring through fall, we stayed out and played until the streetlights came on. We knew,then, that it was time to get our butts in the house. Of course, most of the time, we were playing in the corner lot, just across the street from our house, so that wasn’t a big hardship.
One of the nicest things about living in Larimore lawns was that the entire gang of neighborhood kids would also walk to school together… After all, it was only three blocks. We pretty much stayed together as a class, so the “Barbara listening thing” gained a lot of traction. Of course, this got me in trouble. Teachers would call home and say, “you need to do something about Barbara” and mother would say “is she talking, disrupting the class” and the teachers would reply “well no, the other kids come to her and talk but she just listens”. They would also tell her that it didn’t matter, if they moved my seat; the other kids would seek me out to listen! So, mother would explain to them that they needed to talk to the other students’ parents, because listening was not the problem. When the teachers started curtailing my budding therapy sessions, I began to withdraw and become socially distant/shy.
Even today students don’t think teachers have a life outside of the schools. They are surprised to see their teachers in grocery stores, department stores, and at other social events. Students also don’t think about teachers being transferred between schools so, imagine my surprise when I walked into Larrymore Lawns Elementary School for the third grade. see PHOTO 5
There, greeting us at the door, was wonderful Mrs. Wynn. Even though I still struggled with my classes, she made learning fun. It helped that she already knew my struggles and issues. Mrs. Wynn was willing to try to catch me up with the rest of the class. It was during this school year that my mother became a part-time nurse and teacher at a private school. She made this move so that my little brother could attend four-year kindergarten. Until either third or fourth grade, Jimmy stayed at Mary C. Rice School. His attendance in private school gave him a decided advantage of learning phonics and having smaller classes. see PHOTO 6
House in Larrymore Lawns
Larrymore Lawns Community Pool
Now closed. Norfolk, VA
Compliments of Norfolk Public Schools
The year was 1958 and I had managed to get to the next grade level. Fourth grade was one of those years that I would just love to forget, everything was just way too hard! My teacher, Ms. Hatch, was an absolute stickler! I hated math, totally disliked diagramming sentences, and was developing something that would later be diagnosed as an autoimmune disorder. None of that mattered to Ms. Hatch!
Since mama was a nurse, unless you were on your deathbed, you knew you were not staying home from school. That was just the way it was! You could not stay home alone. Momma was working at Mary C. Rice School and Norfolk General Hospital so unless the neighbor could watch out for you, you just went to school sick. Once, when I was so sick that I stayed home, Doctor Kruger was still making house calls, and he couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me. As a last resort mother had to take me to Portsmouth Naval Hospital for testing. There was a very nice pediatrician who diagnosed me with thyroiditis. Much later in life, another Navy doctor would tell me that I suffered from Hashimoto’s syndrome. Of course, I missed a class field trip to the airport and a whole lot of other neat class activities.
My point is not that I was sick, but rather Ms. Hatch made sure that I got all, and I do mean ALL my assignments, my math workbook, and grammar book. She even came to the house just to make sure I was doing all that assigned work. The only class I really loved and excelled in was fourth grade Virginia History. I read that book twice! see PHOTO 7 By some miracle, despite my illness, I survived the fourth grade and was promoted to fifth grade!
Ah, fifth grade, I was lucky to have Mrs. Worrell as my teacher. I remember she was a nice teacher but wasn’t overly helpful; I just started falling even further behind, becoming more introverted. It was during this time that Sunday dinner started taking on a new look and feel. Daddy was getting into his history, political science, and education college courses. Dinner time discussions went from the mundane to what was going on in the political world… What had happened in history before World War I and II. see PHOTO 8
Hummm, I started paying attention! That didn’t mean I got the math, reading, and English, but I was getting history. Still a marginal student, I made it through fifth grade and on to sixth grade! Just a little background here, this was also the year, 1958, that the City of Norfolk closed their schools. It seems in 1954, the United States Supreme Court passed a ruling called Brown versus the Board of Education, a move meant to stop desegregation and the policy of separate but equal for persons of color. Now that’s not to say I understood what was going on, I didn’t. I just knew that a whole bunch of new folks came to the county and to my classroom in what would later be known as “white flight”.
Sixth grade was not fun! As all my friends and colleagues know, I don’t like snakes! In fact, it is a total phobia of those scaly, slithering creatures! Mrs. King was my sixth-grade teacher, and she was absolutely enthralled with King snakes; she had this giant King snake that would crawl around the classroom, go up the boards, and just positively scared me to death. I would reach into my desk and there was the snake laying in the cubby. NO, NOT ME, um oh hell NO! This was 1960 and the age of the space race and the fear of atomic bomb attacks by the USSR. That nasty snake made for interesting atomic bomb drills. One would never know if you would look in your desk during a bomb drill and find that creature!
I would like to take a moment and point out how useless “Duck and Cover” Drills were for people living in the proximity of the “World’s Largest Navy Base”. If nuclear warheads were launched at the United States, everything from Washington, DC to Norfolk, VA would be nothing but a mushroom cloud and a smoking hole! There would be no survivors in Norfolk, VA or most of the East Coast!
Needless to say, for me, the best part of sixth grade was recess and even that activity posed issues. At least then, I could get away from the snake. Never in a million years did I think to tell my parents; you just didn’t do that. During the sixth grade, I continued to struggle with reading and math. I still didn’t get it.
Previously, I mentioned the City of Norfolk closing their schools because they did not want to desegregate. Not want to integrate their schools had an impact on my fifth and sixth grades. It did not affect the neighborhood schools, the elementary schools that is, but it did affect the middle and high schools. The powers that be decided the junior high school children, grades 7-9, would be moved into the elementary schools. They did close the high schools for one year.
Having lived in integrated base housing and gone to integrated DOD schools, I did not understand the implications! Frankly, I have never understood why one group of people would think that they were better than another group of people. After all, underneath our skin, our muscles are red, and we bleed the same color of blood. Many of us worship the same God and have the same fundamental beliefs. Sixty years later, I still don’t understand how we can treat our fellow man as less than human.
While sixth grade held all the joys of touching a scaly reptile, it also held the shame of being a marginal student, increasing introversion, and the hurt of being bullied. With the rearranging of schools, came a group of rich kids, who thought they were better than anyone else. They looked down on me because I was not the brightest bulb in the chandelier, my clothing was handmade, and I didn’t wear the latest popular brands… No Bass Weejuns®, Villager® blouses, or Old Maine Trotters®! Those shallow-minded people were with me all the way through high school! They were merciless in their taunts and digs. I was always last to be picked for teams and openly mocked in class. They even taunted me about being part of a scouting program. It didn’t help that I was the tallest girl in the class and weighed more than any of the snooty girls, plus some of the guys.
Thankfully, I had hidden talents. My light bulb had yet to shine! The jerks did not know that my mother worked two jobs, made me beautiful clothing, and ensured that I had so many opportunities to develop those renaissance skills. Just how did she do this, you ask? Well, she made sure that I took every special program offered at the school and the local museum — art, crafts, folk dance, ballet, tap dance, and charm classes. She even scraped together the money to purchase a piano and procure the teaching expertise of Professor Michaeladeis, an old-world music teacher. It is here that I would like to point out that I found a special talent with the good professor. I discovered that I could con the man into playing a passage two or three times and then I could play it without reading the notes. Unfortunately, both my mom and the professor figured it out and made sure that I read every single note on the sheet music. I believe that hidden talent came from my mother’s side of the family because, as you may remember, my uncle Tom could play any musical instrument he picked up and he didn’t need to have music in front of him to play it!
While those classes didn’t make me grace personified, they did give me an appreciation for a multitude of cultural possibilities. My mother also encouraged me to participate in Brownie and Girl Scout programs. While they were a little less painful than public school, they still held the potential for fear and trepidation of being taunted and bullied. see PHOTO 9
By what I just stated, it should be obvious that my parents were by no means wealthy; we always knew when the end of the month was coming, the paycheck was dwindling, and things were getting tight. We would get beanie weenies for dinner and all our meals were tightly proportioned. Mother very carefully counted the pennies that went to groceries. She was so tight with the money that, throughout my childhood, she would buy powdered milk and mix it with 2% milk and water, just to stretch the milk. Oh, she also froze milk so she would spend less time shopping. We did all our shopping at the Navy commissary. Once a month, we would all jump into the old Ford station wagon and head off to the Navy base. My brother would go to daycare, while Momma, Chris, and I would push carts through the commissary. We would go through the commissary getting the canned goods, picking up huge tins of Navy coffee, and just to make sure that she could afford all the groceries, Momma would spend a lot of time picking out the meat.
Barbara Taber's Achievement Badges
Involvement with the Girl Scouts resulted in many accomplishments
Checkout was a very interesting event. Mind you, this was before the days of scanners. When you put the cans on the conveyor belt, every price tag had to be up so the cashier could read the price, without having to pick up the can; all the cans had to be grouped ─ five cans of Del Monte® beans had to be all together on the conveyor belt. My sister and I would have to load all the groceries into the back of the station wagon. When we got home, Chris and I would have to carry them into the house and store all the groceries in the pantry. While we were putting up the canned goods, my mother was portioning the meat, wrapping it, and putting the packages in the freezer. Believe it or not, except for fresh vegetables, this is how I still shop.
By the end of sixth grade, after garnering sufficient grades, I did manage to matriculate into the seventh grade and junior high school. Grand opportunities, adventures, and surprises awaited! But, first, summer was calling!
Looking back on my elementary school years, I can see several lessons that I carried throughout my teaching career:
Stand up for the little kids who are picked on by bigger kids.
All students learn at different rates, so, until their light bulb comes on keep pulling them forward.
Everyone has hidden talents! Teachers must look for them and nurture those talents.
Persevere in the face of adversity.
Failures are the training grounds for success; never worry about those failures, because they will lead you to better understandings and success.
Pencils have erasers for a reason! We all make mistakes. How you correct them is up to you!
Not every egg in your nest is yours… at least one may be a little cuckoo!
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