Posts Tagged ‘childhood stories’

After yesterday’s weekend coffee share post and thinking about my Aunt Joy, my memories started flooding my mind. Just a little bit ago, totally by accident, I came across an old post that brought me a huge smile. So this is a repost of a memoir piece I posted in 2008. I hope you smile with me.

One year on Easter, when I was about eight years old, we went to my Aunt Joy and Uncle Joe’s house for a barbecue in the mid-afternoon.  As we did every year, we took our Easter baskets with us wherever we went, including to their house.  After a while, my aunt told us we should put our baskets in her bedroom so we could play without having to worry about our baskets and all of our stuff falling out.  She took them to her bedroom for us.

Later, we asked our mom if we could have a candy from our baskets and she said we could.  We were good.  We knew from experience that one candy meant ONE candy so we took only one.  I remember thinking that our baskets weren’t as full as they should be but I just took my one candy and went outside, as did my sisters.

We played and we ate and instead of having cake for dessert, we asked if we could have a candy from our baskets and once again, we were told we could.  When we went to my aunt’s room to get our candy, most of our candy was gone.  We hadn’t taken it.  We looked to see if it had fallen out but there was no sign of our candy.  When we went back outside, we told our mom and she said we had probably taken more than one when we were supposed to take only one.  We hadn’t.

Later, when it was time to leave for home, there were no candies left in our baskets.  We hadn’t been inside the house in a long time and there had been candy left in our baskets then.  No one had gone inside, except my aunt.  My mom investigated.  She believed us but she couldn’t very well say my Aunt Joy had taken it.   My mom went outside and told my father that we had eaten all our candy.  My father got mad at us and then my aunt spoke up and said she had taken some of our candy because we had so much.  She liked candy, she said, and she didn’t get any because there were no kids in her house so she had taken “one or two” of our candies from each basket.  There were four of us girls there and all the candy was gone from all of our baskets!  Yup, she had taken “one or two”!

I remind Aunt Joy from time to time and we laugh about it.  When I go to her house for Easter, I take her a basket of her very own candy and we laugh!  I’m going to be near her house today so I’m thinking of putting some of the left over candy in a little basket for her and dropping them off.  I hope she’s there so I can laugh with her!  Who said Easter candy is only for kids?!

This is part of #TheWeeklySmile blog linkup hosted by Trent. Check out his post and write one of your own if so inclined!

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Blogging From A to Z

When I was around nine years old (around 1964), my dad went to go see about a car he wanted to buy. We had a family car but he wanted to get a car for him to drive to work in so that the family car would “last longer”. Besides, he explained, my oldest brother would be driving in another year so it would be good to start looking for a car that he could drive to work so that my brother could drive my mom around town. She didn’t drive so when she had to go some place, she would walk. Sometimes that meant walking or riding the bus across town with sick kids in tow or sometimes it meant having to walk home from the doctor way after it was dark. My dad worked in a cannery so in the high season (May through November) he often had to work late into the night, until all the trucks coming in and going out had been unloaded and loaded.

A few hours after he left, he came home with a new car. It was a little Volkswagen beetle. It was from being new. It needed paint. It had some bumps and bruises and the interior was well worn. He had gotten a good deal on it and it was very cheap on gas so he was happy. We all thought it was a great car. It was cute. It was new to us. It was different from anything we had ever driven in. We all ran out to the driveway to see the car and we all wanted to go for a ride. So we all piled in the car…all NINE of us. My youngest sister sat on my mom’s lap in the front seat and the other six of us sat on laps in the back seat. Off we went! When we were only about two miles away from home my dad realized that the gas tank was almost empty. We had to get gas or we would end up walking home. Luckily, there was a small gas station a block away (the Spartan gas station which was still standing the last time I was in town around six or so years ago).

There was just one problem. My dad didn’t have any money on him and my mom had left without her purse so she had no money. My dad found about thirty-five cents in his pocket and my oldest brother had fifteen cents. Between the nine of us we managed to come up with something like 78 CENTS for gas. When the young man came to the window, my dad said he needed 78 cents of gas. Seeing the incredulous look on the kid’s face as he took in the back seat packed with kids sitting on each other, my dad added that the car wasn’t ours. We were just test driving it. The kid pumped the gas and cleaned the windows. My dad waved him away from checking the oil and said it was fine as he handed the young man the 78 cents for the gas.

Taking the money, the kid looked at my dad and said, “Sir, I think maybe you should look for a bigger car.” My dad nodded and we drove off with a straight face. It was only when we drove out of the driveway that we all cracked up at the look on the kid’s face as he counted the nine bodies packed like sardines in the back of the little white Volkswagen beetle. I’m sure the kid could hear us laughing blocks away!

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Blogging From A to Z

When I was a little girl, around three years old, I spent a lot of time being sick. There were lots of doctor visits, lots of medicines, and a lot of trips to the hospital. I had a lot of pain in my throat and it seemed like it was always sore, like I always had a cold. Finally, Dr. Johnson told my mother that it was time to get my tonsils take out. I would have to go to the hospital to have an operation. My parent’s had insurance for it but because I was so young, the insurance said they would not cover the surgery until they got another doctor to examine me and say the same thing so I had to go to more doctors and more visits and be sick some more.

Then one day my mother got a phone call from the hospital. It was okay for me to have the operation. For several days, my parents took me shopping at night time, after my father was home from work. I got a little suitcase made of wood with colored pegs and a little hammer. It had a chalkboard too. It was mine. I did not have to share it with my sisters. It was for me to take to the hospital with me. I also got a pink nightgown and a pink robe to take to the hospital. I think there were new slippers and I know there was a new blue hairbrush. All these things were for me. All for me. No one else. Just for me. I was feeling really special to be getting the operation.

On the day of the operation, my father had to work so my mother and I walked to the bus stop and took the bus downtown. We had some breakfast and then we got on another bus that left us closer to the hospital. By the time we got to the hospital, it was almost the night time. After we waited a long time, they took me to a little room where there were only doctors and nurses. My mom could not go in with me. The doctor told me to look up at the ceiling at a large circle that was like a light but it had no light coming from it. I was supposed to look at it and count backwards from 100 but I didn’t know my numbers so I was confused. Just a couple of numbers later, I was asleep and I didn’t know what happened until I woke up in a room in a crib with a lot of ladies in it.

That night, after work and after dinner, my mom and dad came to see me at the hospital. They brought me a little doll that was going to stay with me and sleep at the hospital when they left. I liked the doll but when it was time for them to leave me and go back home to my brothers and sisters, I gave the doll back to my mom so she could take it back to the store because I wanted to go home with her. My mom’s pretty green eyes were wet and she smiled and said I had to stay there overnight but that if I was a good girl, I could go home in a day or two. My mom and dad kissed me and hugged me and as they turned and waved at me from the door, I smiled at them but I was crying. I smiled at them because I didn’t want my mommy to cry. I didn’t want her to see me cry so I just smiled at them and waved with one hand and wiped the tears away with the other hand.

That night, after they left and after all the ladies in the beds around me were sleeping, I cried. Being in the hospital was not fun anymore. I didn’t want to stay there. I wanted to go home and I wanted my mommy.

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Blogging From A to Z

Julimes is the name of the village where my father was born. It’s near the capital city of the Mexican state of Chihuahua. If you are familiar with the Spanish language, you will know that in Spanish, the letter “j” is pronounced like the English letter “h”. Julimes is pronounced hoo-lee-mez.

The first time I visited Julimes was in 1961. I was five years old. The whole family made the long trip from California by car. I remember arriving late at night, or at least it was dark and we had been driving all day. From the main highway, we had to take a smaller road and then we had to cross a river. My father had told us about the river, the Rio Conchos, many times. He had told us about how it sometimes rained so much that the river would overflow and the bridge to get in and out of town would wash out, leaving Julimes inaccessible. I remember being scared. It was so dark. I was afraid that the river had washed out the road and my father would not be able to see in the dark and our car would fall into the water. Of course, the river had not risen and the bridge was intact. We drove to what seemed to be the end of town, the last street before empty fields. That’s where my grandmother lived. I hadn’t met her before, nor had I met my aunts and uncles. I was very happy to meet them (there were six aunts and uncles living in the house), even though it was late and I was tired.

Julimes was like a whole different world to me. Not only was it very rural but there was no electricity and no running water. There was an outhouse. We got water from a well in the backyard and there were a lot of chickens running around the yard. It was dusty all over. There were no cars around, especially way on the end of town where my grandmother lived.

One day I got to go to school with one of my aunts. I think she was in 5th or 6th grade. It was fun meeting her friends and everyone made me feel like a celebrity because I was “del otro lado” (from the other side). I remember the teacher speaking to me in English and I would just nod or shake my head. Finally she asked me a question that I had to answer with words and I answered her in Spanish. She was surprised that I spoke Spanish and I think she was a little embarrassed because she had assumed I spoke only English.

My grandmother lived next door to her brother, Carlos (my oldest brother had been named partly for him) and his family. They had a much larger and better house than my grandmother. He was our uncle too, my father said. My tio Carlos was sick. He spent most of his time in bed but when we were there, he sat up and talked to us and my father got him to play his guitar and sing for us. I could tell that he was very special to my father and that made him special to me.

Across the street lived one of my father’s aunts, Teresa. She had a little store and all of the mail came to her store and people picked the mail up from her. She had two kids that were a little older than us. It seemed funny to me that my grandmother, her brother, and her sister lived so close to each other. There was another uncle that we met, tio Martin. He and his family lived a few blocks away in a part of town that was a little better. They owned a big store and had a house that was made of wood, not of the mud like blocks like the others in the far side of town. Tio Martin’s house had a bathroom inside and they had running water, and electricity. His family was not as friendly as the other families. They didn’t come to visit at my grandmother’s house. We had to go to them.

That visit was full of surprises and wonder and discovery for us. We had never been any place that had no running water or electricity or that had an outhouse. We had never been around family very much. Where we lived in California, we lived alone with no family except when one of our uncles came to stay with us for a while. It was different to be able to play in the street with no danger of cars coming or going. And it was very different to have to go indoors when it got dark because there were no street lights. It was truly a foreign world to us.

Years later I would go back and would see all of the changes that came to town. That will be a different story on this journey blogging from A to Z.

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Blogging From A to Z Challenge

I’ve had many adventures in my life. Some good. Some not so good. I guess life is an adventure in itself and as they say, the destination isn’t important; it’s the adventures that count.

When I was growing up, we didn’t take vacations. There were too many of us and my father could never take time off from work. Besides my parents and myself, I had three brothers and three sisters so there were nine of us to go in one car if we all went some place together.

My father worked driving a forklift truck to load and unload pellets of canned foods at a cannery. My mother was a stay at home mom, as most moms were in the 50’s and early 60’s. For a long time, the only place we went together was to the drive-in on carload night. We could all pile in the car on top of each other’s laps (no seat belts or car seats in those days) and pay one low price to get into the drive-in theater to see a cartoon, two movies, and coming attractions. Oh and the cute little “let’s go to the snack bar” sing song cartoon during intermission. We loved it. That was special, even if we did it a couple of times every month, it was still special because it was an evening out for all of us together. No one had to stay home so others could go.

Then one day, my parents went to look for a new car. They said they were looking for a station wagon for all of us to be able to ride together at the same time. After hours and hours, they came home with a new car! It was the first time we had ever had a brand new car and it was a car with seats for nine people, just the number we needed for our family. It was a white 1960 Plymouth Valiant 9 passenger station wagon. We went for a drive as soon as they brought it home! No one had to sit on a lap. No one was squished between anyone else. There were lots of big windows so it was really neat to be in that car and be able to see more of what was outside than we could in the old four door car we had before.

In a couple of weeks, we found out we were going on a long trip that would take days of driving to get there. We were driving from our home in San Jose (California) to Texas to see our grandmother for a week then driving from there to Mexico to see our other grandmother for a week then coming home. It was going to be a long, long, trip but we were excited to be going any place out of town and excited because we would be taking two weeks off from school. My father’s busy season at work was summer and autumn so he couldn’t take time off then so we would have to go during the school year. Ah shucks! We’d have to miss school!

The trip was magical for us. It did take a long time but we made up games to play in the car. We looked at the clouds in the sky and found shapes in them and when we drove through the mountains, my brothers taught us about dinosaurs. They would find dinosaur shaped mountains and point them out to us and tell us about the dinosaurs that looked like those mountains. And when we drove through the desert, we found people shapes in the saguaro cacti and made up stories.

My dad was the only driver so it took us even longer to get there and we were trying to save money so we slept in the car on the side of the road. I think we only got a motel once when my father knew he had to get a full night’s sleep before going on so we got one room for all of us. In the morning, we went to a grocery store and my mom got sandwich stuff and fixed sandwiches that we could eat throughout the day. That was special for us too because we rarely got to have sandwiches! Like I say, the whole trip was magical.

The most magical part of the adventure for me was getting to spend time with my dad. At night time, when everyone would fall asleep, I would stand right behind my dad’s seat and talk to him to keep him awake. I’m not sure if it was like that before the trip or not but at least since that trip, when I was five, just in kindergarten, my dad and I have shared a love for certain things, like words and playing with parts of speech and finding synonyms and antonyms and homophones. He also taught me tongue twisters in Spanish and told me stories about our relatives we were going to meet and about how things were when he was growing up. We talked about the stars and he told me the names of some of the constellations and we made up stories about the stars in the sky. It was a special time when only he and I were awake. It was a bonding time for us. It was the start of a long, long shared love of language, astronomy, geography, folklore, and so much more.

That was the adventure. Yes, we got to our destinations to see our maternal grandmother in Corpus Christi (Texas) and we met new relatives there. We got to see where our mother grew up. Then we drove from there to Chihuahua in the state of Chihuahua (Mexico) to meet our paternal grandmother and our aunts and uncles. That was a very different place because they lived in a tiny village near the capital city; a village with dirt roads, no indoor plumbing, no electricity, and water that we had to get from the well. But I think that will be a different story. The adventure was the trip, starting with the new car, the days and nights on the road, the games we played, and most of all for me, the adventure was getting to know my father in a different way…a way that made us close even through the years and miles and life twists that made us eventually grow apart.

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In today’s Daily Post prompt, there was a list of five posts to write when you’re stuck on what to post on your blog. The last one caught my eye: “Your Childhood Fear”.

I really can’t say that it’s something I’ve gotten over, either, so maybe it’s a lifelong fear? When I was growing up, my parents fought a lot, especially when my father was drinking. My mom always tried to get us out of the house when he was drinking too much. One afternoon when my father had been drinking, my mother got my oldest brother, Carlos, to gather us up and take us outside and wait for her. When she got out with the baby, we walked downtown to the movie theater. It was quite a trek, about a mile and a half from our house and there were seven of us kids so it took awhile to walk all the way. My mother didn’t drive so we walked or we took the bus when we had to go some place. That day we walked because paying the bus fare meant we wouldn’t have enough money for the movies. In those days, the very early 1960’s, they showed two movies, movie trailers, cartoons, and a news reel. They didn’t come to kick you out at the end of the movie, either. So that afternoon we stayed through the whole show then stayed again. My mother wanted to keep us out of the house as long as possible in the hopes that my father would either be sober by the time we got back home or he would be passed out.

When the last show was over, we had to leave the theater. It was late so it was very dark outside. We walked home but it was so dark out that we walked in the middle of the street so we wouldn’t trip on the sidewalk or step in a hole. I remember that there was steam coming up from the manholes in the street so it looked like fog coming from the ground, or at least that’s how I picture it when I recall that night. The movies we had watched were monster movies. I don’t remember which ones but they both had monsters and had been scary to me as I was about four years old. As we walked in the middle of the street, we would watch for cars and when one approached, we left the street and headed for the sidewalk. That’s when I saw the opening in the side of the curb. It had a grate over it and now I know that it was a storm drain but at four years of age, I thought it was where the monsters lived. I was scared that if I stepped over it or even near it, the monsters would grab my leg and pull me in. I was so traumatized that one of my brothers had to pick me up and carry me over the storm drain every time we came to one.

Ever since then, I cannot go near storm drains, let alone walk over one! If I do, I know a monster will pop up and drag me away! I just know it!

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Is there a book that you read as a child that has stayed with you over the years; one that you have recommended to othrs and/or given as a gift to a child?

I can think of a few but one that I had forgotten about until I saw it on my bookshelf last night is a very special one. It’s called The Hundred Dresses and it was written by Eleanor Estes in 1944. I read it in fourth grade when I was about eight or nine. It touched me then and it still does. I’ve had a number of copies of it through the years as I tend to buy it to keep then give it away to a child or to a teacher. The one I have has managed to stay on my shelf for about eight or nine years.

The 1944 Newberry Honor recipient is the story of a little girl named Wanda Petronski who is different fromm all the other kids in her school. Not only is her name different, but she lives in the poorest part of town and she has no mother. Every day she wears the same blue dress to school. While it is always clean, it’s also always wrinkled and doesn’t hang right. She’s very quiet and hates to speak in front of the class. Outside of class, she is always alone and even when she tries to joing a group of kids, they never notice her. The only time the others notice her is when they want to tease her. One girl in particular, Peggy, likes to ask her how many dresses she has and Wanda always answers that she has a hundred dresses all lined up in her closet, all colors, all different kinds. They ask her about her shoes and she says she has sixty pair of shoes in her closet, all colors and all kinds, all lined up.

One girl, Maddie, feels bad about teasing her and she doesn’t want to participate in it but she also doesn’t want the others to turn on her because she’s from a poor family, too. So even though she feels wrong about teasing Wanda, she doesn’t speak up. She just goes along with it.

When Wanda doesn’t come to school for several days, her father sends a note to the teacher saying she won’t be coming to school anymore. They are moving to the big city where there are other “funny names” and lots of other Polish people and where they won’t be teased anymore. The letter from Wanda’s father arrives on the same day that the winner of the drawing contest is announced. The girls’ winner (for designing and drawing a dress) has drawn not onlyy one dress but one hundred different dresses, all kinds and all colors. The winner is Wanda. That’s when the girls realize that Wanda wasn’t lying about her hundred dresses. She really did have that many, only they were drawings.

I like it because it shows how Wanda is ignored and teased, making her feel isolated. And it also shows how Maddie knows it’s wrong yet doesn’t speak up. She just goes along with the teasing and bullying. I think it speaks volumes to kids. Although The Hundred Dresses is 71 years old, it still has a very valuable lesson to share with our kids…and with adults, as well. Before writing this post, I read a little about Eleanor Estes. I learned that she wrote the book out of guilt and a desire to somehow apologize to the little girl that Wanda was modeled after. She modeled Peggy, the bully, after herself because once the “Wanda” in her school moved away, Eleanor Estes realized that she had treated her very badly and had been a bully. I think that’s a valuable lesson, too!

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This story is of a very special sighting by none other than myself.  To this day I swear this really happened, even though I can’t explain it.

I will never forget one particular Christmas Eve, a night filled with magic.

We had all been sent to bed. The others were all asleep but I was wide awake. I listened to the sound of my parents in the other room, talking to my aunt and uncle, laughing, and having a happy time.

I moved and I turned carefully so I would not to wake my sisters sleeping in the bed next to me. I closed my eyes tightly, hoping that they would stay closed and I would sleep. I was afraid of not being able to sleep. My parents had reminded us, just before sending us to bed, that Santa would not stop at our house if we were not asleep. And so I lay in bed praying that I’d go to sleep so that Santa would come to our house. If I didn’t sleep and Santa stayed away, my brothers and sisters would find out that it had been my fault and they would be very angry at me!

It was no use. I couldn’t sleep. I was angry at myself for being so excited! I was keeping myself awake just by thinking about going to sleep! There was nothing to do.  The lights were off and the room was totally dark. I could not see anything. I couldn’t even move or my sisters would wake up. I made my eyes small so maybe  I could see things and at least keep myself busy looking around the room.

Finally I was able to see the chest of drawers  that held our clothes in its four drawers — one for each of my three sisters and the last for me. The second drawer held Irene’s clothes. She had left it open. It was almost closed, but not quite. There was something hanging out of the drawer. Perhaps whatever was hanging out had kept it from closing, or maybe Irene just hadn’t taken the time to close it all the way. She did that sometimes, because she’d get excited and forget to finish doing what she was doing.

Suddenly, I thought I saw something move! But everyone in the room was asleep except me! I looked carefully and saw it once again. There was something small moving. It was red and green. It looked like a tiny man. He was wearing a pointy hat and moved quickly and silently.

I kept quiet so I wouldn’t be spotted. Then another of these little tiny men appeared. They whispered to each other and moved to the dresser. I watched as they went through the drawer, pulling out our long stockings — one from each drawer. When they turned in my direction, I shut my eyes tightly.

With my eyes closed I heard a voice speak.  It was a light and friendly voice.  I carefully and slowly opened my eyes so I wouldn’t be spotted, just in case they were watching me. I couldn’t believe what I saw! There — in the room I shared with my three sisters — was a short round man with a long white beard and a moustache. He wore a red velvet suit with white fluffy cotton around the edges and on his feet, I saw black shining boots with a gold buckle.


Just as I was about to call out “Santa!” the round little man looked at me with a smile and a wink. He put one finger to his lips and with the other hand he sprinkled sparkly dust on my eyes.

The next thing I knew, my little sister was calling my name and tugging at my nightgown. “Hurry! Get up! It’s time to go open the presents! Hurry!”

I rubbed my eyes and looked around the room. Where was Santa? The darkness was gone too. The elves were gone. Santa was gone.

“Hurry! Hurry! Time to open presents. Hurry! Get up!” called Irene.

“Where’s Santa?” I asked, still trying to rub the sparkly dust out of my eyes.

“I dunno. Maybe he’s at home now,” answered five year old Irene.

I rubbed my eyes and looked around the room one more time. There were no elves and no Santa. I got up and followed Irene into the hall where the others were waiting for me so we could all go into the living room together to open the presents.

“I saw Santa Claus,” I announced proudly.

My brothers laughed. “Yeah! We saw him at the store yesterday too!”

“No! He was here! He was in my room last night. I saw him and two elves. They were in the room! You guys were sleeping! I saw him! I did!”

“What did they want? For you to choose all your own presents?” Carlos laughed as he looked at Richard and David. They just shook their heads and smiled.

My parents came into the hall and let us into the room with the big Christmas tree and all the presents.

“I saw Santa Claus! Mami! Deddy! I saw Santa Claus!” I ran to them to tell them but they just smiled at me and gently pushed me into the room with the tall snow sprayed  tree.

“He was in my room. There were two elves. They were getting stockings from our drawers,” I insisted.

“Oh! Really!? What were they doing with the stockings? They’re supposed to bring you things, not take them from you!” my oldest brother added.

“I don’t know. They were there. That’s all I know. They took my new white ones with the little flowers on them…but only one of them. Then they took Gilda’s that my Nino and Nina gave her for her birthday, the pink ones with little bows, but just one…” I continued to tell them excitedly, ignoring the tree with the presents that the others were already grabbing.

My parents said I could tell them later. I should open presents now. They didn’t believe me.

I was sad because no one believed me, only Irene and Gilda, the little ones. They believed me. No one else. Even the presents that I opened didn’t make me feel better. I just wanted them to know that I wasn’t imagining it. I really had seen Santa Claus! And I had seen the elves too!

As we finished opening all of the presents, Irene pointed. “Look! There’s my stocking! Why’s it there?”

We all looked and saw stockings. My new white one with the flowers … Gilda’s pink one with the bows … Irene’s blue one with little pink roses on them … and Sylvia’s white ones with candy canes…they were all there. Even my parents didn’t know why they were there. We got them and found them filled with candy, nuts, fruit, and coins. Just like in the books and the movies … we had gotten stockings from Santa for the first time!

My parents looked surprised.  They looked at each other . . .  then they looked at me  . . .  I smiled as I took my stocking.

“I told you I saw Santa Claus and the elves. They were taking our stockings from our drawers. I told you!”  I smiled as big a smile as I could, when  I said it.

I took my stocking and enjoyed the candy and nuts all day long. But what I really enjoyed most of all was knowing that I had seen Santa Claus. I was the only one that had seen him. I did not  imagine it!  I had seen Santa Claus. Santa Claus was real, and he had winked at me!

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When I was in elementary school, I had two male teachers; one in fifth grade and one in sixth grade.  I’ve never written about Mr. Watts, my fifth grade teacher and I suppose I will one day.  He was actually the first teacher I had that attempted to teach the writing process to us and that was the year that I fell in love with the writing process.

But today I want to write about my sixth grade teacher.  His name was Rick Cassinelli.  We all liked him.  He was different from Mr. Watts and Mr. Harvey(who was the other sixth grade teacher).  Mr. Cassinelli was friendly with all of us, and fair.  While most of the girls had had a crush on Mr. Watts, I don’t think many of us had one on Mr. Cassinelli.   He was kind, funny, fairly good looking, and although he was older, in all fairness, he wasn’t old.  I think, looking back on that time, he was probably in his early to mid thirties.  I think he was just an ordinary person who didn’t shine as the very young and handsome male fifth grade teacher did.  He wasn’t tall and thin.  He wasn’t short and fat.  He was just normal height and normal weight.  I guess, as  is true of so many plain, ordinary people, he didn’t stand out; he didn’t shine.

Except to me.  I didn’t have a crush on him but I really liked him.  I liked that while he expected some of us to do a lot better than the others, he didn’t talk down or teach down to the kids that didn’t keep up.  He didn’t pick on any of the kids and that says a lot because most teachers that I’ve had tend to find one or two students each year that they sort of pick on.  Mr. Cassinelli didn’t do that.  He commanded respect by respecting us.  He wasn’t a strict disciplinarian but we didn’t have a lot of behavior problems in our class.  That’s probably because of the way he treated us, causing us to rise to his expectations.  And he was a great spelling teacher!  That year in his class, most of us became top spellers and it was not unusual to have ten to fifteen perfect spelling scores each week.  That was the year I won the class spelling bee and then the sixth grade spelling bee.

We didn’t know a lot about Mr. Cassinelli.  He didn’t live in the area or someone would have seen him shopping locally.  We didn’t even know if he was married until almost the end of the school year when I overheard him mentioning his wife when he was talking to Mr. Watts after school one day.  That was the mid 1960’s.  No internet.  It was a lot more difficult to research people then.  One day I took the great big, fat phone book and looked him up.  I couldn’t find a Rick Cassinelli at all but then I found an Enrico Cassinelli.  I noted the address.  I knew where it was because, although it was way on the other side of town, way far from our little school, my parents used to have their tax returns prepared on the same street as the phone directory said Enrico lived on.  In fact, it was on the same block as my parents’ tax guy.  I quietly wrote down his name, address, and phone number in my little pocket sized address book.

One day, I was helping him in the classroom after school and I asked him if his “real name” was Rick.  He said it wasn’t.  It was Enrico.  I smiled and nodded and told him I had known that.  Then, very boldly, I recited his address and phone number.  He laughed.  A great big, deep laugh.  He didn’t get mad.  He didn’t scold me.  He asked how I had found that out and I told him I had looked it up in the phone book.  He nodded and smiled and said he should have known someone like me would be smart enough to do that.  He didn’t sit down and give me a long lecture on how I should not know that information or spread it around.  He did not say I had invaded his privacy.   He just said something like, “I know you’re not the kind of person that would use that information to call my house in the middle of the night or send rude mail.  I know you wouldn’t give that information to anyone who would misuse it.”  I nodded.  I understood.  He understood.  He trusted me.  And it made me want to be trustworthy.

I don’t know whatever happened to Mr. Cassinelli.  That was many, many years ago.  I do think of him from time to time.  I think about him when I think about spelling.  I think about him when I think about trusting students and treating students fairly.

And today, I think of him because his birthday was January 16th.  So Enrico Cassinelli who used to live on Meridian Road in San Jose and taught at Fred Martin Elementary, happy birthday.  May it be a gift to know that you made a lasting impression on a little sixth grade girl way back in 1966.

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The other day I took my daughter to get some shoes.  She had been complaining of backaches and when I looked at her feet I realized she was wearing a very worn out pair of canvas Mary Jane shoes which had absolutely no support.  I told her she needed new shoes so off we went to Payless Shoesource for their BoGo sale.  She found two pair and tried them on.  When I was paying for them, I took the time to examine them carefully for any defects.  The cashier, I think, thought I was strange for checking them out so closely but I didn’t care.  I have learned to examine things, especially shoes, before handing over the money for them.

When I was in fifth grade, I wanted some white shoes I had seen at Karl’s Shoes, a now defunct shoe retailer.  My mom said I didn’t need them so if I wanted them I would have to earn the money and pay for them myself.  So I decided to do just that.  I babysat my cousins.  It took a while to earn the money for the shoes because I wasn’t allowed to babysit by myself.  I had to go with my older sister and so we had to share the money between the two of us.  Once I earned the money (I think they were about $12; it was 1967)  I told my mother I had enough and asked her if my dad could take us to Karl’s when he got home from work.  She said my father would be too tires so if I wanted the shoes I would have to walk to the store and buy them.  Of course, I wasn’t allowed to go by myself so my sister and I walked the mile to the small shopping center to get my shoes.

I picked out the shoes.  There actually wasn’t any question in my mind.  I wanted the same pair I had seen a couple of months before.  Luckily, they had one pair of white shoes in my size.  All the others were in black but what was special about these shoes was the color.  I had black shoes.  I wanted white ones.   I was careful to try the shoes on inside the store before buying them.  I walked up and down the length of the store and across the width of it.  My mother had told me to make absolutely sure they fit before I bought them.  So I did.  I must have walked a mile inside the store before handing over the money for my shoes.

I was so excited to have those shoes!  I practically ran the mile home to show them off.  When I got home my mom told me to put them on so she could make sure they were the right fit.  Gladly, I put them on and modeled them for her, walking back and forth in front of her.  I turned to see if she was happy that I had my shoes and she was shaking her head.  She told me to turn around.  I did.  She told me to take them off and look at them.  I did.  I saw nothing wrong but clearly my mother did.  Then she told me to turn the shoes around and look at the back of them.  I did.  That’s when I noticed that one heal was black and the other heel was white!  I tried not to cry but couldn’t help it.

My mother made me walk back to the store right away.  She said I should get my money back or a pair with matching heels.  I knew it had been the last pair in my size.  I walked back and showed the salesman the shoes.  He looked in the back and assured me it was indeed the only pair of white shoes in my size.  They had others that were similar but they weren’t what I wanted.  Then he offered to bring me the same shoe in black.  But I didn’t want it in black.  I wanted to cry but I knew that if I did the salesman would laugh at me.  So I didn’t let my self cry.  Instead, my tears betrayed me and came out on their own.

The sales man looked at me and apologized.  He didn’t know what to do to make me stop crying.  Finally, he brought out some black shoe polish and turned the white heel black.  He showed me that no one would be able to tell that one heel was white.  I asked him what would happen when the polish wore off.  I had older brothers that used to polish their shoes and I knew that the polish would eventually wear off.  He said he would give me a tin of the black shoe polish to use when it wore off.

It was the best he could do, he said.  I was forced to decide if I wanted the shoes bad enough to accept the polished heel as a match for the black heel.  I knew my mother would be upset but I really wanted those shoes.  So I reluctantly accepted the shoes, the black polish, and a polishing cloth that the salesman gave me and walked home, dejectedly.

I really loved those shoes.  I took good care of them and polished the heels often.  I even put up with my mother scolding me every time she remembered about the shoes and every time I wore them.

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