On Turning 70 Years Old

I turn Seventy Years old  sometime today. I was born in the years following the Second World War. I am a baby boomer. We were born into a world of hope, work, and success. Our fathers were survivors in one way or another. As children they all survived the Great Depression, as young adults many survived combat overseas. Many served at home whole-heartedly supporting the war effort with their minds and their muscle.

Growing up in the 50’s was a wonderful time. A front porch kind of time a neighborhood kind of time. Divorce was rare ( “for better or for worse”  as part of the wedding vows was taken seriously) There were single mothers largely because of the cost of war but grandparents, uncles, aunts, sisters and brothers stepped in to keep the family going.

We ran the neighborhood as kids, outside was our territory and the adults rarely intruded on it. However it should be noted when things went really wrong the neighbors were not particularly afraid of acting like parents to kids that were not theirs. We organized our own games, we had our own code of conduct sometimes roughly administered. We got dirty, we got bloody, we had no fears other than atomic ones. We walked to school laughingly both ways uphill but indeed in all weather and we were expected to arrive at school and back at home on time and in one piece without adult help. 10 year olds were responsible for controlling kids crossing busy streets and they handled the job. Walking to and from school was a society builder, there were bullies, wall flowers, and there were fights and cliques that developed on the way to and from school, but they were handled by the kids themselves not the adults except in extreme cases. We had bikes, yoyos, jacks, baseball mitts, and dolls and we learned how to compete without taking our balls or jacks and going home just because something didn’t go our way. Our mothers ran the house and our fathers worked, both putting in long hours, The kids had chores and the expectation was that those would be done or there would be consequences some physical and some mental but in most cases they were deserved consequences and they cleared the air effectively and established the set of ground rules a family functions under.

Halloween was owned by the kids and was a night of freedom after the street lights came on, the usual head for the barn signal. In the winter we found a hill and used something to slide down it, in the summer we collected fireflies, played hide n seek and climbed trees ( unsupervised). We learned that there was a positive aspect to climbing a tree all the way to the top, realizing it was going to be scary going back down, cried for help and when none came, made it back down on our own. Our bicycles were our freedom, balloon tires, one speed, no lights, sometimes no fenders sometimes no seat but our ticket to the woods, creek, toy store, or soda fountain. Yes there was sexism and in some cases stifling sexism but our roles were defined and that made life a lot easier. Girls wore dresses boys wore belted pants and collared shirts when the situation demanded. Some girls defied the trends and were tagged with the name “tom boy” but I’m not sure if that was a put down or a compliment. Boys noticed the girls who could hit and hit back whether it be in a game or life.

When we started school our teachers were for the most part smart, disciplined and fair, some were not but those who were not fair, were a training for life which is often not fair. Through that discipline most of us learned discipline, that doing it right was a positive and doing it wrong had consequences. I was a poor student who thankfully had good teachers. Mrs. Gruis my 5th grade teacher probably did more for me than I could ever repay. (my first teaching job was 5th grade and I often wonder if that happens to people a lot, teaching in the place of their favorite) Ms Essington on the other hand taught me to be very careful of what I did in class ( the best thing about her was that she wore high heels all the time so you could hear where she was in the classroom)

I didn’t study much  but I read constantly and through that reading I picked up enough to act smart and did enough to survive. I read constantly because TV, other than Saturday morning was aimed at adults and anyway  it turned on at 6 AM and off at midnight.

I was constantly frustrated that the library would only let you check out 6 books at a time. I read sci fi, westerns, and animal stories, Heinlein, Asimov, Zane Grey, Kjellgard, and Jack London I read all the books that the library held by those authors. I didn’t read heavy tomes or classical literature. I didn’t choose to read The Scarlet Letter or Silas Marner but was forced to, and eventually learned to appreciate The Scarlet Letter but not Silas Marner. I read Shakespeare and the Bible on my own. When I was introduced  to Poe in junior high school I was inspired to read nearly all of his writings outside of class. I’ve have often wondered where I would be today if video games had existed then because most assuredly I would have played them rather than reading.
Junior high school was a tough time for me. Most of the time I didn’t understand girls or what to do with them. Why I had to learn this  stuff and what I was supposed to be doing but the structure of the institution saved me from destruction. The rules were clear and uniformly  enforced there were very few gray areas. For some that lead to temporary injustice but for most it seems to me it was a framework for survival during the early teen years. You didn’t get the chance to make very foolish choices because the results on exhibit from others were almost always immediate , visible and consequential.

Most of my memories from Junior high are those of teachers, Mrs. Askegaard who taught me responsibility, Mr. Smedes who taught me that I was going to take a shower after gym class whether it was embarrassing or not. Mrs Bagdonnas who kept me after school until I memorized the Gettysburg address because I failed to turn in too many assignments and would fail her course otherwise. Mr. Snyder who asked one day after band practice , “ if I was ever going to practice?” to which I responded , “ probably not” after which he suggested I drop band at the semester, which I did but to this day appreciate those who learned and played an instrument with proficiency. Understanding that most things don’t just happen but are product of work.

High school was a happy time, Our school was crowded with war babies, understaffed, at times impersonal but filled with good times and many extra curricular activities that would now possibly  find you in jail if caught. I had a car, a girl friend who would later become my wife (after several interludes of insanity on my part) and an excellent education that although I did not absorb as much as I should have and at times gamed the system. (I copied Nancy M survey paper of the 1964 elections and got an A on it, when I had done nothing) and I only passed Physics because of the smart people around me served me well.   I still did enough work to have almost no classes left to take the second semester of my senior year and spent most of the afternoons that year working in the boy’s advisors office as a secretary/enforcer of order. That in itself was a learning experience as I became aware of my own stupidity while watching the actions and punishments of others.
I applied to three colleges and was accepted at one. I did not visit, I did not investigate, I just went to the University of Iowa. In retrospect I would have done much better at a small University with no car available. My parents dropped me off at the door to the dorm and went home. This was not an unkindness it was an attitude of self-reliance, i.e. your 18. I will help if needed but it’s your problem you handle it.

At college the bathroom and showers were down the hall and I was in a three person room that was cold, dank, and crowded with one 3×3 closet in the Quadrangle Dorm. One room-mate dropped out of school after losing all his tuition money playing in-between and later gained a certain amount of fame by seeking sanctuary in a church in Hawaii while on his way to Viet Nam. The other room-mate became a father and so on. It is either a source of pride or shame that nearly every room mates I ever had in college didn’t finish college I spent my freshman year skipping classes and playing bridge and billiards at the Union. That coupled with somehow being placed in 2nd year Spanish where the woman who taught it would not speak English for any reason and not being able to drop that course because it would make me a part time student and then shortly thereafter a soldier in Viet Nam. I never ended up in Viet Nam however I honor those including my brother who did. My number was the last number called in the lottery for the year I was eligible , #194 but I was not taken.

At the end of my freshman year  I ended up with a .064 grade point  which lead to a letter from the U informing me that I had one semester to get it turned around or I would be dropped from the U… I did turn it around but never learned to study effectively a skill that had eluded me in high school and continued into college.  I ended up in Geology as a major after history, anthropology, biology, and psychology but could not pass calculus which was a requirement for Geology ( and amazingly enough was actually used by my professors) so after 4.5 years at the U I went in to see my advisor whom I had previously never seen before and asked what my alternatives were. He indicated I could graduate at semester with a degree in general science and so I did. Not quite as valueless as a degree in ancient Macedonian literature but close.

I took a job at Drake University teaching geology labs (as long as I stayed away from calculus I could handle the job) and began working on my teaching degree. So finally I got my master’s degree in teaching and left my 14 hour a week job at Drake for a 50 hour a week job in Johnston with a pay increase from $6000 a year to $6800 a year….. I never said I was overly smart. And so I was a 5th grade teacher in Johnston, then became an 8th grade math teacher when the 8th grade math teacher just quit in the middle of the year. I proudly survived one year of the 22 mod a day schedule, yes at one time the Johnston middle school had a 22 period day.

I wrote the original state grant that became the Johnston Schools GT department and then was not selected for that job, as a result I got out of teaching for a while then returned, teaching science and social studies in Des Moines, at the 6th, 7th,8th and 9th grade level before becoming a Gifted and Talented Consultant for Des Moines.
Every class of students I ever taught, taught me more than I ever taught them. I must apologize for the early years as I spent too much time on things that didn’t require my attention and sometimes too little time on those that should have. And at times I over-disciplined including corporeal punishment. Over the years, I learned that teaching is not a science or an art, it is a craft, a blending of the science of teaching with the art handling people, effective only when both were all blended with experience. Some teachers are born, I was not, but I like to think I learned
Along the way I have managed to keep my lovely and long suffering wife of nearly 49 years, although at times she must have wondered why given my somewhat random chaotic behaviors. I have three wonderful bright children of whom I am proud, 8 grandchildren who surprise me every day with their energy and skills, several dogs and now 70 years. (Listed in order of importance) I often wonder what I did to get this lucky but whatever it is I hope it continues.
The morals of my story.
Things are rarely as bad or as good as they seem.
If we knew our history as a nation it would make us feel better about our future in these unsettled times.
Ask for help, but if you don’t ask, don’t expect it.
Experience is a hard teacher but the best teacher of all and the proof of that axiom is that those who fail to learn from experience are doomed to repeat it.
All and all my life has been happy and full, and although I am not the man I pictured in my youth at age 70 I will never quit trying to be and I vow to never stop learning.


About safrisri

I was a school teacher until retirement. I have taught at all educational levels from pre-school to college. My college degree is general science which I arrived at after 5 years and 5 different majors. A degree as it turns out, almost as valuable and in demand as one in Neo-Bulgarian Mythology. I have been around education for around 40 years and can remember when teaching was a pleasant, happy and creative job and our schools were the same. Now I'm the guy sitting on the porch with an opinion on everything.
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One Response to On Turning 70 Years Old

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