School Days

Anne here. I’ve just been invited to a reunion of my high school final year class. It’s a significant year,
Mumschoolgirl2 and the organizer has put out a call for us to contact others in the year and to gather up school memorabilia, old photos and old stories. I’m only in contact with two friends from high school, but we’ve been dredging old memories. When I mentioned this to some other friends, it sparked a discussion about teachers we loved and teachers we hated and ones who made a significant impact on our lives. (That's my mother as a schoolgirl on the right. I'm on my laptop and not at home so I don't have access to most of my pics.)

I initially assumed that because we moved a lot there wasn’t time for any teacher to make a major impact on me, but when I thought about it, a few special people stood out, and the impact they made was probably not one they’d expect to be remembered for. 

Miss Fitcher was my very first teacher. I won’t say she taught me to read — much to my mother’s annoyance, I could read before I started school (Mum thought that wasn’t fair on the teacher.) Miss Fitcher was elderly and white-haired and as well as the 3 R’s, she taught us dozens of songs and poems, many of which I still remember. She loved to read us stories at the end of the day and I’m sure she instilled the love of books in every child she taught. She was my teacher for two years and when we left to live to Scotland, she gave me a St. Christopher medal to keep me safe. We weren't Catholic and my mother wasn't too keen on me wearing it, but I still have that little medal. Thank you Miss Fitcher.(Here's a pic of me at school in Scotland that I just pulled off my own website. Can you pick me out? I explain which one is me on my website.)

AnnescotlandNext was Mr. Tresize, who was the school librarian when I was in year 5 and 6— the final years of primary (elementary) school. My friend, Alicia (pronounced A liss ee ya, not Aleesha) and I were both great readers, and we got into the habit of borrowing a books of about the same length and then racing to finish them first. It got so that we were borrowing a book every night, and Mr. Tresize didn’t believe we really were reading them, so he tested us on each book before we could borrow a new one. That made us both good, fast, effective readers. So thank you Mr. Tresize.

Next was Mrs. Reckenburg, my maths teacher in year 8 (2nd year of high school.) When she found out my father had been promoted again and we were moving to the city, it was she who pointed out the area we were going to had a terrible reputation. At this stage, I’d been to six different schools in six different towns in eight years, and the chances were we’d move again in a year or two. She arranged for me to sit an exam for an academic high school in the city — and that’s where I ended up spending the last four years of my schooling. It was a great school and when two years later my father’s job took us to the opposite side of the city, I was able to keep the school and my friends. It took me 90 minutes to get to school but I did my homework on the train. So thank you Mrs. Reckenburg.

At that next school I had a science teacher called Mr. Paddy Meagher (pronounced Marr.) He looked like My Favorite Martian and he was crazy and clever and hilariously funny and he made science such an adventure. To this day when I think of photosynthesis, I think of Paddy Meagher in his leopard skin bikinis, sun bathing on the top of the nurses quarters of the hospital behind the school, drinking water and eating candy supposedly called Chlorophillies — and failing to photosynthesize because he lacked the right enzymes. Science class was a joy to attend. Thank you Paddy Meagher.

Lastly was Mrs. Yvette White, who took me for history in year 11. She was heading toward retirement age when she had us, but she had a wonderfully flexible and original mind. More than anything, she taught us to think and to reason and debate ideas and all kinds of propositions. It wasn’t enough to learn historical facts — it was what you did with the facts that counted. She also encouraged me to incorporate creative writing with history, which history teachers simply didn’t do in those days. . . and well, I’m still doing it. So thank you Mrs. White.

I had a very different history teacher the following year. I won’t say his name, because I don’t have fond memories. He was a loud, blustering fellow who handed out notes by the ream, but spent most of the class strutting up and down at the front of the class, sounding off. He delighted in humiliating students and prided himself on marking very hard. If you got 12 out of 20 for an essay, you were doing well with him. He smoked non-stop in the classroom and when anyone complained he’d blow smoke in their face. My, how times have changed.

What about you? Do you have good memories of school, or bad ones? Do you still keep touch with any school friends? Are there any teachers you remember with fondness — or acrimony? Any things that were commonplace at school in your day that would be unthinkable now? Tell us about your school days.

Christmastide: Trees and Reindogs

Cat 243 Dover

by Mary Jo

I have an adorable picture of myself when I was three or four sitting on Santa’s lap.  (All kids that age are adorable, it’s a law of nature.)  Unfortunately, since I have to finish a book by the end of the weekend, I haven’t the time to figure out my recalcitrant scanner, so I can’t scan the picture.  Maybe next year.

But I can talk about bringing in the tree.  I grew up in the snow country of Western New York, where green Christmases were unheard of and I thought it normal that snow drifts were routinely above my head.

The Great Tree Hunt

We lived on a 70+ acre farm, with the back section woods, including some 3000 Scotch pines that my father got from the extension service and planted back there.  DSCN0096 (He had a degree in forestry and liked trees.)

So come December, he’d hitch the tractor to the wagon (think of the buckboards in old TV Westerns and you wouldn’t be far off) and we’d go bouncing over snow hills to pick a Christmas tree.  Despite all those long-needled Scotch pines, we wanted a short needled spruce, and we had those, too.

A suitable tree would be chosen (my father’s vote was the deciding one), and he’d chop down the tree, put it on the wagon, and back to the house where with luck, my mother would have hot chocolate waiting.  She wisely avoided the expedition to the back 40. <G>

Interestingly, when I talked to my older sister last night to confirm details, she said I didn’t much like these expeditions because it was Cold!  And Wet!  And Uncomfortable!  Apparently I am my mother’s daughter, though I have no memory of disliking the process.  But I do remember the tree trips.

Putting up the Tree

Even more I remember erecting the tree with an old tobacco can as a base.  The physics of this were not geared for stability, so guy wires were improvised of heavy twine and fastened to doorknobs and hinges in the corner of the living room. 

Then the decorating.  My sister, who has always had more class than I, would careful drape each strand of tinsel in an exact place.  Then, and now, I have always believed that good taste can be overdone, especially at Christmas.  <G>  I liked lots of tinsel, glittering madly. (This was the old fashion lead foil tinsel, by the way.  The kind that breaks if you look at it cross-eyed.) 

Reggie at Christmas 001 Cats in Trees 

In an amazing bit of synchronicity with Joanna’s post yesterday about feline box sitting, it is also true that cats have a great affinity for trees.  Especially indoor trees.  With branches well spaced for climbing. 

More than once, I remember a tree crashing over despite the guy wires.  Smashing ornaments, swearing parents, and one or more cats hightailing it to the high timber, wearing their best “Who, me?” expressions. Ah, those were the days…!

Many things have changed over the years, but I am here to tell you that cats still like to climb Christmas trees.  No, the cat above is not from my childhood, but entirely current.  He is Reggie the Rascal, whom I have twice this year removed from the middle branches of the tree when he’s decided this isn’t a good idea, but he doesn’t know how to get down. 

The tree hasn’t fallen—yet—because bases are a lot more stable these days.  But all bets are off if Reggie decides to climb higher, since he is small but amazingly dense. 

Other Christmas Critters?

In keeping with the theme, here are some of Laura Resnick’s pictures of this year’s Cincinnati Reindog parade, sponsored by the Cincinnati SPCA to raise money and also provide great entertainment for all concerned.

Almost as good as riding in a car! 

Hannukah hundt 

Like my horns 

So—how do pets figure into your Christmas?  Cats in trees, dogs treating the tree as if it was outdoors, parrots perching in the branches?  If you have any good seasonal pet stories, by all means, share!

Santa's Elves Mary Jo, adding that this is your last day to make a comment that will enter you in our Word Wenches giveaway — a Word Wenches Library with a book from each of us for a winner picked at random from among all those who post on the blog in December! Good luck!



Twelve Days of Christmas

NYChristmas2Pat here!

Like last year, the Wenches are celebrating  the traditional Twelve Days of Christmas (follow the snopes link or this one:  for a historical look at the song. Who knew such a silly song could cause so much controversy?) which run from Christmas Day to January 6th, the eve of Epiphany. 

Each day during the season, a Wench will post a short fun holiday blog.

We've been throwing around ideas of childhood memories and snow.  I don’t “do” snow, apparently not even in childhood since I have no pictures of me in winter, except in front of a fire or a Christmas tree. So I'm offering a memory and not a joyous wintry greeting today.

See that innocent child hugging her dollies? That child hated dollies. She later robbed her baby brother of the lion he’s holding in the second picture, because Leo was obviously meant for her, not an infant  NYChristmas3
who would just slobber all over the proud lion.

I’m not saying Santa makes  mistakes, but someone did! Despite all the stuffed animals collected over the years, Leo remained my staunch companion through the trials and tribulations of the teenage years. I even learned to bandage his many wounds!

How about you? Do you have favorite Christmas memories to share?
Wench Memo:

The Word Wenches will be giving away a fantastic prize on January 1st 2011 – a Word Wenches Library containing a book by each of the Wenches! For a chance to win, all you have to do is comment on one or more of our December blog posts. We'll gather the list of names on January 1, 2011 and pick a winner! (If you've already posted in December, you're already entered — comment again for more chances to win!) Good luck to all and Happy Holidays!